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A World of His Own

François Gabart in the channel of les Sables d'Olonne
© Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI

In reality there are not that many soloists who have set round the world records, fewer still to have gone round non stop, twice and set records. There is Michel Desjoyeaux, twice record setting winner of the Vendée Globe, in 2000-2001 and in 2008-2009. Then there is Francis Joyon two round the world records including a Jules Verne Trophy mark. There is also Bruno Peyron who with his crew is one of the exceptional few to have won the Jules Verne Trophy twice.


And now there is François Gabart. The 'Little Prince' is the only sailor to have been round in record times on a monohull, for the Vendée Globe 2012-2013, and now on the Ultime multihull. That's what has become his world, his own exclusive galaxy.
That he has rewritten the history books is not down to coincidence. One thing that changed from the Vendée Globe to this new record, is that he built a team in his own image, Mer Concept. They pretty much started work on this epic record as soon as he parked the victorious IMOCA Macif in the winner's dock in Port Olona, Les Sables d'Olonne in. There is the team behind him and he has his own armoury of personal attributes and skills, but virtually since his days Olympic classes sailing, he has not stopped learning and striving to improve.

Smells Like Team Spirit
"When we made François our Skipper MACIF in 2010 we recognised immediately that the talent was there."  remembers Jean-Bernard Le Boucher the head of sponsorship at Macif the Vendée based insurance giant. Gabart has proven it ever since at each stage in his career. One of his particular strengths is his ability to learn quickly, and he is now realizing his full potential.  

" François has matured. He is able to stand back and has a calmer approach now. He is more consistent, more  relaxed and assured, confident and in control. Gabart has integrated things. He has his own style, the Gabart style, which expresses itself in the way he manages his team in particular. This is where has really made progress: he didn't really know how to do that back at the time of the Vendée Globe. He doesn't play the role of the big chief, but listens, delegates, gives others responsibilities and sets an example.
"The development of opinions  is horizontal, there is no top down flow from 'management to execution'  says Fred Bérat, one of his two boat-captains. " François has developed a real know-how in the art of letting us express ourselves. And he knows how to give us back what we put into in our work, by doing his own work very well down to the smallest detail. His way of training is all the proof you need,  as is his physical preparation, his lifestyle. All that adds up to being able to fully  exploit the boat that is prepared for him ".

 

Antoine Gautier knew François Gabart during the preparation of the Vendée Globe. Back then he was working for Desjoyeaux's team, Mer Agitée, and he followed Gabart to become the head of the design office at Gabart's FG Mer Concept, the race team which now has   19 - young staff members permanent, mostly time served with Mer Agitée and Roland Jourdain's Kairos.

"It's hard to think of how young we all were in the Vendée Globe! But I think it's in François' nature to trust. That allows him to focus on the essentials. Being involved in all decisions - as we all are - is stimulating: it is not  HIS boat that we built, it is ours ".
 

Synchronicity and Intelligence
On Sunday Roland Jourdain commented, "What François has built is is an accumulation of knowledge and wealth of talent and experience that all complements each other in his project. François brings many from his past where paths have crossed and he is enriched by that and the choices he has made."

Like François Gabart, Paul Meilhat, who raced the last Vendée Globe as skipper of SMA, is a former Figaro racer who was selected - like Gabart - as part of the Skipper MACIF program.

© Jean-Marie Liot / ALeA / Macif
Meilhat, a Vendée Globe 2020 contender who is in search of a new sponsor recognises a consistency in the top performances of Gabart no matter what the boat is: "François has always been about perfect timing, he has always made the smartest choices. Jean-Yves Bernot (the meteo ace who routed Gabart's record) and he know each other by heart, his teams know each boat off by heart and some team members have worked also with Jean-Yves. It is all a perfect synchronicity, a perfect web of people working together. His win is the victory of smartness and intelligence and it is a good thing for us, sailors, to know that there is no more effective force for success than this. "

Rolling In the Deep....Adaptability is Key
To roll from one universe to another requires a certain flexibility of mind, the ability to absorb circumstances and adapt to them. Gabart, himself, explains:
"When you go on the Vendée Globe it starts out from a dream. But you have to be able to go with each stage. You build the boat while asking yourself if it's really reasonable to go around the world on an 18-meter monohull. But you are always in the moment, living in that bubble with a certain start date fixed and you can not deviate from that. But you do have time to prepare your goodbye with your family. When you go on a record, it's up to you to decide your moment. But again you live in the moment during the period of stand-by and, suddenly, you are off, in the battle."

And, in the battle, "Francois does not cheat himself, he is under no illusions,"  adds Antoine Gautier. " His whole concept of commitment is monstrous. He gives of himself totally, body and soul. Antoine Chartiez (painter and boat prep) went to train with him, to understand François more. He came back by saying that when you see the degree of motivation he displays when he trains, the intensity of his commitment, you quickly see how motivated he is and that in turn is a great motivator. His strength and commitment is unwavering on the water."

The last word is that of weather guru Jean-Yves Bernot, who has watched over the trajectory of the skipper of Macif. From the earliest of times Bernot has been able  to appreciate Gabart's expertise:
"One day, at the Paris Boat Show, a 14-year-old teenager came to see me for a book on the weather, which I had written. Guess who it was? François has a passion for the weather, which helps a lot. He is also extremely intelligent which makes two things easier in life. And he knows how to draw the best performance from everybody by setting the best image and a ethos with a huge, communicative energy ".

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