Sebastien Simon Steps Up to the Plate

Sébastien Simon
© Jean-Marie Liot

Simon  has two experienced, sailing savvy sponsors behind him, funding his project and has the guidance of 2004-5 winner Vincent Riou. As a skipper he is blessed with a head for numbers. It is in the low key but smart offices of the Paprec Group in the heart of Paris that the project is unveiled. In the foyer you cannot miss the model of JP Dick's Imoca.  Then there is the mini model of the MOD70 in Paprec colours. Walk in and enter the Salle JP Dick, the Jean Pierre Dick! The Paprec group embraces the passion and drive of young people and is run by a hugely enthusiastic racing sailor who campaigns a TP52 and they have a J/80.
And now, since Tuesday of this week, it is confirmed that Paprec have a new Vendée Globe  to embark on, backing Sebastien Simon in an equal partnership with Crédit Mutuel Arkea a sponsor of the Tour of Brittany for 15 years and part of the Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne offshore initiative which nurtures young talent.
Simon will skipper the project which brings together some of the best minds on the Imoca scene. The technical director is Riou. A new boat designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian, whose last design was the very potent, powerful Cheminées Poujoulat of Bernard Stamm, will be built by CDK. This is the second new Imoca to be announced for the upcoming tenth edition of the Vendée Globe, adding to Alex Thomson's decision to build a new boat. Lorient based GSea Design will look after the structural composite engineering calculations. And Simon will train and operated from the legendary Pôle Finistère in Port La Fôret.
It is a big, bold move for the 27-year old skipper who has been based in Brittany since his passion for offshore racing took hold. He really underlined his promise last year when he finished third overall in the French Solo Offshore Championship and fourth in very testing La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro.
As the exciting details of his project emerge, Simon can hardly contain himself but proves to have a mature head on his relatively young shoulders. He speaks about the elements of competition and the drive for victory.  
Sebastien Simon this is a big step forward in your career. "I think I have a lucky star guiding me. This is a really fantastic chance to be able to enter the Imoca class with a project as strong as this one, one which has real ambitions to excel on the sporting sense. A few years ago I never thought this might happen for me. Then through the selection for the Brittany - Crédit Mutuel offshore team I met with Jean-Pierre Denis, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Crédit Mutuel Arkéa, then with Sébastien Petithuguenin, the Deputy General Manager of Paprec Group and they are passionate about sailing and then with Vincent Riou and Juan Kouyoumdjian. Now  I will have to learn a lot of things in the transition to the Imoca. I will go from an indestructible one-design boat (Figaro) to the real thing, the Imoca. It is exciting.  And Vincent we share the same need to master everything"
Vincent Riou really liked that you came to meet him in Port-la-Forêt and even if he is still relatively young he is keen to pass on all that he has learned.  What has driven you to get this project to this stage?
"I've always told myself that a project like this is both an adventure and a story, a human story and a sporting and technological project but considered it best lead by someone with real, front line experience and success. I could not imagine having anyone better than Vincent Riou alongside me. And I believe that he likes the idea. In fact no sooner had he just just finished the Transat Jacques Vabre than he flew here to meet us. And from our first discussions it was apparent that that we share the same interest in technology. And when we sailed together on my Figaro during the Tour de Bretagne  we realized that we have the same need to master everything, to know everything. "
You appear to be a sailor with an obsessive streak? "I am very, rigourous, even hyper-rigorous. On the boat I put a lot of marks and numbers on my lines and tracks and so on. So I know all the settings, I've tested them all. I know that in 17 knots wind I must have just this configuration,  I have to trim the sheets to places marked out by sticky tape. I take pictures all the time, I have sensors on my sails, on my mast and they give me real time numbers on settings and power. I am very numerical, very empirical. I don't like to leave room for doubt."
"I need to work like this. This is how I feel reassured. I need real numbers, certainties. I raced thge Transat AG2R La Mondiale with Xavier Macaire and a second with Morgan Lagravière. They are two hyper-sensitive sailors, and it's very interesting to see their method. But that reinforced me in the idea that I find and learn more from the numbers. That's probably why I get on well with Vincent too.  "
You are a graduate engineer just like many of today's sailors including  François Gabart and Armel Le Cléac'h, the last two winners of the Vendée Globe. Is that essential for the top professional sailor today?
"That's right we are turning more and more often to these technical and engineering foundations. It is all about the logic of things these are high tech boats, cutting edge real machines. And there is alwasy progress to be made in development and design. Being an engineer is not enough in itself but also it helps me, I believe, in the organization and the management of my projects, and that in turn sets the processes, the method in my work."
And you have a certain appetite for the technical: it seems that you sent Juan Kouyoumdjian off thinking after your first meeting with an unexpected question!
 "Juan does not need much to be stimulated, you know! He is rigorous but free thinking about everything. He leaves no detail to chance. He is a super bright man.  I would love to be as intelligent as he is." In general the designers say that the new Vendée Globe boats are 5% more efficient than those of the previous generation. Do you think this will be a new case? "I think this calculation is accurate. That’s even more the case as the next lot of boats will be designed to be fitted with foils and not the other way around. The faster a traditional boat goes in more wind, the more power she loses, as she heels over. The sail areas need to be reduced to keep her going. With the foils, the opposite happens, as there is no longer this problem of heeling over so the boat can make the most of all the power. And building a boat is a passionate project. The Vendée Globe only for adventure would not interest me. I would not want to do it without this intellectual challenge. "
Sablais by birth, you must have some good memories of the Vendée Globe? " The first start I remember is that of 2004 but I was at the previous events. (Ed Note: Simon was born on May 6, 1990 so his mother was pregnant with him when Titouan Lamazou won the first edition) The emotion is palpable on the pontoons, in the channel. It's crazy when you are a spectator to say that the sailor who passes you here will soon soon be alone on the oceans for months on end. And I very well remember the finish of the Vendée Globe 2012-2013. I was at engineering college in Bordeaux but I still managed to be there because François Gabart and Armel Le Cléac'h both arrived on a Sunday afternoon and evening. Francois was unbelievable I was really touched. But a few seconds after he arrived on land there seemed to be no one left, as if the town had emptied. Even if I had three and a half hours to drive back to Bordeaux I was worried there would be no one out for Armel and so I stayed. But as usual, just as the boat was announced as arriving the same huge crowd reassembled in the  channel and in the race village. It was crazy. This is what I want to experience." You have embarked on a very sporting endeavour but for you does the human adventure also exist? " It is true that I am very focused on the competition but the spirit of adventure is here too. I hope I'm not too much affected by it when the time comes. But I don't want to suppress it or I might miss it. And not to experience the emotions you would have to be a robot. And that is  why we all identify with the sailors, we project ourselves into their adventures. And that is how I caught the Vendée Globe bug by the way!"


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