Damien Seguin: "I'm heading into the big league!"

Damien Seguin
© Jean-Marie Liot

Damien Seguin was born without a left hand, a fact that has never prevented him from racing boats at the highest level both in disabled and open fields. Right now he is in Hyères to compete in the World Cup in the 2.4 mR (monohull of 2.4 metres) but he campaigns for the Paralympic disciplines which will be missing from the Tokyo Olympics and to that end Damien wants to see them returned for Paris 2024.
Accompanying and integrating people with disabilities is also the cause he will publicise offshore in the colours of his new partner, the insurance company Groupe APICIL and Mutuelle Intégrance.  On the 40th edition of the Route du Rhum - Destination Guadeloupe, in November, but also, he hopes, around the world in 2020.

Here, he speaks to the Vendée Globe website....

What was your approach, the process that led you to commit to this IMOCA project.

Damien Seguin : The idea of ​​moving to IMOCA is not new to me. I already had this project in mind when I started out in Class 40 in 2009. From a sports viewpoint I wanted to evolve, to graduate up to bigger boats. And the timing is right, to build things on the successes of the Olympics in Rio to leverage my gold medal. All this takes time. Since the end of 2016 I have done a lot of work to present and explain the project. And that, thankfully, has ended up paying off. Discussions with the APICIL Group began in October 2017 - a few months after our Tour de France à la Voile success with FDJ. And now, this became official in early April.

What is your budget?

D.S : This partnership allowed me to buy the boat which I own (the former Comme un Seul Homme which is a 2008 Finot-Conq) and I have a budget which will allow me to do the season and to compete in the Route du Rhum. My main partner contributes 70% of the total budget. I also have a club of sponsors which includes Axapa - a publisher of software specializing in medico-social projects - and Enidis (ex ERDF) and we are in discussion with other sponsors to complete the year. I got the boat three weeks ago, it is currently under construction at the boatyard of Jean Le Cam. We will launch it in early May.

© Jean-Marie Liot
What work has been done on the boat? You talked about modifications tailored to your handicap?

D.S : In fact, the boat is already in excellent condition. She went through a good refit before and after the Vendée Globe. The biggest part of our job is her new branding. Any enhancements and work on improving her performance will be done bit by bit.
As for the modifications, I didn’t do any when sailing in Class40. But that’s a small boat. What is special about the 60-foot boats is that there is a pedestal winch. We needed to adapt the winch handle to my left arm, so as I can use the full power of the top half of my body. We made a prototype working with the Kerpape Centre (a centre in Ploemeur near Lorient, which specialises in physiotherapy): the system is a bit like a sleeve, which allows me to push and pull the handle. We’ll be trying it out when we get out there sailing again.”

Is this project a first step towards the 2020 Vendée Globe?

D.S : Yes, of course. For me, it was important to get things going as early as possible to clock up the miles and get a lot of sailing in. That is my priority. I’ll be competing in as many IMOCA races as I can to gain qualifying points. My ambition is not to win the Vendée Globe. The idea with this boat is to offer myself as many chances as I can to be able to line up at the start and make it to the finish of the round the world race. It’s obvious that if the opportunity of buying a better boat came along, I’d have to think about it.  But for the time being, I want to be able to do some sailing. Setting off on a reliable boat that you know well is one of the keys in succeeding. The Vendée Globe is an elimination race, a battle of attrition

For your new partner, is the Vendée Globe something that they too are looking ahead to?

D.S : The APICIL Group has only just started to sponsor sailing, which is great. They haven’t done much sponsoring of sport before, apart from an experience in football with the Olympique Lyonnais. They are thinking about the Vendée Globe, but in the contract they have signed up for one year with the possibility of extending that. We’ll examine the situation a few days after the finish of the Route du Rhum. For now I’m looking at any possibilities, any opportunities which may crop up to take things through to 2020. What is special about my project is that with values associated with health and handicaps it is something that is going to require a certain amount of time. It has to be a story that we can start to tell. The fact that we can convey certain values and talk to different people is something that really motivates me.

Who are the people around you today?

D.S : For now, I work with the people who worked with Eric Bellion and who know the boat well, all under the leadership of Jean Le Cam and his team. The choice of Jean was made for several reasons. In terms of technical knowledge of the boats, there is no one better. His space was available on the dates we wanted to work. He and his team have time to devote themselves to it. He is with me not only on the construction phase and the development, but also on the water since we will sail two up, training and racing, starting with the Douarnenez-Cascais.  The discussions with him went well: the ideals of my project chimed with him, he liked it. He is of this mindset. And he is of course something an expert in optimizing with a tight, limited budget!

© Jean-Marie Liot
How do you feel about this new challenge and your first sail on a 60-foot boat?

D.S : I feel very humble. Even if I have done a lot of stuff in Class 40, an extra twenty feet is quite something else. It’s a huge physical challenge. I have to get to grips with the monster. I have a lot to learn. And I’m going to take my time to do things well.
I don’t have any ambitions in terms of race results this year. I want to be there at the start and finish of the IMOCA races. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, which matches my way of doing things. I have always tried to take one thing at a time. Today entering this class is a logical move. I didn’t want everyone to think I was crazy. This gradual, careful approach is important for me and those around me and indeed for everyone involved…. I do things in the right order to eliminate any doubts people have about my handicap. I want to show everyone that I deserve this place at the start of the Vendée Globe.

So you’re happy with the way things are going?

D.S : I am really pleased to be in this circuit. It feels like I’m playing alongside the big boys now. It was something I had been thinking about for quite some time. It’s happening now and I’m just like a kid. My connection with ocean racing dates back to my childhood. I was born in the mountains in Briançon. My father was a mountain guide. But I grew up on Guadeloupe. I’ll always remember the boats finishing the Route du Rhum when I was ten years old…


Provisional schedule 

  • Early May: the boat to be launched

  • Grand Prix Guyader to be confirmed

  • 9th May: Bermudes 1000 Race Douarnenez-Cascais sailing double-handed with Jean Le Cam. Possibly sailing double-handed to the Azores and returning sailing solo.

  • 23rd July: Single-handed Drheam Cup

  • 4th November: Route Du Rhum - Destination Guadeloupe

Some of Damien Seguin’s achievements

Three medals at the Paralympic Games in 2.4 mR : gold in Rio and Athens, silver in Beijing.

  • Four world championship titles in 2.4 mR

  • Five seasons in Class 40 (2009-2014). 2nd in the 2011 Transat Jacques Vabre.

  • Winner of the 2017 Tour de France Sailing Race


Snap code

Follow us on Snapchat