Route du Rhum, Vendée Globe, these are the two major races on the solo calendar. Is the approach so very different?
It really is the different between a sprint and a marathon, even though, on the water, it's always the objective to go as fast as possible. The real difference between the Rhum and the Vendée Globe is that for the first, you go light as possible when on the second one you are out for the duration. For the Route du Rhum, we're going for a ruthless weight hunt, take fewer spares, lighter sails. And across the Atlantic, we can allow ourselves to get into the red without paying a price a month later when you are still racing.
You have won the Route du Rhum twice, in 2006 and 2010. Which one has the most prestige, the most satisfaction?
In 2006, when I won it was after I had left a Vendée Globe which had been particularly frustrating, after my abandonment following a problem of structure on my keel. I really had the feeling of not having been able to play my chances as I wanted. This win was mad, especially at the finish. I broke my boom halfway and had to find different routes to make up for lost time. At that time we still had routing and I had a real synchronicity with my friend Jean-Luc Nélias who followed me on land. So, yes, it was a nice win, after fighting hard in front of another friend, Jean Le Cam.
And in 2010, the story was different. I could see during the Vendée Globe 2008-2009 that my Lombard design was beginning to struggle with the latest-generation sailboats. For this Route du Rhum we got our hands on the Farr boat that Sébastien Josse had during the Vendée Globe. And this time, everything went like a dream. There are a few times in life when I have felt that kind of state of grace where all the decisions that you take fall your way.
There were some complaints this time that the start was given in the face of such bad weather on the forecast?
You have to be humble about this kind of decision. On the one hand, it is never easy to make the decision to postpone or advance a start, especially on a race that musters so many boats and requires massive logistics.
But in 2000, the start of the Vendée Globe had been delayed?
The situation is so different. First up it's not the same thing to hold back a fleet of 30 similar boats as it is to delay a fleet of over 100 very different units. And in 2000, nobody could have got out of the channel of Sables d'Olonne, the seas were so bad. If we look at this edition, I think that overall, the IMOCA fleet is doing pretty well. There will always be a little breakage, abandoning when we are really banging into head winds. But we could also see that sailors like Alex Thomson or Boris Herrmann were able to face the strongest wind and sea without much damage. These are not the dantesque conditions of 2002. And then luck plays a part, there is preparation time, there are resources. It all counts. It is certainly not a coincidence that we find the most experienced of the IMOCA class at the front of the fleet.
And maybe the fact that sailors push harder now on this race?
It is the same now on the Vendée Globe, we went slowly to then build up pace and power. Now everyone has understood that it is imperative not to be left behind. The rhythm at the start of a Vendée Globe is almost the same as at the start of a Route du Rhum. Especially since we know that in ocean racing, it is often those in the front who get rich fastest.
Finally, to win a Route du Rhum or a Vendée Globe it takes the same skills?
Who knows? I had the reputation of a being a diesel, made for the open sea, and so should have been a candidate for the Vendée Globe win but it always eluded me. On the other hand I am a double winner of the Route du Rhum. Go figure?
A word about the new generation of IMOCAs
I would have liked to see the potential of Jeremie on his Charal. What is obvious is that at certain speeds, he would have dropped everyone. However, I have reservations, a Vendée Globe is long and I think it is necessary to have a plan B. My only concern is that these new boats become incredibly dependent foils. If ever, the foil is no longer able to function, we end up with a hull that lacks inherent power. That's why I will continue to put a small bet on the first generation foilers which can be good all round.