« I am and always will be a sailor, a navigator. Sailing is my enduring passion and it keeps everything in perspective. » He says. At 58, Parlier lives near Arcachon on the French Atlantic coast, still staying true to the area which shaped him as a youngster. A native of Versailles he used to spend each July in the area, is no slave to time. He lives to his own schedule, getting up at 4am and going to bed at 10pm, weekends and weekdays all being the same to him. « I work normal hours, for me », he notes.
Yves Parlier has an exceptional record on the Mini-Transat, Solitaire du Figaro, Transat Anglaise all before he took on his first Vendée Globe in 1992. He won pretty much everything, or almost. And his record is about more than just the results, his innovations were ingenious and were soon adopted through each class and others. He was instrumental in the development of the carbon mast which has been used extensively since 1985. In the mid 1990s, he was already developing a 60 footer which used no fossil fuels and bio-fuels, working with his partners and sponsors from the Aquitaine region. His IMOCA, named Aquitaine Innovations, was the first to have a wing rig with deck spreaders rather than traditional spreaders on the mast.
The real meaning of racing
« I asked myself a lot of questions during the Vendée Globe races as you manage to get an overall picture of what you’re doing. What always interested me was innovation and working on the boats »,he stressed before adding : « The competition fascinated me. It was the ultimate goal, even if an adventure, as it allowed me to see the outcome of everything we had thought about beforehand. The goal in the competition was a huge motivation without which I wouldn’t have found the means to achieve so much in my work. »
The sailor, who has three Vendée Globe under his belt, did not win any of them, but the skipper nicknamed ET by his rivals because of his extraordinary ability when choosing his weather options, certainly matured. In 1998, Yves Parlier started to move away from the world of sailing after a paragliding accident, which injured his right ankle. « I could no longer move around the deck so easily. »But aboard a boat he knew perfectly well, he would compete in one final round the world race in 2000-2001, where he certainly left his mark.
In the Furious Fifties, his wing mast fell onto the deck. The engineer decided to repair his rig all by himself and moored off Stewart Island to the south of New Zealand. Twelve days later, when he managed to rebuild a mast with an improvised oven, he cut his sails again and set off. Lacking food, his diet was based on seaweed during the final days of the Vendée Globe that he would incidentally finish in 13th place. But the important thing was that Yves Parlier had done it.
The story of the Damien
« What really pushed me », he explained, « what really turned me on was a three volume book I read, all about the Damien. I can still remember it well. I was twelve and dyslexic. After that, I worked my way through the whole collection of maritime books at the Orsay library, so I started to dream before actually sailing. With these books, I must have sailed fifteen or twenty times around the world. »
Yves Parlier has a lot of memories and constantly harks back to them. « I started to read technical books and got interested in cartography, the weather, astronomy, all the sciences that sailors have to deal with. Whenever I am at sea, I experience what I dreamt of during my adolescence. That gives me a lot of strength. I simply cannot ease off, as through the books, I saw myself as the sailor who never gave up; I dreamed of suffering in storms, the cold and I read all the books about shipwrecks. It was a passion that took over everything. »
« I was there and believed it »
When we refer back to the 2000-2001 Vendée Globe and the pictures of a Robinson Crusoe on an almost deserted island, he knows how important they were for posterity, but as time goes by, he knows where they came from. « It all starts on a small scale. There are events that get a lot of media coverage. It’s true, but I was always like that: I relaunched wrecks from the beach, sailed on boats that were sinking… I made my own kayak on the lake in Les Ulis, that I dragged behind my bike, but in my mind, I was already sailing around the world… I was there and believed it was happening, even if that seems ridiculous today.”
Since 2007, his company Beyond the Sea has occupied his time. « When I saw myself in the future as a sailor, I gave myself challenges. I had to be able to remain calm in the face of adversity », he smiled with a puzzling look. Is he patient? No, but the business leader has learnt to control himself and knows where his priorities lie with so many things going on with the hydroplane, his life’s ambition that he brought out again last year after twelve years of hibernation, and his collaborative work on turning a kite from kitesurf technology into the means to pull a pleasure boat, fishing boat or liner.
This field has always fascinated him. « Going back to my first round the world sailing voyage in 1992, I had a kite on board for safety reasons. » But he has been working hard on this project since his last Vendée Globe in 2001. « Don’t get taken in. Sometimes, I come up with good ideas », he joked. As in ocean racing, his challenge as a businessman brings together these interests, where it is important to be correct. « You learn from your mistakes. When you are worn out, sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But I’m always up for it and keen to give it my all. That much is clear! »
A few facts and figures about Yves Parlier
1985. 1st in the Mini-Transat
1991.1st in the Solitaire du Figaro (French solo offshore racing champion)
1992. 1st in the Transat
1992-1993. 4th in the Vendée Globe
1993. 1st in the Coffee race
1994. 1st in the Route du Rhum
1996-1997. Retired from the Vendée Globe
1997. 1st in the Fastnet
1st in the Transat Jacques-Vabre with Eric Tabarly
1998. 1st in the Gold Route crewed race (New York – San Francisco)
1999. 4th in the Transat Jacques-Vabre with Ellen MacArthur
1st in the crewed Europe Race
2000-2001. 13th in the Vendée Globe after 126 days 23 hours 36 minutes after repairing his rig alone (dismasted).
2001. Sailor aboard Alain Thébault’s “Hydroptère”
Sailed on multihulls
2003. Crewed race with Lalou Roucayrol
Designed and built the Hydroplane, Médiatis-Région Aquitaine
2004. 11th in the Quebec-Saint-Malo transatlantic race aboard a multihull with a crew
2006. Record for the distance covered in 24 hours sailing solo on a monohull: 586 miles averaging 24.41 knots (on Médiatis-Région Aquitaine)
Record for the distance covered by a crew in 24 hours: 597.81 miles averaging 24.91 knots (on Médiatis-Région Aquitaine)