VG: Sam do the results of the Armen Race and Bermudes 1000 Race serve as a little bit of a reward for you after the disappointment of the Route du Rhum 2018?
SD: Yes, that is true. In fact, I have been feeling good since I did the Sardinha Cup that I sailed with Yann Eliès on his new Figaro monotype, and we won that. That really was an ideal way to get back into it at a top level. Sailing with Yann is about pursuing a form of excellence, that really is particularly stimulating. I carried that same approach and impetus to the Bermudes 1000, went in with the same state of mind, even if the situation changed slightly towards the end. And on that race which counts towards accumulated miles, it was essential to finish and not break the boat.
VG: Do you sail differently, more conservatively with that goal?
SD: Of course, we think about it all the time. At the beginning of the race about as soon as the boat was going at high speeds, I ended up spending my time watching the bottom of the hull (note: which had delaminated during the Route du Rhum). And at the end of the course when I could not adjust either my keel or my foils, which were jammed, I just stayed cool. In other circumstances where I really required to press for a result I would have stressed, but I knew that the first goal here was to finish. Second or fourth was kind of neither here nor there. First and foremost, I needed those 2,000 miles for final selection for the Vendée Globe.
VG: And it was an opportunity to test these new foils, they are pretty different
SD: I know we've opened a new direction. We did not try to be different for the sake of it. It was Guillaume Verdier who convinced us that these new profiles would give us a performance boost. He knows the boat well since he designed it, he works on the foils with the New Zealanders on the America's Cup, and he is a very talented guy. And I am convinced that Guillaume will never lead us in down a route which is risky or ill conceived. We have a very trusting relationship between our team and him. But even so it is not even that easy to press the green button, to say: 'let's go'. But at the same time, if we can gain in performance we need to go for it.
And the first sensations?
SD: I'm happy. We felt all the potential of the boat, even if we are not yet close to the maximum of the theoretical power. We will progress little by little. That's how I did in 2008 for my first Vendée Globe and it was pretty good. In 2008, before I had started, I had the equivalent of a full round the world on the boat under its keel. And that is the objective for 2020, to have built that same level of reliability and certainty.
But meanwhile, you have done quite a lot of different sailing?
SD: Yes, I gained good experience with the Volvo Ocean Race, but also sailing with Yves Le Blévec and Thomas Coville on multihulls. It was important to have variety and the different experiences. On the multihulls I discovered what it's like to sail at high speed. On the Volvo I learned a lot about running a whole race programme over an extended time period. Of course, now I am much better equipped for the future. And that allows me to be confident in cementing my ambitions.
These ambitions, what are they?
SD: Initially I want to win the Transat Jacques Vabre. With Paul Meilhat, we will do everything to achieve that. Here I have the chance to sail with a particularly talented sailor who has a real feel for the IMOCA and how to get the most from it. And my boat is the sister-ship to the former SMA aboard which Paul won the Route du Rhum. That's important.
You have a strong bond of mutual respect?
SD: Totally. Paul is also someone who invests himself completely entirely not looking for any payback. Once he agreed he spends all his time he has available. He constantly exchanges with the team, participates in our debriefs and sessions to advance the project. He even wants to be able to invest in the humanitarian project around Initiatives-Cœur. Paul is a man of his word as well as an excellent sailor.
It is great there will be so many women in the Vendée Globe....
SD: It's great news. Especially since so many of us are coming into the race with real sporting goals. There should be at least six women at the start. That is a record in itself. In 2016, I was asked about the fact that no women were present at the start. This edition seems to prove that it was just a blip. And I hope that we will create pathways and inspire new younger women to come and do this, proving to them this is possible.