Like most of the other Vendée Globe skippers Erik Nigon is in full preparation mode making ready for the two upcoming Transatlantic races, The Transat CIC and the New York Vendée - Les Sables d'Olonne. But there is one small difference: Clément Giraud and his team are currently in charge of the project.
Pour un Monde sans SIDA, Erik Nigon’s IMOCA is currently out of the water with the mast off. The refit is progressing well under the direction of Clément Giraud who did not manage to make the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre because his IMOCA caught fire a few days before the start. In return for project managing the refit Giraud will participate in the scheduled Transat CIC from Brest to Charleston, whilst the owner Erik Nigon will do the race from New York to Les Sables d'Olonne. It is a win-win scenario for both skippers.
Vendée Globe: Erik, this decision to share your boat with Clément Giraud is quite novel?
Erik Nigon: "It came to me when I knew what had happened to Clement. I immediately sent him a message of solidarity. What happened to him was quite unfair. So we met up at the Paris boat show and we immediately had some common ground, some shared ambitions which could work for us both. We discussed our respective situations: Clément needed to complete a transatlantic race and wanted to hold on to his main sponsors. He hopes to get a wild card from the race director if a place is still available at the start of the 2020 edition. On my side of things I was not particularly motivated to do The Transat. I actually already have more than enough miles to be among the 34 competitors admitted. And already did this North Atlantic route on a Multi50 in 2016. And, frankly, it remains my worst ocean racing memory. The North Atlantic upwind is no longer really my cup of tea.
The Transat can prove to be a really tough, major test?
EN: Without a doubt. To be honest it was having completed it in 2016 on the Multi50 that really convinced me that I was capable of doing the Vendée Globe. I never, ever stopped struggling. There wasn’t a day without me having to repair something. I had to climb the mast several times, pounding constantly upwind in strong winds and big seas. After such an ordeal, I knew that racing round the world there would be times I would be able to escape from that kind of stuff.
So it will be the New York – Vendée as your preparation for the Vendée Globe?
EN: I really wanted to do this race. Sailing down the Hudson and passing the foot of the Statue of Liberty is symbolic. As, of course, is passing up the Chenal des Sables for the last time before the Vendée Globe start. From a practice point of view then the North Atlantic downwind is a bit like the southern oceans even if I know that we won't have the proper long swells of the Indian and the Pacific.
But sharing your boat does not happen easily?
EN: Yes and no. It is something I have already done when I was sailing on the Figaro circuit. I passed the preparation of my boat to Oliver Krauss, an extremely talented youngster, who was then able to do the Transat AG2R. As for me in return I got a perfectly prepped boat. It was a bit unusual but it suits me well. I have my professional life which continues to occupy me. This way allows another sailor to benefit from my boat which would otherwise remain at the dock. Obviously a big element of trust is established. I know that Clement will leave me a boat in good condition.
This is very much in keeping with your approach. For many years you have been a committed racer with a strong social conscience.
EN: I have been wearing the colours of this association which fights against the ravages of AIDS for fifteen years. I lived in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s and saw the impact of the disease. We forget today that despite the triple therapy available some 800,000 people still die from AIDS each year. In Europe we tend to hide it and young people sometimes consider that the disease is behind them. My object is to remind them of this reality. Following a following a triple therapy is hard. And more pragmatically I am trying to get the message across that good sexual health for young people is essential. And this battle is far from won.
For the Vendée Globe I am lucky that my employer, the AXA group, seconded me over three years to get the message out. I can therefore divide my time between logistical help to the AIDS NGO and to promote these messages thanks to the Vendée Globe. That’s the backing that allows me to consider going around the world.
In addition to this message to get across, you also need to reconcile the Vendée Globe project with family life.
EN: Today, my children have grown up, they are independent and Fabienne, my wife, fully supports me. She is the one who manages all the communications for the operation. What changes with the Vendée Globe is that we are running a programme that will last several months rather than a race across the Atlantic. But I do start to feel a bit of anxiety in the camp, we are going to more hostile corners of the ocean and for many long weeks. It's up to me to organize myself as well as possible, to be physically ready, to have prepared the boat as rigorously as possible. My loved ones have shared in my dreams for so long, I have no right to do things without their support and them knowing what we are all taking on.
And now you are on an IMOCA after years in Multi50, something of a change?
EN: Sometimes you have to know how to make choices. I am a multihull lover but this is the boat you need to use. So I adapt. I rediscover another way of sailing. But after the Vendée Globe, there is a good chance that I will return to the multihull. In the meantime, I have a circumnavigation to complete".