It is eight years since Sam Davies was at the Vendée Globe pontoon as a competitor. She has proven super competitive in the preliminary races with her well optimised Initiatives Coeur. She is tipped by many as an outside hope for the podium as she has the experience, the drive and the skill to get her boat to the finish.
How does it feel to be back here ready to race?
It is great to be back here, it is a while since I have been here with my own boat. I feel relaxed and a lot less nervous about the race which I guess comes with experience I have gained in the eight years since I did the Vendée Globe last.
Do you enjoy this phase?
I do enjoy this phase. It is kind of like the first real feeling of accomplishment to be here on the start line with your project ready, and there is always a special atmosphere with the skippers here. I am relieved to be here. Usually it is quite fun being here the first week at least but with the health situation, everybody is a little more quiet, more subdued.
Is there more solidarity between skippers this time, a feeling of having got here and beaten the health situation?
I think there is always a great feeling of solidarity here, that is one of the magic things about the Vendée Globe.
Your results have been good in the build up and you have proven very competitive does that heighten everyone’s expectation and add more pressure to you?
For me and for my team it is a sign that all the hard work has paid off. It is great to get some good results in the lead up to the Vendée as we have done a lot of hard work and development these last two years. There have been doubts and questions and these results show confirm everything we have done is right and so it is a great confidence builder. Obviously the conditions in the races I have done well in are good for my boat and the way I sail. So I don’t have a false expectation of being in the top three off the start line. So, yes, I have put a bit of pressure on myself with my results but I don’t have pressure from my sponsors and it is more a confidence booster.
What have you done to improve you sailing skills as such?
I think my two years with the Team SCA project massively improved me as a sailor. We had some fantastic coaches and we had a situation where we could just concentrate on our sailing. And I sailed with some amazing women who were each top in their own discipline and that is the magic of crewed sailing. Single handed you have to do everything and so I learned a lot from the Volvo Ocean Race, the sheer number of miles we sailed and all the shitfights we had along the way. They are the best way to learn. And then the last couple of years we have sailed a lot and of course sailing and working with Paul Meilhat, the Route du Rhum champion, was great too and I learned from him.
Overall your boat is quite a good compromise, how will you pace yourself chasing the new generation boats as well as having your hands full with good boats and skippers around you pushing hard?
To win you have to finish. That is the main philosophy. I am lucky to have a boat which goes fast but I always have that second objective to raise money for our charity for Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque. It is hard for me to aim to be as fast as the new boats, sometimes that is frustrating and so I am not going to try and keep up with them in the first few days, even the first few weeks. I will happy around 10th as I have some great boats around me PRB, Seaexplorer, MACSF and they are my speed buddies and have been in the recent races. But my main objective is to just pace myself along with Boris, Kevin and Isa. I am looking forwards to that battle with those amazing sailors. If we have a good battle the race will look after itself.
Have you worked on the mental side of your game?
I am lucky in what I do and I really appreciate that, and with Initiatives Coeur I have a great morale booster, every mile I sail, every day I sail I am raising more money for charity. So I have a reason to be out there. And on bad days when something maybe broken and you cant go as fast for me the way to boost myself is to look at the sail and see the picture of one of the girls we have already save and that reminds me why I am there. I just know I am so lucky to be out there doing the Vendée Globe that helps me a lot.
And while it is fantastic to see six women here what do you see as the prospects for women coming up behind you?
I think it is great there are six women in the race and three of us with sponsors who have been with us for a long time, we have great projects and are here to get results. We are here to show that the next step is possible. We need to have some girls here next time with brand new boats in 2024 as real favourites.
And do you think it is harder now for women to make the breakthrough to this level?
I think the hardest moments were made easier for us by the pioneering women like Tracy Edwards and Florence Arthaud a few years ago. I kind of compare my career path against them and how they struggled. It is hard for everyone and I would not say it is harder for women. We have quite a lot of interest for a few of us and sponsors are sure to get a return on investment. The main thing is if you really want to do it and are really motivated then you can do it whether you are a woman or a man. The Vendée Globe is just hard. Out there we are just sailors.
And you have made some smart technical choices tailored to the way you want to sail your boat?
I have had the time to optimise Initiatives Coeur. I have spent a lot of time thinking about it and working on it. It has been a slow optimisation to make sure we do the right things and to make sure we do it right. But I am surrounded by a great team. I have taken advantage of the grandfather rule (as an older boat means don’t have to have the one design elements) a bit and that Jérémie Beyou proved you can put foils on a non foiling boat and so we took the next step and that really made a big difference, a big jump in speed of the boat. My rig is a little smaller than the one design rig, the idea is to reduce drag and adapt to the way I like to sail. I have a big J2 and a big J3 and can sail with my storm jib as well, a lot of people never make use of the storm jib, so there are a few developments. I try to make use of everything I have on the boat. The autopilots are something I have been developing since 2018 with MadINtec and I was the first monohull to work with these guys to develop this really intelligent autopilot which totally steers the boat way better than I do. I have enough time to understand it and get the most out of it. Singlehanded you really have to totally and completely trust your autopilot when you are sending it in massive waves in big winds. That confidence is massive.