The solo racer from Saint Malo is back to start this mythical race for his third time. He sails Bureau Vallee which won the 2016 race as Banque Populaire. He tells us about his preparation and how he is learning to associate particular smells with positive images to help with the inevitable times of low morale.
How do you feel at 14 days to the start of the Vendée Globe?
This is my third start but of course I did not complete my first Vendée Globe in 2012, I had a collision with a fishing boat. We are good. It's okay, we're pretty serene, all these confinement stories made us be sure we are ready earlier than usual. Usually we're always bumbling around here a bit. This time we sailed for a bit less time, we stopped sailing a little bit earlier and focused on preparation. So I have the feeling of finalizing stuff, of finessing bits and pieces. I am quite chilled. On top of that there is the prospect of a real full week of rest ahead before the start with the this lockdown imposed.
You haven't competed in a race this year, apart from the Défi Azimut runs. How has this particular year been for you and your team?
I've had the boat for four years, so I think I must be the one with the most miles on his boat. It's true that it's been a very odd year, and we don't have a huge budget so we couldn't do everything we wanted. This year we were late launching. And in a Vendée Globe year, there is always a balance between sailing a lot, taking the risk of breaking stuff or going safe and working on the preparation of the boat. We chose that option instead. We have had a lot of little things to improve, to strengthen. I'm not too worried about it. We already know the boats that are on the same level of performance as us because they have been around a while. My boat won the previous edition of the Vendée Globe, under the colours of Banque Populaire with Armel Le Cleac’h. We made a commitment to buy her before the Vendée Globe and then he won so that was cool! We got her back in April 2017. She's a good, reliable boat. We still had a lot of little problems but they allowed us to see the weaknesses. We hope to have a boat that is now fully reliable
How have you optimized the boat?
We have worked a lot on ergonomics and comfort on board for the skipper. I think we didn't necessarily realize when the foil boats came out how hard life would be on board, how wet it was going to be etc. And when you see the cockpits are closed and protected on the next generation of boats you realise why. We installed am hydraulic cylinder system to be able to adjust the angle of incidence of the foils. We worked on the sails, the rigging. So no big innovations apart from the foil hydraulics. We made the best possible preparation with our reasonable budget.
Do you wear protective clothing?
I have a physiotherapist and an osteo who have followed me for four years, because these are machines that stress your body, which stress the joints, etc. I am very well supported in that area. In terms of physical preparation too. Then I have a helmet and knee pads. We have also added a lot of handrails, a lot of things to keep me safe and secure on board.
And in terms of mental preparation?
We worked in this area a bit, especially on the idea of "reducing" the size of the planet in your head. Sometimes in the Vendée you can be 1,500 miles behind or 1,500 miles ahead and you have to stay motivated because during a round-the-world these distances need to be scaled in your head. It's important to stay motivated even in these cases and then, you have to be able to go to find positive images quickly when you have a drop in morale. I have learned to associated pleasing, positive images with essential oils. I breathe them in, and it's supposed to - I'll tell you if it works - to bring me back to some good times that my coach Claire Desmars made me tell her about, with the kids for example. The idea is really to combine positive ideas with smells.