The skipper of Pure-Best Western tells us about his unusual background, which has seen him advance through dreams and determination to the start of his second Vendée Globe. He refers to a unique psychological and emotional test.
Born on 26th June 1977 in Paris, 13th district
Lives in Tregunc in Finistère
Studies, first experience of sailing and the start of a vocation:
School wasn’t really my thing. My father worked in the area of civil engineering. I spent my early years in Pakistan, San Salvador, Nigeria and Indonesia. When I was seven, we moved to the Oise (NE of Paris). I was like Mowgli, never wearing anything on my feet and that’s when I was told to put shoes on. I found it hard to adapt to school and changed schools many times. When I was about 12, I went to a boarding school in Aisne. That was a very nasty experience. It was the year when Florence Arthaud won the Route du Rhum. Since then, there have been two boats that have counted for me in history: Pierre 1er and Bagage Superior.
In my family, there were mountaineers. My grandfather was a mountain guide and was involved in the creation of the Vars resort. As for sailing, I did some Optimist sailing in the Oise in amongst the barges before moving up to a Laser. Then, there was my great uncle by marriage (on my father’s side). He lived in Port Navalo and had a boat. I spent my summers there and sailed on a little 8.25 m keelboat, a Poker. As a teenager, I took the boat out alone and set off. My uncle ended up offering me a training course in the Glénans. After two days, I was the captain.
After that horrible year at secondary school, I went to do sports specialising in sailing in La Baule, at the Grand Air School. I continued with that in Paimpol doing a diploma in electronics, but one day, I decided to leave school, just like that. I had the idea of competing in the Mini Transat. I moved to a caravan in La Trinité sur Mer on a campsite, where no one lived in the winter. I lived on 300 francs a month. In 1999, I managed to buy a rotten old Mini that was lying around on the hard in Bordeaux. In the Mini Transat, I sank… But my partner was determined and stuck with me this time for the Figaro. I was miraculously taken on in Port La Forêt. That is how I started my pro career.
How and why did your desire to make ocean racing develop?
With Florence Arthaud… Because I’m a big dreamer, early on, I knew that I wanted to do the Vendée Globe.
At what moment did it become the focus of your life? That has always been the case. My father said ‘OK, do what you want, but I don’t want to see you wasting your time. Go for it!’ I think I managed to do it because I was always lucky enough to find the right people. I always came across kind people.
Which result or experience are you most proud of? The Vendée Globe four years ago, when I finished in spite of seeing my rudders shatter. Every race is hard, but the Transat Jacques Vabre, when you finish in Brazil, it’s the end, whereas in the Vendée Globe, Brazil is just the beginning. The Vendée Globe is not that tough physically. It’s in the mind that it is tough. You are on edge all the time, with the nerves jangling all the time and any low moments are very low. You keep asking yourself when the shit is going to hit the fan. In my last Vendée Globe, I remember taking coffee capsules with me. When I opened them, I could smell the coffee and just breathing that in was enough to make me cry.
Your main quality in life: Determination, perseverance. Sometimes I can be quite stubborn
Your main weakness: My impatience and the fact that I am a dreamer
If you were an animal: A tiger. I have one aboard my boat. It’s a strong and cunning animal
If you were a plant: A hydrangea, as it comes from Brittany and I love Brittany
If you were a film: Forest Gump, my favourite film
A book: Jean d’Ormesson’s The Wandering Jew story. It’s the story of someone who is immortal and lives through the centuries
If you were a piece of music: I love popular French stuff, but if I had to take a song with me , it would be Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin
Your favourite colour: Blue
What makes you happy: I am lucky in that I have a great life. If I had to choose, it would be picking up crabs and things on the island of Houat. We love that.
Your hero: Francine Leca, President of the Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque cardiac surgery charity. She is 82 and still works hard.
Your favourite aphorism: It’s not over until you have crossed the line. Or maybe Mandela’s ‘I never lose. I either win or learn something new.’ Seeing I taught myself, I like the idea of learning from your mistakes.
If you were not an ocean racer, what would you be: I am at an age when I know that ocean racing is not very secure as a profession. I can’t help thinking about what I can do later on. But I don’t have the answer. It would be hard to be employed in a company. I need to have my own project.
MY 2020 VENDEE GLOBE
Your ambitions: Firstly to finish. In the first half of the rankings. To try to fight harder and do better than 15th.
What would stop you reaching that goal (apart from damage): Nothing
Your lethal weapon: The fact that this project has been up and running since the last Vendée Globe. We are ready and remain calm and relaxed.
What would make this Vendée Globe a success for you? Getting back to Les Sables. That everything goes smoothly. But no, it won’t be as easy as that…
What do you want to share with others? The race with those following me. We are alone on our boats. When you are alone, you really want to tell your story.
In three words, what is the Vendée Globe for you? Adventure, Commitment, Dreams
Three images you have of the Vendée Globe:
- The start in the harbour entrance
- Cape Horn, the snow-capped Andes
- The first boat I encounter just before the finish. After that it all happens quickly.
Which skipper inspires you most? Sam. (Davies, his partner in life). She is incredible. I think she could win the race.
What do you have to take with you when you set off around the world: My podcasts: Hondelatte Raconte (real crime stories) and Affaires Sensibles (discussion about old news stories): they allow me to get away from it all. I take them with me in every race…