At the age of 42 and a resident of the island of Ré, where he runs a restaurant, Antoine Cornic, who was born and bred by the sea, has always dreamt of sailing away and enjoying every moment out there. The son of a racer and friend of Yannick Bestaven, he learnt a lot from the Mini-Transat before deciding to set up a crazy project – he wants to take part in the Vendée Globe adventure in 2024.
In La Rochelle, there is an air of the Vendée Globe, even if the port is sixty miles south of Les Sables-d’Olonne, simply because Maitre Coq IV is there and you may even come across the winner of the last edition, Yannick Bestaven. You can also see Compagnie du Lit - Jiliti, Clément Giraud’s boat and alongside them, another IMOCA, Spirit of Canada, which Derek Hatfield skippered during his aborted attempt in 2008 and which will set off again as a new project. The boat has had several lives already and that matches the ups and downs of Antoine Cornic, her new owner.
“I sailed before I could walk”
Antoine Cornic now aged 42 will be three years older at the start of the next race. Right from the outset, his life has been closely linked to the sea. He jokes, “I sailed before I could walk.” He lives all year round on the island of Ré and looked back at his life. His father was in the French 470 team in the mid seventies. His parents met “out on the water in Normandy.” He spent his childhood with his brother, who is three years younger than him and “just as passionate about sailing.” His studies were “just about OK”. His parents loved sail races and Antoine wanted to sail further away. “That’s where I enjoy things the most. I’m not keen on the start and finish of races. I love being alone at sea and the fact that the ocean is all around me.” He likes to sail with the VHF turned off, has read Bernard Moitessier’s story over and over again and has gradually developed an idea of what the adventure may be like.
In 2001, he took part in the Mini-Transat. The name of the project was written on the hull of the 6.5m boat – “A dream race and a childhood dream.” It all took shape thanks to a loan from his father, which Antoine was keen to pay back. For the first time, the finish was in Brazil and Antoine arrived in tenth place with victory going to Yannick Bestaven, who over the years has become a “close friend”. Arnaud Boissières and Karen Leibovici also took part, but they quickly turned to the Vendée Globe. Antoine wanted to do that too and even acquired a fifty-foot boat to be able to take part in 2004, but the project folded after a rather unfortunate series of events: a failed attempt at the North Atlantic record, the loss of his sponsor, “a journey into Hell”, he said. When you spend all your time chasing sponsors and getting nowhere, it wears you down. “That is the hardest part of ocean racing,” Antoine told us. Things just would not go his way.
The need to get out there became “a real obsession”
So, he decided to go back to his first love and set up a café on the island of ré, ”the sort you find in Brittany.” He met his wife and started a family (they now have two children), set up a second restaurant, built a house… Life went on on the water’s edge, but the urge to get out to sea was still there, and became “an obsession” so he returned to the Mini-Transat in 2017 (11th). After that, Antoine reached the crossroads. He sold a restaurant and faced a big dilemma: “Either I would buy a boat to sail with the family, or we would try to get to the Vendée Globe.” It was a crazy idea, but his sponsor, EBAC (a bedding company) believed in him, as did his friends and family.
He bought Spirit of Canada, the winner of the 2000 Volvo Ocean race from the Australian, Jack Bouttell. “My brother went and looked at the boat in Lorient. She was well built and sturdy, even if we knew there was a lot of renovation work to do on her.” The IMOCA was taken to La Rochelle and the big adventure was underway. Time to get her into the yard, endless days of work with the help of some friends, “wallowing in the dust,” just wanting to get things done, but with doubts nagging away. The need to keep costs down… the need to remain confident in spite of losing her mast last year. The unwavering support of his wife and children “without whom, nothing would have been possible.” All of this went on backstage at the start of the adventure with the idea of taking part in the ultimate race continuing to grow. “Fewer people have taken part in the Vendée Globe than have gone into space. This is an adventure for aliens.”
The adventure continues for him with the Transat Jacques Vabre as the next target. The race against the clock has begun: he will sail the boat for the first time next week and after a fortnight will sail her as if completely alone aboard. He needs to qualify for the transatlantic race and is looking forward to a long trip to the Azores and back, before the boat goes back into the yard and then delivered to Le Havre. His co-skipper, Jean-Charles Luro, who is also the boat captain, has already been involved in nine IMOCA projects. They cannot wait to get underway and quench their thirst for ocean racing, while continuing their huge dream of going all the way to the most prestigious of round the world races.