Travelling the road to take you from your first thoughts to the Vendée Globe start line seems like a never-ending job. We invite you today to discover the people who build the project, the skilled, expert men and women who contribute to a Vendée Globe project, bringing it to life, shaping it and transforming what the skippers dream of into reality.
On a desk, near the stadium in Saint-Fulgent in Vendée, the applications were piling up. Thick, blue folders reminding us of the colour of the ocean and the huge task that lies ahead. Sometimes, a project gets underway when contact is made with a firm that knows nothing about the endeavour, but appears interested in the idea. Often, it is true that experience and knowledge lead to huge leaps forward. Christophe Guyony, at that time managing director of Maître-CoQ, was busy studying the fifteen applications from skippers who wanted to take on the company’s colours. They all talked about the 2020 Vendée Globe, but with a wide range of ideas, intentions, qualities and budgets going from one to fifteen million euros over four years. That was back in 2017 and Jérémie Beyou had just finished the Vendée Globe in third place.
Christophe Guyony takes us back there: “I arrived in the company during that Vendée Globe. We were already running the Solo Maître-CoQ and wondering whether we shouldn’t go further with the Vendée Globe. As our staff were very keen after getting to the podium with Jérémie, we decided to return, but didn’t have the intention of winning, preferring instead to work with someone we could enjoy being with.”
The number of folders dwindled rapidly and there were just two applications remaining for the final decision, including Yannick Bestaven’s who had got through thanks to his personality. The skipper from Arcachon was chosen in June that year. He already had his boat, “and he was someone I quickly saw shared the same values; he told me about his childhood raising poultry in SW France. In La Rochelle, where I went to see him, I met his team and that suited me fine.”
In the history of the firm, there had already been several Vendée Globe stories. There was the first trip with Bertrand de Broc, which was a smallish venture. “We just had a sticker on the boat,” explained the former MD. Then Philippe de Villiers (who was then president of the SAEM) asked us and several other businesses to become involved in the rescue of the SAEM Vendée, and we contributed to that. But one of the major steps for Maître-CoQ was when the brand was acquired by the LDC Group (in 2009). In 2011, the managing director back then understood that the staff were afraid of losing their brand.” To defend it, it was decided to display it in the Vendée Globe – something which fascinates the locals in Vendée. That was followed by the Jérémie Beyou era. He was forced to retire early in the 2012 race after mechanical damage, but then obtained a fantastic place on the podium in 2016-2017. The three times winner of the Solitaire du Figaro also applied again but with the idea of building a new boat, but that did not fit in with the company’s overall strategy. Christophe Guyony explains: “I wanted to compete with a reasonable budget, in order to invest in TV advertising and the development of production tools. Yannick understood that and his project matched our requirements.”
The contract the firm offered included several key details, such as for example the need for the sailor to spend a certain number of days in the company and trips aboard the boat with the skipper. “We were determined for our staff to become well and truly involved in the sailing project.”
Yannick agreed to that. That corresponds to his personality; he probably saw in these obligations something that struck a chord with what he experiences as the head of a business. He had his feet firmly on the ground and was never greedy… In fact, he was quite cunning, the skipper from Arcachon. “When he told me he used to raise ducks with his grandmother, I just could not resist,” smiled Christophe Guyony.
Was that enough to set off of an adventure lasting four years, or to put it another way, was that enough to commit so much money to one person? Not really. But the Managing Director did some more investigating. “The world of sailing is small. I went down on the pontoons in Port-La-Forêt and Vannes during the Solo Maître-CoQ. I talked to people... In fact, I was the first to meet Clarisse Crémer, who told me about the Vendée Globe, but was interested in it for her boyfriend (Tanguy Le Turquais).”
The art of directing a project
The decision to go with Yannick Bestaven was a firm one, particularly as the skipper already had his boat, a Farr design from 2006, the former Akena Vérandas (2009-2013), Initatives-Cœur (2014-2017) that was previously skippered by Arnaud Boissières, Tanguy de Lamotte, and by Kito de Pavant for a few months (Bastide-Otio). This would not however be the boat aboard which the new Maître-CoQ skipper would sail around the world. After a technically painful Route du Rhum (damaged twice, a pit stop, and a retirement), it became clear that a new boat was required, but no way could it be a brand new one, especially seeing the time she could be sailed would be too short to allow the skipper to be well placed at the start in 2020.
Christophe Guyony wanted the former Macif (2012-2013) and the former SMA (2016-2017), which then belonged to Mer Agitée. After visiting the pontoons in the 2018 Route du Rhum, Yannick Bestaven showed his managing director the black boat telling him she was a good one, the right one… “Sailing is like a pot of jam. Once you have stuck your finger in, you just keep going back. Even if we did argue a bit about it.” In the end, they went for the former Safran that had been skippered by Morgan Lagravière (2016-2017) that Roland Jourdain was looking after. “We already talked to Yannick and Bilou about it in January 2018 when the question was raised: Would Maître-Coq stand by him if Yannick bought her? When it was clear to all that we had to change boats, it became necessary to find an additional budget, but I stated my principles talking as one boss to another: as this boat is more complex, we need to change the size of the team. We hired Jean-Marie Dauris as technical and sporting director and brought in Bilou’s lads, including Ronan Le Goff. I’m sure we had the oldest team in the 2020 Vendée Globe, which show that experience pays in the end.”
Yannick Bestaven and Maître-CoQ have decided to come back again for the 2024 race with the hope of building a new boat. It took a while for the skipper to make up his mind. He was an unexpected winner, even if Christophe Guyony had predicted that he would make it to the podium: “I told Yannick that four new boats could suffer damage – because of the COVID crisis, they had not had enough time to ensure the reliability of the boats -, so he could hope to finish fifth… or with a little luck make it to the podium.”
Today, Roland Tonarelli, who has been Managing Director of Maître-CoQ since the start of the year, is in charge of the round the world project. Christophe Guyony has joined the ready meals arm of the LDC Group, which owns Maître-CoQ and has confidently handed over the baton: “With Yannick, we have had a close, responsible working relationship since we started working together. We have the greatest respect for these men and women who are capable of enjoying themselves in 60-knot winds and 10-m high waves in the Southern Ocean. Yannick has earned the respect of the whole company. Yannick has become a friend, so I will always try to be there and involved if that becomes necessary… For example, when we have to add 15 kilos of paint more to the sails than the others have. It’s great, as that means we have plenty to discuss.”