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Vendee Globe - The skipper not the boat wins, says Jean Pierre Dick

by Clare Macnaughton on 5 Nov 2012
Virbac Paprec 3 during the Europa Warm’Up 2012 Jacques Vapillon © www.vapillon.com
The 2012 Vendee Globe is set to get underway in just over five days’ time and now the tallest skipper of the race, Jean Pierre Dick, talks with Clare Macnaughton about his inner monologue and planking.

Towering at 6ft 4in, or 192cm, Jean Pierre Dick is the tallest skipper participating in the seventh edition of the Vendée Globe. 'Being tall is an advantage and a disadvantage. Inside the boat I have to use kneepads because I am not able to stand up. I train to strengthen my back and stomach. I do the plank a lot.' (Planking is an exercise that is used in pilates, yoga and pole dancing to strengthen the core stability.)

'When I am outside it’s an advantage because I can reach the sails more easily. Usually the solo sailor they are quite short. I am thinking of Ellen, Bernard, Gabart, Golding for example. I don’t see my height as a limiting factor.'

This edition of the Vendée Globe will see six new generation boats on the start line. These boats have designed to be lighter, more rigid and faster. Jean Pierre explained why this is considered to be a key differentiator.

'With the boat hulls we are getting stiffer and stiffer. There is a lot technology in the boat. With each generation it is getting more and more difficult to get the express speed. It’s always better to have a fast boat. If you have a slow boat you have to be very clever.'

Over many years of competitive sailing Jean Pierre Dick has been fortunate to be able customise his boat to his own particular specification.

'With this boat from A-Z I have been involved with the concept of the boat. It’s important. For example, with Banque Populaire it’s possible the skipper was not completely in agreement with the boat and it can create frustration. I feel that I have built the boat that I want. I designed it right at the beginning following my two single handed around the world trips for the Vendée Globe as well as the Barcelona World race which I won twice.' He continued.

'It’s good that my boat is a new generation because you are starting with a blank sheet of paper. You can decide what you want because you have the experience to know what you want. I have two world tours already in this boat. I did the Barcelona World Race and I, also, did the delivery from Auckland with the boat. It was not racing but then I raced three trans-Atlantics with the boat. From a timing perspective it is good for me because it’s new generation and I have done more miles than my competitors. Banque Pop dismasted and PRB have not done anything. When I set up the project I thought this was one of my best assets.'

When considering the unpredictability of the fickle beast that is the Vendée Globe that combines weather, waves, distance, and the unknown, as hurdles to overcome, there are few certainties.

'You have four oceans to cross and that is the only certainty. You need speed because you cannot win if you don’t go very fast.'

The sails are the engine of the boat and the choices a skipper makes with his sail selection can be critical. The bigger the sail area the greater the power.

'I have selected the sails that I wanted. It’s a big part of the game. I have been working with the same sailmaker for years now, close to thirty years. The sails are a weapon but sometimes they are strength and sometimes a weakness. It depends on the range of the wind. If you are in the range you are perfect and then sometimes you are little bit off because you have taken the wrong decision. I think the advantage of my boat is that single-handed I have a set of sails that have an all-round range. They have a big sail area. I think my front sails are a bit bigger than my competitors. We discuss every sail and consider what size we want and what effect we want. This is long term work and I have done so much work on the sails on all of my boats. The setting of the sail is critical to boat performance. I can’t tell you exactly everything. We all sail together in La Port de Foret so for the French boats I know all the sails of most of my competitors.'

But Jean Pierre Dick is pragmatic. 'Sailing is a sport of preparation. Sometimes you have to face the reality that someone has a better things and focus instead on the global objectives You can only try to be globally better than your competitors.'

He has learnt many lessons throughout his sailing career spanning 11 years.

'At the beginning I had a lot of issues, including a capsize and so we are used to abandoning races to technical issues. Boats are like athletes. Rugby players can get injured at every match. I read Jonny Wilkinson’s memoir and he said that he had a lot of injury trouble. Fortunately, over the last six years I have won five of the different big races, which is a good track. But I have had issues, such as the last Vendée, and I had to abandon the race.'

The skipper is the beating heart of the boat that is to carry them around the course, and inevitably, after prolonged periods at sea, alone on the boat, an unconventional relationship is created between the boat and skipper.

'Because the race is so long you have a peculiar relationship with the boat after so long at sea. I like boats. They are my passion and I don’t want to hurt my boat. It’s like having a relationship with a big tool. It’s not that I talk to the boat but more that I talk to myself. That I think of the boat as a big engine, and say to myself 'Jean Pierre you should do that.' Or 'Jean Pierre be careful. It’s like the devil is on my shoulder and I am trying to work out what is the right thing to do. As if there are two voices in your mind and you must select the right one to listen to.'

According to Jean Pierre Dick it is the skipper not the boat who wins the Vendée Globe.

'We have to make a lot decisions at sea. It’s not the boat that wins the race. It’s the skipper. This is really the race when you can say the skipper won. Sometimes when you have a crew it is not so clear who is giving the momentum. I like the race. I like the concept of sailing around the world. That for me is very Vendee Globe website

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