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2014 season promises to be thrilling for Gitana Team

by Kate Jennings on 28 Jan 2014
Groupe Edmond De Rothschild, Skipper, Sebastien Josse Artemis Challenge
Last year proved to be a successful one for the Gitana Team: victory in the ArMen Race in May, a win in the Route des Princes in June, not to mention of course the stunning performance by the Josse– Caudrelier pairing in securing victory in the Transat Jacques Vabre in Itajaí last November. Having joined the stable equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild in March 2011, Sébastien Josse, recognised back then as a great monohull specialist, quickly got his bearings and made a name for himself among the top multihull skippers.

In less than three years, by dint of hard work and the backing of a high quality shore team, the skipper has further enriched the incredible Gitana saga. The 2014 season promises to be equally thrilling with the major Route du Rhum meeting, whose fleet will set sail from Saint Malo on 2 November. Above all though it marks the start of a five-year campaign packed with surprises, which kicks off with the arrival of a new craft within the Gitana Team and Sébastien Josse’s big comeback to an event that is particularly dear to him.

There is quite a history between the Gitana Team and the Route du Rhum, especially since Lionel Lemonchois’ victory at the helm of Gitana 11 in 2006. Indeed, the racing stable’s five arrows are a familiar sight in this event and it holds the event record of seven days 17 hours 19 minutes and six seconds to this day.

At 38 years of age, Sébastien Josse boasts an eclectic CV: Solitaire du Figaro, Vendée Globe, transatlantic races and Volvo Ocean Race… Indeed, he may have started out late in competitive sailing, but this native of Nice certainly hasn’t been dawdling. And yet, his participation in the Route du Rhum 2014 will be pretty much a first… He is a rookie to the event as well as the exercise of making for Pointe-à-Pitre singlehanded in a multihull over a 3,500-mile course. If we add to that the line-up of maxi-trimarans that Sébastien and his 21-metre steed will have to face up to, it is a daring challenge! In fact, the vital statistics of his rivals in the Ultimate class are impressive: 31 metres for Banque Populaire VII, 34 metres for the new Sodeb’O and 30 metres for Francis Joyon’s Idec… not to mention the 40-metre Spindrift 2, which hasn’t confirmed its participation as yet.

'The experience in itself appeals to me and it may well prove instructive for the next stage of the programme. Not everyone can cross the Atlantic singlehanded at the helm of a boat like Edmond de Rothschild and pulling it off would be great satisfaction in itself. That said, we perfectly understand the polars of our boat and those of our rivals and we are well aware that we won’t be able to compete with the large craft in all the different conditions. As such, on paper, we won’t be setting out with the winning horse, but as is always the case in this mechanical sport, the weather conditions we encounter will be the decisive factor. The history of the Route du Rhum has shown that it can have a few surprises up its sleeve… I’ll be setting sail in a relaxed manner free of pressure' admitted Sébastien Josse.

It’s at the helm of the Multi70 Edmond de Rothschild, alias Gitana XV, that the skipper has chosen to set off from Saint Malo this coming autumn. For this, the trimaran will undergo a quick refit, which will begin in Lorient in the next few days: 'We’ll mainly be working on the ergonomics so as to adapt the Multi70’s deck layout to solo sailing: increased protection at the helming station and the pit, installation of a outside watch station to minimise the time spent down below… The work carried out on the automatic pilot will also be essential if I’m to stand a chance of driving the boat at her full potential. The rest of the work will be done on the water, with a series of sea trials and training sessions, shorthanded and then singlehanded,' explained the sailor.

For the past fourteen years, Baron Benjamin de Rothschild has been writing the story of the Gitana fleet on two or three hulls. However, given the current climate, notably the situation with the MOD70 class, the offshore racing stable and its members are being forced to view the future somewhat differently. For this reason, the Gitana Team, with the support of Ariane and Benjamin de Rothschild and the Edmond de Rothschild Group, has opted to launch into the Vendée Globe adventure once again in what is a sporting but also a human decision as Cyril Dardashti, Managing Director of the Gitana Team, explains: 'Some will see our Vendée Globe choice as a change of direction, but more accurately it’s a necessary transition. Today, the MOD70 isn’t offering a perennial circuit – no race is scheduled before 2016 – and to our mind the recent announcements by the Ultim Association still lack guarantees, both in terms of the structure that this ‘class’ will offer and the events that might be organised for these giants. However, this latter project is of interest to us and we will be keeping a close eye on how it develops. Ariane and Benjamin de Rothschild have always been keen to inscribe the Gitana Team and more widely the history of sailing and their family in the future. The human element is also at the very core of their involvement. The Gitana Team is about a sailor of course, but it’s also about a team working in the background to enable this man to set sail with every chance of success. Preparing a prototype yacht for an adventure like the Vendée Globe is a fine challenge for our team and everyone is passionate about it. This event is an extraordinary competition!'

The page of this new project is still blank: should a new boat be built or do you optimise an existing one? Though the option of a brand new monohull is ultimately preferable, who should build it and where? What improvements can be made to a boat from the current generation? All these questions are currently being studied by Sébastien Josse and the team as a whole. The Gitana Team fully intends to invest for success and give itself every chance of providing Sébastien Josse with a boat that matches up to his talent. In this way, whilst preparing for the major meeting of the 2014 season – the Route du Rhum – Baron Benjamin de Rothschild’s team will be working on the stable’s future IMOCA monohull from this year onwards. Such a schedule should enable Sébastien Josse to join the IMOCA circuit in 2015 so as to take part in the class’ race schedule that culminates with the Vendée Globe 2016.

This will be the second Vendée Globe experience for the Gitana Team, but this new project will be the sailor’s third participation in this Everest of the Seas. Indeed Sébastien Josse competed in the 2004-2005 and 2008-2009 editions of the famous round the world race without stopovers and without assistance and has never made any secret of his desire to return to the event at the head of a winning project. 'My history with the Vendée Globe began some 12 years ago, in 2002, when I was entrusted with the helm of my first Imoca project. That Vendée proved to be a journey of discovery. I set out on an old boat, which couldn’t really pretend to victory. However, those three months of sailing and my fifth place taught me a great many other things. The race helped me to my feet… In 2008, the year of my second participation, I returned at the helm of a latest generation monohull. Unfortunately my race was cut short offshore of New Zealand due to structural damage. That retirement has been a great frustration to me and until today it has left me with the sense that my history with the Vendée Globe was unfinished. I’m very happy with the Gitana Team’s choices and I’m all too aware of the incredible opportunity Ariane and Benjamin de Rothschild are giving me by enabling us to get involved in such an adventure. The Vendée Globe is a piece of life for a sailor and it extends well beyond a mere race.'

All the Gitana Team would like to take this opportunity to pass on its very best wishes for 2014.
Gitana Team website

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