The 2012 Vendee Globe is set to get underway in just over five days’ time. Bernard Stamm has already raced in the Vendée Globe twice (2000-2001 and 2008-2009) but never finished, even though he won two round-the-world stage races. On board one of the most recent boats in the fleet of this seventh edition, the Swiss Cheminées Poujoulat skipper aims to finish the race, but he also has an even more prestigious goal in mind…
Bernard Stamm on deck, Cheminees Poujoulat
How did you take up sailing?
My parents took me on a boat when I was just a toddler. People talk about my career as a lumberjack a lot but those six years I spent working in the woods were more a break in my sailing career than anything else. True, I don’t have the same background as the other skippers, who tend to have a more regular progression. My parents had a yacht on Lake Geneva and I never really learned to sail, it’s always been a natural thing to me, like a native language. But I was more than 30 years old when I started competition.
Can you tell us more about your partnership with Cheminées Poujoulat?
It all started in 2003. Before that, I had a Swiss sponsor - Bobst Group – supporting me for the first BOC and because it went well, the sponsor got what they wanted so they decided to stop the project. I still had Armor Lux with me, but that wasn’t enough. So there was a quite complicated period after that, I was looking for a new sponsor but I couldn’t find one. That’s when Cheminées Poujoulat reached out to me, and we built a solid relationship. They were looking for a skipper who owned his boat and they truly wanted to start a winning project.
You obviously have your sights set on winning the Vendée Globe…
Yes. Basically, I want to win every race I start, otherwise there’s no point in being at the start, in my opinion. Then of course, your chance of winning depends on the other competitors’ performances. But in order to win, you first have to finish!
What is your best memory on a boat?
There are so many! I guess it is my first win in a round-the-world race - Around Alone. I had built a boat for the Vendée Globe 2000-2001 and it didn’t work too well but after that, I was pretty successful with that boat, it was a very rewarding experience eventually.
Is withdrawing in the Kerguelen Islands your worst memory?
No. This is definitely not a good memory, but at least I saw the Kerguelen Islands. I don’t think I would have gone there otherwise! (He laughs)
What is your worst fear in the Vendée Globe?
Breaking something. Because when you do, the hard work, energy and hopes of the people who have supported you are all shattered into pieces. Then again, if something breaks, it often means someone in the team made a mistake at one point. Or it can just be bad luck, which is what happened to us in the last Jacques Vabre, we hit a container. All your work is lost, and you also have extra work because you need to repair the boat.
Do some areas scare you more than others in the Vendée Globe?
Bernard Stamm - Vendee Globe
I can’t really think of a place that scares me, each area along the Vendée Globe route has its own specificities that need to be taken seriously. I don’t like the Doldrums, you can get terrible thunderstorms there, and you can’t move away fast enough because when there’s a thunderstorm, there’s no wind. When you get there, luck is an important factor, unlike other areas along the Vendée Globe route.
What about icebergs? Do ice gates make you feel safer?
I’m not afraid of icebergs, you just need to be vigilant. I’m basically against ice gates. I understand why they decided to introduce them but it also means they don’t trust us, they don’t think we can make the right choices and decide not to go to certain areas. But this is just my opinion. We now have the technology to monitor icebergs and know which ones can generate smaller icebergs.
Are you superstitious?
No, but because I don’t want to get in trouble, I’m careful, I don’t want to bring bad luck to the boat. But basically, I’m not a superstitious sailor.
What do you do when not helming or manoeuvering?
When I’m not working on the boat’s settings, I’m at the helm, I sleep I study the weather forecasts and I try to find time to eat. That pretty much keeps me busy 24 hours a day, so I usually don’t have time for anything else. I’m taking the equivalent of 26 days of music with me but I don’t think I’ll listen to more than ten hours in the entire race. I want to be able to hear the boat, even the smallest noise, in case there’s a problem. So I can’t go crazy and listen to super loud music!
How do you manage sleep during the race?
After the first 24 hours, you’re so tired that even someone shooting a gun in the cockpit couldn’t wake you up. (He laughs). That’s not completely true, though, because we really need to listen to the boat carefully, especially right after the start. Sleep management is all about knowing yourself. I’m not going to try to sleep is so know I won’t be able to.
Have you ever had hallucinations caused by lack of sleep?
Yes, I have. But when it does happen, it means you haven’t done what you were supposed to do. When you haven’t slept enough, you start dreaming while you’re awake, and that’s hallucinations. I once thought someone was on board with me but it was just my oilskin.
How do you communicate with your friends and family?
People don’t necessarily realise how difficult it can be to write emails on board. We’ve improved the chart table to make it easier but telephone is still much more convenient. It’s great but you can’t always hear people very well and once you hang up, you start feeling very lonely. It’s not that uplifting…
Will you keep in touch with the news?
I get press reviews, which means I’m not the one choosing what kind of news I’m getting. They could very well decide to send me the results of the local football match between Villers and Plobannalec (He laughs).
The end of the world is supposedly scheduled for December 21. Are you scared there won’t be any dry land left?
Ah, I didn’t know about that. But there was also supposed to be a Millenium bug and eventually, nothing happened!
Vendee Globe website