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A Q&A with David Sussmann about his experiences in the 2020 Pure Ocean Challenge

by David Schmidt 5 Aug 2020 08:00 PDT August 5, 2020
David Sussmann, centerm upon arriving in Lorient, France, after his first Atlantic crossing aboard JP DIck's JP54, The Kid, in the 2020 Route Saint-Pierre Lorient Pure Ocean Challenge © Image courtesy of the 2020 Route Saint-Pierre Lorient Pure Ocean Challenge

On Saturday, July 18, two raceboats departed St Pierre and Miquelon, two islands situated just south of Greenland, with their bows aimed at Lorient, France, and the finishing line of the inaugural Route Saint-Pierre Lorient Pure Ocean Challenge. The Kid, a JP 54, was skippered by its owner and designer, Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA; of IMOCA 60 fame), while the second boat, UP SAILING, unis pour la planète, is a Class 40 that was skippered by Morgane Ursault-Poupon (FRA). The race’s stated goal was to break the reference time of 10 days, one hour and 31 minutes for this passage, which was set by French sailing legend Eric Tabarly and crew aboard the maxi Côte d´Or in 1987, but there was more going on than just a two-boat sprint across the Pond.

The Route Saint-Pierre Lorient Pure Ocean Challenge was organized by Route Saint Pierre and Miquelon and Pure Ocean (, a non-profit organization that was founded by David Sussmann with the goal of supporting research projects that help protect delicate marine ecosystems and biodiversity while raising public awareness of these issues through events.

Sussmann raced aboard The Kid and helped Dick and company break Tabarly’s record by sailing this same patch of brine in just eight days, 12 hours and 16 minutes, despite suffering a collision that cost The Kid her port rudder. En route, Sussmann conducted observations and other bits of empirical research to help bolster public awareness of the issues facing our planet and its beautiful oceans. interviewed Sussmann ( last month ahead of the race to learn more about the event. I checked in Sussmann again this month, via email, to learn more about his experiences, observations, and data-collection efforts during this exciting inaugural event.

Can you please describe the amount of visible garbage and plastic pollution that you saw on your Atlantic crossing?

We only saw a few plastic cups but it’s the billions of pieces of microplastic we can’t see that are choking our seas and wildlife and could also be affecting human health.

There were other signs of changes at sea such as sargassum weed extending hundreds of miles north of where it used to reach, warmer waters and no signs of icebergs.

What about abandoned fishing equipment in the water?

We didn’t see any until we got within 400 miles of Lorient. I was surprised that there weren’t more ‘ghost nets’ but we were travelling at speeds of up to 23 knots, and they can sink to the sea bed where they can trap marine mammals.

There were many fishing boats that weren’t using an AIS, meaning they could’ve been fishing illegally, something which contributes to depleting fish stocks and the destruction of marine habitats.

Can you tell us about the kind of samples that you took and the kind of experiments that you ran on these samples?

I wasn’t able to really see much marine debris but I recorded the information on species sightings and this data will be analyzed to help our understanding of the oceans.

You mentioned in our previous interview that you would be using scientific applications developed by Ifremer to identify marine species—what were these and what did you find?

It’s a participatory science application to record marine mammal sightings and I would encourage any sailors to download it ( to help increase our knowledge of their prevalence.

It was so amazing to come into close contact with a variety of marine species including what we thought were a group of pilot whales (, as well as Orcas and sea turtles.

How did these findings compare with what you had been expecting to see?

I expected to see some species but it’s so amazing to witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. It reminds us how rich the biodiversity of our seas actually is and why we must preserve ocean health.

Can you tell us about the collision that cost The Kid her port rudder? Do you know what you hit? If not, do you have an idea if this was a marine creature or if it was trash or wood/debris in the water?

I have no idea what it was but we did see containers and large trees floating so it’s quite possible that it was one of those. The installation of forward-looking sonar could help boats avoid collisions with marine species and other objects.

[British IMOCA 60 skipper] Alex Thomson is currently trialing a system on his boat and I hope it will eventually be adopted by the offshore sailing community.

After crossing the Atlantic and conducting scientific experiments, do you think the health of our oceans is better or worse than you thought, prior to this experience? Can you please explain?

It was what I expected it to be.

What did shock me was the pollution from cargo ships. You could smell their fuel from miles away.

Our ocean is home to millions of species, with nine out of 10 remaining undiscovered, and it’s under threat.

[The ocean is a] driving force of the climate, and we need to safeguard marine biodiversity from major issues such as pollution, overfishing and, of course, climate change.

Can you suggest some concrete steps that concerned sailors can take on individual levels to help curb ocean pollution? What about collective steps that the sailing community can take?

There are simple things sailors can do such as having a watermaker onboard, avoid using plastic, recycling, and washing dishes with saltwater.

Biodegradable bags for human waste should also be used, too. The wider sailing community also needs to explore ways of understanding and addressing its carbon impact, including the use of carbon fiber to build boats.

Can you tell us about the week of events that took place in Lorient? Do you feel that this outreach accomplished its goals? Can you please explain?

The waves aligned in Lorient and we got to spend some time with Annick Girardin, the recently appointed French Government Minister for the Sea, a post that’s been reintroduced after a 30-year absence. She went [aboard] Jean-Pierre Dick’s boat where we talked about the environmental challenges we face and what Pure Ocean is trying to achieve.

We also met with representatives from the local government and the Mayor of Lorient who was interested in Pure Ocean’s mission.

It absolutely met our aim of raising awareness of the need for ocean preservation and we will continue these conversations.

Do you think that this race will take place again in 2021? If so, do you think it will also have an environmental message?

I believe there is space for this challenge to become an annual addition to the racing calendar, attracting more international sailors. It made Jean-Pierre [Dick] think about ocean health, and we want to influence more members of the sailing community to take part in an offshore race linked with a compelling environmental message and become ambassadors for the ocean.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

We’re still running a petition ( calling on politicians to increase funding for ocean research projects. After crossing the Atlantic I’m even more aware of how precious it is—it could provide solutions for human health and future treatments for a range of illnesses—more research needs to be done so we would welcome any donations ( to help further our cause.

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