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Yannick Bestaven: "There is a lot of pressure in what we do"

by Vendee Globe 24 Oct 00:37 PDT
Yannick Bestaven, Maître CoQ © Vendée Globe

In his 2014 built Maitre Coq IV Yannick Bestaven has a well proven boat he knows well. He feels he is pitching for a top five, top six. We caught up with him on his boat...

How is it going ?

Very good!

It looks like there is still a bit of activity on your boat?

I think they said they were done but there are little things, they don't really do anything anymore and that is good. Really I would rather they went to the beach now than work on the boat because it's too late! These are really little adjustments, checks. And really we have sailed a lot over the past two seasons so the boat is really ready. That is reassuring.

Is your boat a boat to go fast or to go the distance?

To go far and to go fast! In that order. That is not bad because if you go far it's a good sign. She's a reliable boat and it is a good boat for a marathon race like the Vendée Globe I think. It may not be the fastest, but sometimes you have to be careful with your boat to get to the end and finish. It's a boat that I have complete confidence in because I'm comfortable on it. It's a boat that suits me well.


Because it's a solid well-built boat which was well tested in its time by Safran and Morgan Lagravière and it came from Bilou's team (Roland Jourdain) so I got the full set of data and settings, a 'user manual' technicians and the boat captain came with it and so it allowed me to save time learning the boat. We have also changed it a bit over the past two years, but without reinventing the way the boat works. We didn't change our foils, we didn't try to turbo the boat, we tried to keep it simple and efficient. I have completed all the races in the IMOCA program. Each time, not too far from first. In the Bermudes 1000 Race I arrive 4 hours after Charal, 1 hour after the fifth, I am sixth. If I manage to do a Vendée like that I would be very happy.

So is the top 6 your goal?

Yes, top 5, top 6, being a good underdog without pressure I think that's how I see myself.

You are the inventor of a power source that everyone uses today on IMOCAs, hydrogenerators, what has evolved on these new boats?

They have improved of course and now they are fitted to the multihulls as well, so that didn't change much for us. On the other hand, we are proud to see that since the first hydrogenerator that we brought out in 2008 - when I was at the start of the Vendée Globe - we have come a long way because we equip all the IMOCAs and many other boats. In all the series, a lot of leisure boats too. It's funny because I've been a bit on both sides, sailing and looking after the hydrogenerators. I remember when François Gabart was on his Vendée Globe, I was in his boat doing the final hydrogenerator settings and checks just before the start. It happens that during the races some call me up for a hydrogenerator service. It has happened in Class40 before, Damien Seguin called me to help it out. It's kind of fun having those two hats.

Can you explain what a hydrogenerator is for?

It allows you to fully recharge the batteries. Take Jean Le Cam, during the Vendée Globe he only his engine just to warm up a bit in the south. Last time when he had got to the south he had used barely 10 litres of diesel I believe. Boats can be run 100% autonomously in terms of electric requirements thanks to hydrogenerators, even as the boats more and more energy intensive.

In terms of comfort on board, ergonomics, are there things that you have changed on this boat?

Outside, the coachroof cover was lengthened at the request of René Boulaire (editor's note René Boulaire is a measurer in the IMOCA Class) because the boat was not making the 180 degrees test. As the rule has changed, it no longer fitted. We had to add some volume so we lengthened this roof It's a bit low but it protects the skipper really well, that's a plus I think. You can practically sail in slippers on board! We also added the small awning at the rear which did not exist. The boat is very sheltered, which is good. Inside the boat, we have done a lot of work on the chart table, on this small bucket pilot seat that allows you to work with a small foot bar to secure yourself. There is a and I can angle it so the seat is always flat. We also added a bunk that allows me to keep an eye on the boat's data. It's great because I have everything close at hand, I can both rest and at the same time jump quickly to attend to stuff. When I go out on the deck there is a super strong airlock. We really worked so that physically, I could last as long as possible without getting too tired. Once again, for the Vendée Globe, it is important. We are on boats which are more and more violent, the foilers are boats which go fast and which slam and crash a lot. Even me with my little foils it's already violent. I remember four years ago, Seb Josse said that in the southern seas, before he gave up he would retract the foils because things were going too fast. And the big foilers are definitely worse. We really worked on all of this to fit as comfortably as possible. I don't think that the word comfort could be used in the same sentence as modern IMOCA.

What about food?

I eat chicken morning noon and night! I take fatty chicken. We worked hard on the food file with Stéphanie Gaspari, she took the topic, on, she worked with nutritionists. I read Armel Le Cleac'h's book quite a bit, which explained how he had prepared for his Vendée Globe. From there, we made daily bags where all the calories are calculated and weighed according to the geographical areas where I will be. When it's hot it's 3,500 calories, when it's cold it's 5,000 calories. We did the course around the world based on my performance predictions. I am taking 75 days which is the same as Armel's last Vendée Globe. But I'm going to reduce it a little because Alex Thomson, says 66 (days) so maybe I'll cut some out! It went in 8 bags, in addition to the spare material, it still adds weight.

How many?

That's 380 kilos of material, in addition to the sails.

So 380 kilos that you have fun stacking from side to side?

Yes, with each tack or jibe you stack everything. That's a lot of weight to move, that's also why we try to limit it as much as possible. It's part of the life of a solo sailor in ocean racing.

Did you do any mental preparation?

Yes, yet I was not a fan of psychology. I worked with Eric Blondeau who works with the forty-niners (editor's note 49er is a double-handed Oympic dinghy). He gave me some keys to best prepare for this round the world trip and keep my motivation up throughout the race. The idea was to learn to manage that, the emotions. Because it is sure that there are a lot of emotions in what we do, whether it is start day when you leave your family, the day when the shit hits the fan. When you hear that the Vendée Globe is at least one shitfight every day, you have to have coping strategies to keep your motivation up, to find solutions to get to the end. It is easy to say "I can't take it anymore I put the hazards on an I am stopping".

So do you have any little tips?

Yes, he gave me little hacks, little tricks so that I wouldn't get overwhelmed by the emotions. We leave as if we were going to war, repressing the leaving family and feeling. And we reconnect after two and a half months. That's why there's no family photos on my boat. These are things he explained to me, then it was up to me to make my choices. The idea is really to cut the ties. But of course that won't stop me from talking to my daughters from time to time on WhatsApp they are not so omnipresent in the boat and that I go and take refuge and get down beside them. It's important, mentally ocean racing is a tough sport.

This mental preparation aspect comes up more and more, why?

I was the first person to chuckle at those who had mental coaches! In the end, it's a plus, it opens a new avenue. Sometimes it also helps you understand because you are asked the question why you are doing this. I still don't have the answer! It helps you prepare for your race better, and knowing how the brain works is important. In a lot of top sports this is important, in Formula 1 they all have a mental coach. Sailing is no different. There is a lot of pressure in what we do.

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