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Kevin Escoffier: "Pushing on to go fast and enjoying it will make the time pass faster"

by Vendee Globe 28 Oct 2020 07:49 PDT
Vendée Globe skippers Kevin Escoffier © Yann Riou/PRB

Kevin Escoffier carries the emblematic colours of PRB. He may be a newcomet to solo racing but he has won the Volvo Ocean Race on Dongfeng and won the Trophee Jules Verne. Second in the Transat Jacques Vabre and fifth on the Vendee Arctic, Escoffier is a tough competitor.

This is your first start in the Vendée Globe on the "other side of the barrier." In 2016, you were responsible for the design office with Armel Le Cléac'h's winning Banque Populaire. What is it like this time, on the other side of the rope?

"It's not as busy, not as frenetic compared to the previous editions that I have been to. But that said here I am in the colours of a Vendée sponsor. which has a lot of supporters here. And actually it has really been fun! People are clearly very motivated to come here the village, look what they need to do to get here and wait a bit when they get here. People are really passionate about this race and that's really nice. Otherwise I am surprisingly chilled. I think the pressure will slowly build up. I will confine myself in Brittany for 12 days. We will live to the rhythm of the Covid tests and confine ourselves because we do not want to take any risks. With the health protocol put in place by the organization, you cannot start if you test positive, or only 8 days after and that is not an option for me.

You seem well set up and you seem to have done well so far with a well managed and structured project. Have you ticked all the boxes or will there be a bit of improvisation in this Vendée Globe?

The idea is to keep it as low stress as possible. I leave some spontaneity for the sailing and to be able to improvise you need to have a solid, reliable base and we've been working on that for a year and a half. I have the advantage of having been used to working in very structured teams and that allowed me to learn. I also sailed and worked on the Volvo Ocean Race programme with Donfeng where you do 9 stages over 9 months of racing. This allowed me to build a lot of experience in the getting ready to start phase and so probably I am quite relaxed. Whenever I have had to make a decision on the project, I have taken it with the long term view.

How do you handle being alone for so long?

Loneliness doesn't scare me. When you race with a crew it is not always sweetness and light. It is complicated too. When you go on holiday with your family or friends for two weeks there can be tension develops. I am not afraid of loneliness because of the goal. It is about a race, a competition. Yes, sailing solo was a bit of a question mark when I accepted the project. And so I have I focused my preparation on sailing as much as possible alone, I came back from Brazil to Port-la-Forêt on my own after the Jacques Vabre. What reassured me even more was the Vendée - Arctic - Les Sables d'Olonne, where I really enjoyed sailing on my own and being up against the others solo. And I did not badly for a first time (5th).

Where do you fit in the fleet and what are your ambitions ?

My ambition was to have a reliable and fast, efficient boat. We worked on both these aspects. The goal is to finish. I'm not saying that to be evasive. Obviously I'm going to race competitively, and of course the goal is not to finish in 90 days having raced with the brakes on. I will sail in the same way as I did on Transat Jacques Vabre and the return transatlantic, during which the idea was to find a rhythm, a pace - of sleep, of working the boat, etc. - that I thought I would be able to maintain on the Vendée Globe. I would like to be in front of all the boats of the older generation, and if in the process I am able to also put a new boat or two behind... I will! But again the idea is to find my rhythm, to sail for what is working for me and to have fun. On these fast boats there are some which are hard to trim and to keep them fast because there are a lot of possible options. In the Vendée Globe, we will be still working to optimise and improve all the way through. We will have to continue working on the settings, find ways to go faster, to make good maneuvers. Pushing on and having a bit of fun will make the time pass faster.

What is your approach to clothing?

I take big heavy and light fleeces. I work with a clothing partner, North Sails, which develops clothing for oceanic sailing and offshore. Goretex is mandatory: you need clothes that breathe. But saying that you are still much less exposed than on a Volvo Ocean Race where you spend"4 hours under the fire hose" - that was what it was like. I took the same sleeping bag as on the Volvo. And I have a zipped jacket because, as we are sheltering under the roof we don't need those latex neck seals

How much does your bag of clothes weigh?

I haven't weighed it yet. To give you an idea, on a crewed round-the-world race, for 30 days, we had 6.5 kilos that is without the boots and the oilskins- for all our personal effects. I will do some laundry wash some stuff to reduce weight. From experience every time I go back to sea, I take less stuff, I wear caps too, it is very important to protect the head, the eyes, and to keep warm.

You have the reputation of being a good fixer, a bit of an allround handyman do you carry a lot of equipment?

I have the advantage of having sent boats set off for the Vendée Globe before. I also have feedback from Vincent Riou on this boat with his spare equipment. We compared the lists of the different projects I worked on and also with the PRB lists and we adapted this material to the boat. There is a lot of quick-setting glue, quick-to-use composite patches, a watermaker which is mandatory, a generator... A spare hydrogenator. It's still super interesting to be able to race without needing the engine. I have partners who are very involved in sustainability like the WWF, but it for safety I have it. But I can carry less diesel. I also have a spare rudder.

Can you change a rudder "easily"?

It is doable. Today boats like PRB are turbo'd foiling 2009 generation boats. High-speed speed sailing means that when the boat comes out of the water, for example, there is a lot of stress and impact on the rudders. We saw that there have already been breakages, there were withdrawals from the last Vendée Globe because of a broken rudder.

Do you have a spare autopilot?

It's already there, everything is doubled. In fact I have double wind instrument systems and autopilots. I have two duplicate systems and the two systems can be interchangeable.

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