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Paul Meilhat: "You cannot imagine how much sailing experience Sam has"

by IMOCA Globe Series 3 Nov 2020 03:28 PST
Initiatives Coeur © Eloi Stichelbaut - polaRYSE / Initiatives Coeur

Road to the Vendée Globe #9. Co-skipper of Initiatives cœur in the last Transat Jacques Vabre, Paul Meilhat has continued to work alongside Samantha Davies throughout the year.

The most recent winner of the Route du Rhum who is still looking for a budget for the Ocean Race, remains involved in all the different racing aspects of the project. With three weeks to go to the third start for the British sailor in the Vendée Globe, Paul looks at her strengths and weaknesses. As you might expect, she has more of the former than the latter. Paul Meilhat is clearly a fan of Sam.

What is your earliest memory of Sam as an opponent?

It was in Port La Forêt, and she had just chartered a Figaro, while I was in my first year of racing in the colours of Macif. We trained together at the training centre. We were not rivals for very long as in the very first race, she found out she was pregnant and had to curtail her race season. So, whenever I bump into her son, Ruben, I always remember how old he is, as that was back in 2011.

In 2019, she admitted that she had looked at a lot of CVs before offering you the opportunity to join the team. After two years of working together, has she ever told you what tipped the balance in your favour?

In 2018, I won quite a few races in the circuit and ended up winning the Route du Rhum on a boat that was a sistership to hers apart from the foils. We finished the Bermudes 1000 Race with a quarter of an hour between us, which brought us close together and we talked a lot about how we both could improve our boats. Then there is the charity. She knew I was keen on the idea of linking top class sport to the support of a worthy cause and the whole of the Initiatives cœur project was based around that dual approach.

So what is Sam Davies like when aboard her IMOCA?

When I arrived, I knew she had the standard required, but you cannot imagine how much sailing experience Sam actually has. She has done it all. From sailing big multihulls around the world to racing Minis, Figaros, and Volvos. She has completed one Vendée Globe and retired from another Vendée Globe, which is also quite an achievement. Sam is naturally gifted for solo sailing, but she has also learnt a lot from others. She knows how to delegate and pick the right people and she can still continue to progress. At sea, behind her thoughtful nature, she shows utter determination. I have never seen her lose her motivation. The harder it is, the more she persists. In the Vendée Globe, that is key.

You say that she can still progress. In which area in particular?

She has a bit of a complex in comparison to the French solo sailors. She has managed to put a lot of that to one side, but she could still go much further in terms of how confident she feels about herself. I can't say much because she gets a lot of strength from that too and she simply cannot lose her humility (laughs).

Her results this year with her fourth place in the Vendée Arctique and second place in the 48-hour race in the Azimut Challenge make her a natural contender for a place on the podium. Do you still find it difficult to talk to each other about the final result?

Yes, there is still a lot of modesty when looking at her race ambitions. She is very attached to Initiatives cœur, as the boat simply has to complete the race. Sam is very into this project and keen to convey the message all the way.

This is not a Vendée Globe for an adventurer however?

No, of course not. She rightly has some clear goals in the race. It is not like when she was on Roxy back in 2010. But the charity is a core value to her. She is committed to that and completely honest about it. In our world, a lot of people play out a role, which is quite normal, as it is important to communicate well. But some people are like actors merely developing their character. That is not the case with her, as she is totally genuine.

What is her biggest asset in the race?

In addition to what I have already said, the timing with the project is perfect. She has been sailing the boat since 2017, with the same Boat Captain, the same design team, the same Team Manager. That stability enables her to feel really confident and everything takes place in a nice atmosphere. She has a tried and tested IMOCA, whiile those with the most recent boats don't have that luxury.

What has Sam given you during the two years you have been working together?

I have been aiming to compete in the Ocean Race, so Sam is a model in terms of leadership. Finding those with the right skills and showing your enthusiasm and trust,... from that point of view, she is remarkable. She shows us today that it is possible to be a top class racer, while backing a meaningful project. That is something that means a lot to me.

What do you think you have given her?

Probably making her punchy and more potent in some phases. I felt good in that role and I was face to face with someone who understood that. When in the Doldrums, I was full on under code zero in the squalls and the boat tended to fly away too often. She just poked her head below to say something like, "Paul, I don't know if I would have done that." But it never went beyond that and it is probably in crazy moments like that things moved forward.

What is your programme between now and the start?

A lot of PCR Covid tests, if I have understood correctly. More seriously, I'll be doing the delivery trip and then the first ten days before she goes into lockdown. I'll be there to support her, trying to make her feel confident. I'll also be working on things to do with the weather, even if she is also very gifted in that area. It's more a matter of getting her to settle in during the first few days. How many changes of tack, the key points, sail changes... Making sure is up where she needs to be...

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