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Vendée Globe: Alain Gautier interview

by Vendée Globe 23 Feb 05:08 PST

This is the final stretch for Isa, have you heard from her? How is she doing?

Alain Gautier: "We must be careful with this home straight because there can still be problem. It was windy last night, there are cargo ships, she crossed the Cape Finisterre TSS and I think the night was not very restful. But she had been resting for the last few days".

So it has been very important for her to finish this round the world?

"It's up to her to tell you that I'm not going to comment on her behalf there. But for the project, I think we all agree that when you set off on a Vendée Globe, the fact that you can come back to Les Sables d'Olonne is extremely important, whether it be for the technical team, for our partners or for your family and friends. When you have started something, if you have the opportunity to finish it, you take it. Even if it's true you don't get a result. It's not nothing to sail around the world solo even you make a stopover, it's still something that is not done every day....

How do you look back at her race?

"She really showed some very nice promise. Our main objective was to finish the Vendée Globe. Clearly, that hasn't been achieved as she won't be ranked. Objective number one has not been achieved. After that, there was an objective to finish in the top ten. Did she have the capacity and was she on course? Without being pretentious, before her ram broke, she had the potential to finish this Vendée Globe very well, knowing that the boat didn't have that many problems compared to her closest competitors. Her boat was going, it was possible to achieve a very good result. Isa's race was almost flawless. The small downside - which she also talked about - was back after her start, her first two days of racing, which can be very penalizing. Apart from that, she did an excellent race.

For your part, how did you experience this Vendée Globe as project director?

"The Vendée Globe, I've lived through quite a few of them. I was a competitor in the first two, I was even a journalist, I was doing a column in L'Equipe and then there was Ellen's project (editor's note: Ellen MacArthur, 2nd in the 2000/2001 Vendée Globe) which was perhaps a little comparable, but I was only a member of the team, I wasn't a project director. And then there were those years as the safety consultant for the event. This year was completely different and this is not what I enjoyed the most, clearly. Because having two hats as team manager and boat owner is not ideal. It's hard, it's long. Kevin (Escoffier)'s story has affected us all, knowing that MACSF is a boat very close in terms of design to PRB and V and B - Mayenne, and we know the condition in which that boat arrived. And so I will be very very happy to see Isa back at the pontoon in Les Sables d'Olonne because it has been long and stressful."

What was the fundamental philosophy of this project?

It wasn't as simple as that, even if we started the project very early. We bought the boat during the 2016 Vendée Globe (2007 Verdier-VPLP plan, ex Safran, ex Queguiner). We had reached an agreement with Queguiner at the end of the race and we got the boat from the little yard operated by Yann Eliès and his team.

Together with Louis Burton, we are the ones who started our race programme earliest. Unfortunately the original project didn't last, it was a four-year project with Generali and In the end they withdrew. Luckily we found Monin, Olivier Monin supported us and we were able to survive through 2018. If he hadn't been there, we would have had to sell the boat". Things went rather well during the 2017 and 2018 seasons with good results. Isa is second in the Drheam Cup, we are second together in the Monaco Globe Series, and she has a great Transat Jacques Vabre with Pierre Brasseur. The project was well launched. But then there was her dismasting on her first solo race (editor's note: on the Route du Rhum 2018).

Fortunately, at the same time, we had signed a contract with MACSF which allowed us to be calm in our approach to the Vendée Globe. But everything is relative because there was this qualification problem and the Transat Jacques Vabre didn't work into this process. Despite the fact that the project started very early, we didn't benefit from the calm, timely approach we should have had. It wasn't easy. Were we too ambitious? That's the question we asked ourselves in 2020.

When we proposed two different budgets to MACSF, there was a first budget with a classic boat, a classic mast. The second budget was for a more ambitious project, with new generation 2019 foils, a wing mast and a deep redesign of this boat which was known as a very very good boat. And it was that second option that MACSF validated. These modifications on the boat took a long time and prevented Isabelle from sailing. And the problem on the Transat Jacques Vabre reduced her sailing time (editor's note: the boat hot the bottom at Le Havre's Etretat buoy at the start of the race, resulting in keel damage which forced Joschke to retire). Things were not exactly rosy then. But we all worked hard, we are not a big team. We have a skipper with her own personality who is a very exceptional sailor. She's a great sailor. I already knew that from her Class40 career. She had made a very fine solo transatlantic race in 2016, and she made her mark in Class40. The Vendée Globe project was very interesting but also very demanding. And the race itself was a bit like that.

Kevin Escoffier's problem didn't make life any easier for me personally. These are huge responsibilities. It happened at a crucial moment of the race, at the beginning of the Southern Ocean. The question was whether we let Isabelle continue or whether we asked her to stop in Cape Town. Clearly, these are difficult decisions. As we chose to continue, there was some stress naturally because of all this".

And looking back now?

Really the project seemed to be on track by 2017. But instead of doing a 100 metres in a straight line, it was actually a hurdle race! With different obstacles to overcome. We passed them thanks to our team that worked hard, a skipper who put a lot of effort into it. Isabelle is a demanding professional, but above all she is demanding of herself. It hasn't always been easy, that's what makes us happy when the boat will be moored back at the pontoon! "

"On this campaign, I could bring my expertise to it, even though it had been a long time since I had done an IMOCA, both in terms of project management and navigation. Finally, since 2000, it had been almost 20 years since I'd been involved in IMOCA again. That was a deficit because we probably didn't do everything we needed to do in relation to this lack of experience in this class. I tried to bring my experience, on single-handed sailing of course, on a feeling, on an attitude also in a team. It's a small family that you have to work with for four years. We try to form a team that holds its own, that has its human and technical qualities. I have always favoured the human aspect. "

What is the next step in the project?

"We have a contract with MACSF until the Jacques Vabre 2021. And I must say that we really found a top sponsor, it's very pleasant to work in these conditions. They have an option in 2022 for the Route du Rhum. We'll know more in a month's time. Isa wants to do this Route du Rhum because she wants to lay the ghost of the 2018 Route du Rhum to rest. She will probably want to do a beautiful Route du Rhum on a high-performance boat that she knows very well. It's satisfying with to to have succeeded in making a great boat. In terms of potential, it's a great machine. As for the more distant future, we'll have to ask Isa what she wants or doesn't want".

Find out more...

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