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Sébastien Marsset: Ready to disrupt the ranking with a 2006-vintage IMOCA

by Ed Gorman, IMOCA Globe Series 1 May 2023 07:27 PDT
Sébastien Marsset © Arnaud Pilpré / RDR22

After a superb Route du Rhum, finishing in 11th place and top daggerboard boat, capping off a 2022 season that saw him climb to seventh overall in the IMOCA GLOBE SERIES championship, Sébastien Marsset is itching to get going on his 2023 season supported by a new main sponsor.

The deal with French building supplies company Foussier, alongside Mon Courtier Énergie, is another vote of confidence in Marsset. He is regarded as a hard-working, talented and popular sailor, who is widely respected within the IMOCA Class, and who has shown he is capable of disrupting any fleet ranking based on boat age or design. His project also supports Handicap Agir Ensemble, an endowment fund created in 2011.

Born in Paris, and not from a sailing family, 38-year-old Marsset has an interesting background for an IMOCA skipper. After a Mini Transat campaign in 2007, he learnt his trade as part of Franck Cammas's Groupama team in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race, though he didn't sail in the race itself.

That invaluable experience was followed by becoming a full race crew member of Charlie Enright's Team Alvimedica in the 2014-15 edition, something that launched him as a top-class big-boat sailor and secured his place on a 47-day Jules Verne circumnavigation on board Spindrift in 2016.

It was with all that under his belt that he came back to the short-handed scene and to IMOCA in 2019, pairing up initially with the Fortinet-Best Western skipper Romain Attanasio. "With Groupama I learnt from Franck, Charles (Caudrelier), Thomas (Coville) and Damian (Foxall), as an Under-30 crew member," recalls Marsset. "I was really young and benefitting from the experience. Then working with Charlie and Mark (Towill), I was part of one of the youngest crews in the race. Over 10 years I did a lot of crewed sailing on Volvo 70s, VO65s and also the big multihull with Spindrift. And so yes, my background is unusual in this circuit because I went from like a good recognised crew member, as I was with Romain (Attanasio), to a single-handed skipper."

It was quite an apprenticeship and it has certainly stood him in good stead in his early forays in the IMOCA fleet. Having given up Optimist sailing when he was 10 because he decided he hated sailing - only to take up the sport again in his teens - Marsset now believes there is nothing stopping him from securing competitive race finishes, even though his old Farr-designed boat hails from as far back as 2006.

"I don't want to be focused only on the daggerboard boats because I think I can be prouder of being ahead of some brand new foilers," he said. "So in my mind there is only one ranking - the overall one in every race - and I am looking at that. But when I try to improve my boat, my focus is on the best daggerboard boats."

The ones he is keeping a close eye on are Benjamin Ferré's Monnoyeur-Duo for a Job (VPLP Verdier, 2010), Tanguy Le Turquais's Lazare (Finot-Conq, 2007) and Louis Duc's Fives Group-Lantana Environnement (Farr, 2006). "Louis is maybe a bit ahead of me in terms of development, because his boat has a new bow and wingmast and he has changed his daggerboards. So I am looking at what he is doing in terms of development and trying to see what I can afford on mine. But on the water, really I am only looking at the IMOCA ranking," explained Marsset.

Keen as he is to get going on the 2023 season, Marsset is going to have to sit out the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race, which starts on May 7th from Brest, because repairs to a keel ram will not be completed until the end of May. In the meantime he is considering a bit of Waszp racing, or possibly joining one of the five teams in The Ocean Race for a leg.

In the long run he would like to lead his own team in The Ocean Race. "Yeah, for sure," he said, when asked if he would consider doing that at some stage in the future. "I love this race, it has been my focus for years. I really love sailing at the top level with international crews on any kind of waters in the world, so if I have the opportunity I will do it, for sure."

Watching this edition, Marsset has been impressed both by the boats and the crews. "I have been impressed by the reliability of the boats in the South," he said. "And also by the toughness of the crews in the way they have been able to overcome big challenges. For example, when you look at 11th Hour Racing, they have faced many problems but they didn't give up at all. So I wish them really good luck for this leg on their way to their home port at Newport."

Marsset used an interesting word to describe the impact this Ocean Race is having on IMOCA. He called it an accelerator. "It is really interesting to follow because it is a bit like an accelerator for the way we are using IMOCAs, because you are able to do so much more with a crew than you can do single-handed. So we are probably learning a lot faster than in the past as a result of this crewed sailing," he said.

And the future? It's that Vendée Globe dream as Marsset eyes his debut in the greatest race of them all. "Last year was a good one and we worked hard, so we are happy with our results," summarised Marsset. "Managing to do the same for the Vendée Globe would be a really good result. I keep sailing as hard as I can. Whatever the boat I have, actually - that's what I'm doing."

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