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North Sails Performance 2023 - LEADERBOARD

Arkéa Ultim Challenge - Brest day 49: The Big Saturday Interview, François Gabart

by Arkéa Ultim Challenge-Brest 24 Feb 12:45 PST 24 February 2024

"We have definitely seen that going around the world in less than 40 days is not impossible."

Over the course of the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest on Saturdays we seek out the views of a pre-eminent figure in the world of ocean racing - more often than not a multihull expert. As the leader approaches the final few hundred miles to Brest this week it is time to talk to François Gabart.

Not only is he the youngest ever winner of the Vendée Globe and a past winner of the Route du Rhum, but Gabart still holds the solo round the world record which he set in 2017 at 42 days 16 hours.

The lynchpin of the SVR Lazartigue team, Gabart looks back at the race. He talks of the promising debut of Tom Laperche, the technical stops of the sailors and the race of the leader, Charles Caudrelier.

François Gabart is full of apologies as he will be overseas next week and will not be able to be on site for the finish of Charles Caudrelier. But Gabart is fulsome in his praise and congratulations for Caudrelier who he admires and praises.

So François in a couple of days, Charles Caudrelier should cross the finish line of the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest, how do you summarize this first edition?

I think the word "Ultim" sums up this race and these boats perfectly. We have all been dreaming of this solo, multihull round-the-world race for a long time. As for all stakeholders in the class, this is something that has inspired me for a very long time. We know that it is complicated, difficult, uncertain, that there are unforeseen events. We can talk about technique, innovation, technology but we always realize that there is always an element of extraordinary adventure when you sail around the world. There has been adventure and misadventures too, but that's part of the game.

"Caudrelier, an incredible challenge"

What do you think of Charles' performance?

What he has done is very beautiful because I know it is so very difficult. It's not easy to pre-judge before the end of a race and the last stretch he has to do is never easy. But he has made a pretty incredible round the world race. I believe this is a reflection of years of work carried out for more than 10 years by the Gitana team. They started with the MOD70, developed the lifting design and foils Franck (Cammas) brought his knowledge and that allowed them to have a reference boat. Charles learned a lot too: in a way, he is coming of age as a sailor. He has just completed an incredible challenge and I take my hat off to him. He was not spared by the conditions, sometimes had a little success, he also knew how to slow down. I think his performance is quite complete and I wholeheartedly wish for him that it all ends well!

This also shows that with your record, the bar is set really quite high.

Yes and but of course at the same time, we have to remember that no one set out hoping or looking for a record back on January 7th. And despite this, the passage times at the equator are very good, also at Good Hope. And Charles was ahead of the record in the Southern Oceans. It's not easy to have such a lining up of the planets - especially the weather - throughout the entire course. But here this race was an entirely different exercise. Charles admitted that he has been quite conservative in his management of the boat. But we have definitely seen that going around the world in less than 40 days is not impossible.

"We are all disappointed that it ended too early for Tom"

All skippers had to make a technical stopover. How should this be interpreted?

it is not easy to sail around the world non-stop solo, on a multihull. There was in fact this rule which allowed you to stop for a minimum of 24 hours. You maybe wonder what would have happened if there had not been this rule? Perhaps the sailors would have taken more equipment on board. But we will have five boats at the finish and that is a great chance, even if we are obviously disappointed that SVR-Lazartigue is not going to be there.

Nevertheless, Tom had an exceptional start to the race. We suppose you are not surprised by how he went in the first part of the race?

No obviously, I'm not surprised by the level of performance of him or the boat. I see how easily he adapts, how he is totally at ease aboard this boat and also I see his pleasure, his happiness, his fulfilment. There is such a lot of pride in the whole team because we came such a long way. We had suffered major damage a few weeks before starting and so even at that we were really happy to be on the starting line. We are all disappointed and sad that it stopped, even for Charles how he missed out on the fight. The scenario would have been different if he could have continued, that would have been great!

"We will have to continue to take risks"

Tom said it was his worst memory on a boat. Is he bouncing back quickly, ready to dive back towards new goal?

I talked a lot with Tom, we are in the office together and I know his strength. Of course, he experienced something hard, probably the worst thing that he experienced. But I have no doubt about his ability to bounce back quickly, to focus on a new goal. Knowing how to bounce back, readjust, and re-establish a positive dynamic are also part of his strengths.

More generally, what did the race teach us about the Ultim?

We learned a lot, the sailors experienced an awful lot of different things. I imagine that the team debriefs will be comprehensive, that they will allow everyone to progress, to make the boats more reliable. Overall, it showed that it was difficult but that it is possible to go around the planet alone, in a multihull. So it is very possible and it can be fabulous.

Are you optimistic about the sustainability of the race?

Yes, I think we have the right to hope so. We will all take stock in the coming weeks but the overall conclusion is very positive in my opinion. There is already a second edition planned and we can hope that all the boats that did this one will go again. There will be a new boat as Gitana announced the construction of a boat which should be sailing in 2028. The dynamic is nice and it is incredible. We will have to continue to take risks, to be bold, to take nothing for granted and to move forward. These boats have incredible potential.....but they are fragile. The combination of potential and fragility is precisely what is exciting!

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