Charlie Dalin

Charlie Dalin : « I can’t wait to sail solo again »

Forced to give up the Transat Jacques Vabre and Retour à La Base at the end of 2023 due to a medical problem, Charlie Dalin will be making his return to competition in The Transat CIC, which starts on 28 April from Lorient. Ahead of a week’s training with the Finistère centre in Port-la-Forêt, Tip & Shaft spoke to the skipper of Macif Santé Prévoyance.

► First of all, how are things going physically?
I’m doing fine! I’ve got the green light to take part in the whole season, which is good news after an end to the year that ended a little abruptly and unexpectedly. It was obviously very frustrating, especially as the season had got off to a particularly good start, with a victory in the Fastnet Race, after just five days sailing on the boat (launched in June 2023), and a second place in the Azimut Challenge. I was looking forward to being able to test myself against the competition in a longer race and then test the boat single-handed in Retour à La Base, but that didn’t happen.

► We can imagine that you followed these two races very closely…
Absolutely, I did quite a lot of routing, which enabled me to calibrate my speed polars and try to understand the sail configurations that the different boats could use. With the two options on the Jacques Vabre, I was also able to note how the boats progressed in relation to the polars, depending on the sea state and the number of manoeuvres, so it was quite interesting to decipher all that. The same thing happened on Retour à La Base in conditions that were a little more challenging and single-handed. So without being there, I tried to get as much information as possible from these two races.

► And what lessons have you learnt from them, particularly about the new boats?
This confirms that from generation to generation, there is still a lot of room for improvement, and this new generation has made progress, particularly in the downwind section in the sea, which was one of the weak points of the previous generation. It’s very difficult to put a precise figure on it, but I’d say on a rough estimate that the gains compared to a 2020 boat are of the order of just under 10%. This is significant, but it should be noted that the 2020 boats have continued to make progress. We saw this with Sam Goodchild’s boat which, in certain conditions, was very close in speed, even faster at times, than the Finot-Koch designs (For People and Paprec Arkéa). On the other hand, he had a little more difficulty when the seas started to get a little rough, which is where the real differential exists, as rough seas slow the new Imoca boats down less.


I have the feeling that Macif
glides even better”


► Guillaume Verdier likes to design versatile boats, which was the case for Apivia, but is Macif Santé Prévoyance just as versatile?
Yes, these boats are essentially designed for single-handed sailing, so the aim is for them to get through the transitions well and not stop immediately if the angle or strength of the wind changes a little. Apivia was great for this, it tolerated variations well, which meant that you could maintain acceptable speeds, even when you deviated from the conditions you’d set it up for. That’s not necessarily the case with all the boats, but it’s an important asset, particularly in a race like the Vendée Globe, because it means you don’t have to change sails all the time. Macif is obviously in line with this, and I have the feeling that she glides even better, but I’m waiting for the two transatlantic races to find out more, as we still don’t know how she has progressed in relation to the other new designs.

► You’ve improved the boat this winter with a new pair of foils which have just been fitted. What’s the objective, less than nine months after the boat was launched?
The number one reason was that we wanted a second pair in case of problems with the first. Foils are extremely time-consuming to build, and we can’t afford to end up with just one foil at the start of the Vendée Globe in the event of damage this summer or during training in September. We made the decision when we were building the boat to launch it so we could have it for The Transat CIC, and it was validated before the Transat Jacques Vabre. After that, if we’re going to make a second pair, we might as well try and make them perform a little better.

► Where to play?
In the game of seven differences, you won’t see many, but in reality, there are many more than you think. Foils are very complex parts, with a huge number of parameters to decide on… But I’m sorry, I’m not going to tell you any more…


“I’d like to qualify on the outward journey
and let the horses loose on the way back”


► What else did you do during the winter refit?
We’ve made some modifications to the electronics, worked on the deck fittings, strengthened the boat structurally, particularly at the bottom of the hull, and we’ve also modified the mast to meet the demands of the class. And we’ve continued to improve the ergonomics, which is a key element. We did a lot of work on this during the design phase, with the aim of keeping displacement to a minimum. Hence the living area at the back, with a banquette for sleeping 50 centimetres from the chart table seat; within easy reach of this seat, I have my stove and the small kitchen area; in front, my computer for doing my nav; and after that, I only have to walk a metre towards the front to get to the column. This ergonomics is much more functional than what I had on Apivia. For the time being, I haven’t tested it for more than two or three days in a row, and I haven’t done any single-handed racing since the Route du Rhum, so I’m looking forward to testing everything out and getting back into the swing of things.

► With The Transat CIC/New York Vendée sequence, you have a big qualification challenge for the Vendée Globe, will that lead you to moderate your competitive temper?
It’s true that having the sword of Damocles hanging over me for qualification isn’t very comfortable, insofar as I absolutely have to finish one of the two races, with a maximum time of 50% of that of the first. What makes it even more difficult is that the second race starts in the United States, so in order to take the start, you already have to get to New York. So it’s clear that I’m thinking a lot about the best way to approach this thing, I’ve never had to sail in this state of mind before, I tell myself that I’m going to have to be a bit cooler. But that’s easier said than done, because I know very well that when I’m side by side with the others, I’m going to find it hard to be cooler, you don’t want to be overtaken. What I’d really like to do is qualify on the outward leg and let the horses go on the return leg. And there’s another aspect, which is that on the course of The Transat CIC, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’re going to take on several low-pressure areas, so strong winds with upwind and reaching sailing, it’s clearly the hardest transatlantic race on the Imoca circuit, which adds to the difficulty of the problem. We’re going to have to find the right compromise between competing and qualifying, and I have to admit that’s really bothering me!

► With just over six months to go to the Vendée Globe, do you now have a fairly clear idea of your main rivals?
We’ll inevitably know more after these two transatlantic races, especially as last year, some of the performances were influenced by the qualifying and miles race, with some skippers prioritising just finishing. For the majority of the fleet, that’s no longer the case this year. Let’s just say that up until now, it was mainly between Jérémie (Beyou), Thomas (Ruyant) and myself, but now the circle has opened up, with Yoann (Richomme), who’s clearly going to be at the head of the fleet, Sam (Goodchild), Nico Lunven and others, there are clearly more people. As these boats are extremely physical, very tiring, with violent shocks – there were quite a few falls and accidents last year – one of the biggest challenges will be to manage to keep up a pace over the length of the race that is bearable for the body.

► A final word on your future: we saw you at the finish of the Arka Ultim Challenge-Brest, are you interested in the Ultim class in the more or less long term?
It’s a bit early to talk about that, as we’re only at the start of the second season out of four of this programme, which runs until the 2026 Rhum. But yes, once I’m satisfied with my performance in the Imoca class, I could see myself sailing in the Ultim class, which is very attractive to me. What’s more, we have one here at the pontoon (SVR Lazartigue), and I’m bound to have a lot of discussions with the design office and with Tom (Laperche), so one day, why not?

Photo: Maxime Horlaville / Disobey / Macif

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