After completing his second consecutive Ocean Race campaign, this time with Team Malizia, Nicolas Lunven was back on a different Imoca at this week’s training camp in Port-la-Forêt sailing alongside Sam Davies who he will be co-skipper with this season on her Initiatives Coeur. Tip & Shaft caught up with the 40-year-old French ace.
▶︎ So Nico how did you find this edition of The Ocean Race, the first in Imoca?
It was a tough call for the organisers to change class and I think that this was a transition edition. The success will be measured by the level of participation in the next one. In four years time if there are more than ten boats, we can say that it has been a success. This time there were only five, there were two dismastings and Guyot had structural problems. But besides all that, we saw the 24-hour record broken, we saw a close battle on almost all the stages, close finishes at the end of legs and technically, the boats proved that they are capable of doing this race without constantly having to repair them. And I really believe that those who took part in The Ocean Race have considerably improved their preparation for the next Vendée Globe. The boats now have a round-the-world to their credit and have been sailed at a level higher than solo sailing and being able to improve things at each stopover, to make changes in sail configurations for example. These are significant steps in the sporting and technical preparation of the boat.
▶︎ Seen from the outside, this Malizia team seemed to exude good humor, was that really the case or just a communications strategy?
Surprisingly, it was just as it appeared. I say surprisingly, because often, on such a long event, it’s like that at the start, but not at the end. Here it really was non-stop, it was quite amazing to live in this environment with nice, happy, smiling people. And from my perspective it really allowed me to have a certain freedom in my navigation choices, I was able to take options that were sometimes different from the others without feeling the pressure was all on me. I found it great to work with people who trusted me and who didn’t then question everything when things weren’t going the way we wanted.
▶︎ And so how do you reflect on your final ranking, third overall?
I think it’s pretty much our place, but when it comes to looking at it more, that third place includes two leg victories, the 24-hour record and the fact that we finished all the stages intact. And that was not the case for the other boats, so I think it’s a very positive outcome.
“Malizia meets the brief”
▶︎ Tell us about Malizia, a boat renowned for going well downwind in the breeze but being a little heavy, is that the case?
It was designed according to specifications which prioritise the Vendée Globe and the Southern Oceans, so the objective was to make a very solid boat capable of holding up high averages in the Big South. And so it meets that brief admirably. We saw that on the longest stage which we won (Cape Town to Itajai), we managed to keep up average speeds that were a little higher than the others and at that level, structurally we had almost no problems on the boat. But, yes, the boat is a little heavier than the others. But I think that we did progress between the start of the race and the end, because even if we saw that we were not super competitive in certain conditions, we weren’t completely out the game either. And for us the proof is we managed to win the last stage, yes, with a little success on the last night, but if we had been 250 miles behind the leaders we would not have been able to try our little final gambit.
▶︎ Something, unfortunately, which has coloured this edition, the “Kevin Escoffier affair” occurred which must have affected you especially since you know him well after sailing on the Transat Jacques Vabre 2019 with him (2nd), what was your reaction?
It happened at a time when I was not on the race, I had gone home and so I did not experience the thing first hand. And now it is not for me to delve into the details of this case, but it’s obvious that it’s an unfortunate story that really saddens me a lot.
▶︎ You are no sooner back from the finish in Genoa than you are here, already back on the water with Sam Davies, it is not too tough a timing for you?
Obviously it is not ideal in terms of timing but I think it’s a chance to be able to jump directly on another Imoca and quickly get into the boat with all the automatisms of the race still very fresh. Obviously I feel the fatigue is lurking in me and we have the Fastnet coming up quickly, so I will have to get few good nights’ sleep to be in good shape…. and then there will be a break in August.
“I don’t think you’ll see me
on the starting line of the Vendée Globe”
▶︎ You have moved swiftly from Malizia, a VPLP design, to a Manuard design built in the moulds of the former L’Occitane, can you compare the two?
I would say that Sam’s boat is a little more classic in terms of the layout of the deck plan, the cockpit and the interior, I don’t have the impression of being in new, unknown territory, especially since the team has retained a lot of ideas in terms of ergonomics and technical choices from the previous Initiatives Coeur that I raced the Jacques Vabre on two years ago. As for the hulls they are both scows but there are still quite a few differences. For example, we had a downwind leg in 20 knots this week, conditions in which Malizia is beginning to show her full potential but remaining comfortable, very little water passing over the deck, whereas on Sam’s boat it is lighter and feels livelier but is more challenging. And really in the final analysis I can’t say at this stage which of the two is faster.
▶︎ Now that almost all the new boats are out, what is your view of the different design philosophies and which one would you choose if you had your own project?
It’s great because we really see the real definition of a development class here. A few years ago, we had a close match up between two design firms, but since the last Vendée Globe, there is more variety now, with Sam Manuard, Antoine Koch and David Raison all in the game and that rekindles a whole new level of interest in this face of the Imoca class. Which would I choose? Let’s say that I have a soft spot for Antoine Koch’s boats (For People and Paprec Arkéa), the choice of hull and the water inlets at the front seem interesting to me although I have only seen only them from afar!
▶︎ What will be your objectives with Sam on the Transat Jacques Vabre?
There is an incredible line-up with a lot of recent and competitive boats, great duos, it’s hard to know where we will be in this mix I hope as high up the fleet as possible. I would like us to do a Jacques Vabre as good as the one we made two years ago (5th place). I get along very well with Sam and the team, we had a good race, I would like us to do at least as well again.
▶︎ Let’s finish with your own personal story, you tried to set up your Vendée Globe project, your name was mentioned to succeed Clarisse Crémer before the Banque Populaire project came to an end, you accumulated a lot of miles (3rd in the table) , is it still possible to see you at the start of the next Vendée Globe. Are you on the lookout for opportunities?
I don’t think you will see me on the start line of the Vendée Globe next year. Today I have neither the budget nor a boat. As for being on the lookout, that’s a bit of a strong word, let’s say that I’m always attentive to what’s going on. Now the deadline is approaching, the race is just over a year away, even at that if an opportunity arises it is not a decision you can take lightly. The idea is not to do the Vendée Globe at all costs and under any conditions.
▶︎ Given your background with the PRB team and the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Holcim-PRB project, have you been in contact with them recently?
There is a very simple, straight answer to that I have zero contact with them and neither do I have any information on what they intend to do.
Photo: Antoine Auriol / Team Malizia