After racing the third leg of the Pro Sailing Tour on Viabilis with Pierre Quiroga, Pascal Bidégorry is training this week with Tom Laperche on SVR Lazartigue whilst also awaiting the launch of Macif, Charlie Dalin’s new Imoca, at the end of June. He will sail with Dalin this season, notably on the Transat Jacques Vabre. Tip & Shaft spoke to him this week.
▶︎ You have just come out of the Pro Sailing Tour, did you enjoy the experience?
Definitiely ! The last time I was on a boat like that was with Kevin (Escoffier) and his dad (Franck-Yves) on Crêpes Whaou! [in 2011, Ed] ! I had such a lot of fun, I really like the three-person format over a week at sea, you’re on your toes all the time, and I found the boats really interesting. They are easy to work and I was amazed by the speeds upwind, we were often at 18-19 knots, and when reaching, you get up to 36 knots, that’s fast for a small boat of 15 meters. I think that we sailed well, it’s a shame to have broken the mainsail hook [which forced Viabilis to stop in Vigo, editor’s note], because we were in the process doing well at Cape Finisterre and in the Bay of Biscay, with upwind conditions coming we could give them a good run for their money. I’m a bit sad for Pierre who could almost have won the Pro Sailing Tour, but I really enjoyed it, if I am asked back I’d jump at it.
▶︎ You also sailed in April with Yannick Bestaven and his team on his new Imoca Maître CoQ, sistership of 11th Hour Racing Team which you had sailed a lot on, how did that go?
Yannick had been calling asking me to come for several months, but each time I was not available. He called me back in March to ask me to come for a week. In the end I did two weeks in Cascais, before doing the return passage to Concarneau with Jean-Marie Dauris and Julien Pulvé. We worked really well in terms of performance, pilot tuning and adjustment and electronics. So then I was super happy to see the good race that Jean-Marie and Julien did behind (4th in the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race). I still did my bit by convincing them to remove a little weight from the bulb to optimize the boat, it was a bit heavy!
▶︎ We get the impression that as soon as a boat needs to be fine-tuned, we call Pascal Bidégorry, has it become your trademark?
It certainly appears that way if we look at the last two-three years, I must have done four or five new Imocas now. But it played out like this it was not part of a plan or what I wanted, it was not a wish on my part. If I hadn’t had complications with my dad’s illness it would have been different. But at some point that question doesn’t even arise, you can’t go offshore. I had to tell Kevin (Escoffier) after the Route du Rhum that I couldn’t do The Ocean Race with him. Especially because on this race when you get into it, you go all out. The idea of “I’m just doing one stage” does not do it for me. Nothing has stopped the offers still coming and I got one this morning! But my main thing over recent months has been to be able to get back to Bayonne as often as I can to not leave my mother alone. Now I have accepted a few proposals, because at some point I’ll go a little crazy if I do nothing. And still at the beginning of January I was in Alicante to set up the new set of sails.
“Kevin must strike a blow on the next leg”
▶︎ You obviously watch what is happening on The Ocean Race, what is your feeling about the race?
First thing we had a boat that dominated everything (Holcim-PRB) whereas, on the other hand, it was a disaster for 11th Hour at the end of the third leg. But finally, the balance of power was reversed. Kevin was unlucky breaking his mast but 11th Hour have done a good job of getting back into the game. Now that they’re a point behind, it’s going to be interesting to see Holcim-PRB‘s ability to bounce back, Kevin needs to hit the next leg hard, otherwise it’s going to hard for them, especially as in in the event of a tie, he is behind on the in-port classification, so he doesn’t have much choice.
▶︎ The 24-hour record has been beaten several times, is that a surprise for you?
Breaking the Comanche monohull record with 640 miles in 24 hours is impressive but it is not so much as surprise that they do it on this leg. On the Atlantic, if you have a good depression and the Gulf Stream pushing you with a sea that is a super flat, you can go super fast. The problem with the Imoca is that it becomes complicated as soon as there are a few wavelets. Now, we have seen that the hulls make it easier to go through the sea with a little more “rocker”. I admit that the first time I saw Malizia at the pontoon, I didn’t think it was going to be a rocket ship. But between their C-foils that he got from Sam (Davies), which provide stability at high speed downwind in rough seas, and his hull, we can see that it all works. It is more difficult for stretched hulls like Kevin’s. There is a happy medium to be found, these Imocas are compromise boats. If your boat does go well up and down the Atlantic, it will also be difficult to win the Vendée Globe.
“I was a little disappointed
to stop my Vendée Globe project”
▶︎ You are going to sail on Macif this season with Charlie Dalin, why did you accept his offer?
When I got back from Alicante in January, my phone must have rung ten times asking me to do this season and the Jacques Vabre, I was blown away! Charlie called me too, I said, “Why are you calling me? There are plenty of young, handsome, strong guys. Why do you want to break your balls with Bidégorry?” But in the end it was a form of continuation of the work I’ve been doing in the Imoca with MerConcept for the last two or three years, especially with Charlie. Bear in mind when my project with François’ Ultim (formerly Macif) was put on ice he called me to offer me to come and work with him. We had done a good job until the Vendée. And I am very familiar and at home with MerConcept, I have been working with them since 2015, I know a little about everyone, it’s nice. But it’s going to be difficult for us in terms of timing this season.
▶︎ Do you get along well with Charlie?
At first, I didn’t know him at all. I found him reserved. I wondered if it was a form of shyness, even pretentiousness, but in fact, not at all. He’s a super simple guy, who manages his team with a lot of empathy and respect. He doesn’t worry, things happen naturally, we’re all there to move the project forward together. And on the water he is a king. In terms of strategy and management of the boat, he knows what he is doing, he is very far-sighted. If we can work together until the start of the Vendée, we will.
▶︎ Did you have your own Vendée Globe project?
Yes, I had the idea of having Black Pepper’s third boat, the one Phil Sharp has eventually bought. I had made good progress but it became very complicated with the people who were to give me money, in the end it smelled like a lousy plan. And so at some point, I had to be realistic and I stopped everything. I was a little disappointed because I had put a lot of energy in to it.
“I would like to win the Jules Verne Trophy”
▶︎ Will you also carry on working with the SVR Lazartigue team alongside Tom Laperche, what do you think of him?
He’s a champion! The guy, he’s just 25, he’s good on the water, brilliant, smart, he has perspective, a good analysis of everything, he’s poised, not overdone. At 55 now I’m crazier in my head than him! There aren’t many people like him, he’s a bit from the same mould as François (Gabart).
▶︎ He will compete in the Arkea Ultim Challenge in early 2024, would you have liked to do this race?
Yes, and to be honest with you, when François offered me to do The Transat on the former Macif, I found a partner for the boat with a program until the end of this round the world. I told myself that this would be my last thing, after which I was going to calm me down for good and it allow me to unplug at 56, but it didn’t happen because of the Covid, that’s life. But honestly I don’t worry too much about all this anymore, my personal things have calmed me down a bit like the desire to sail 365 days a year on the most beautiful boats. What matters to me today is to have fun on sporting and technically interesting projects. I love developing boats, optimizing their strengths. Whether I’m a skipper or not, it’s not going to change my life. Being with MerConcept allows me to sail on the coolest boat in the world, an Ultim, and on the last Imoca that will be launched, so really I have nothing to complain about. And there is a crewed goal that I really want to sign up because I have never won the Jules Verne Trophy and I would like that to happen! I put a lot of energy into it at one time [as skipper of Banque Populaire V, NDLR], I left feathers there, and it is unfinished business. When I think about it, I have the same carefree mindset and the same desire as when I was 20, that says it all.
Photo: Amory Ross – 11th Hour Racing