This year has been busy for Paul Meilhat. Between the build of his new Imoca Biotherm (sistership of LinkedOut) at Persico Marine then with minimal preparation for the Route du Rhum-Destination and the race itself in which he finished in sixth place, it has been a full on 2022. And it’s far from over as the French skipper flies to Alicante on Saturday to start getting ready for The Ocean Race which starts on January 15. Even so, he still found the time to answer questions from Tip & Shaft.
► It was just a year ago when Biotherm signed up to support you on your Vendée Globe project. Since then you have built a boat and finished sixth in the Rhum, did you imagine at the time that you would be here, where you are, one year later?
Yes, I have to say it is what I imagined it yes, because that was what as planned, but it’s true that the with less than a year between the signing of the contract and the start of the Route du Rhum building new boat in the middle, it was quite incredible to achieve what we managed. And the cherry on top is that the Route du Rhum went really well. But is is also because from the start, given the very tight timing, we chose to be very pragmatic in everything we did.
► And so has this year been hard for you? Was it some kind of victory to be at the start of Rhum?
It was hard, tiring, yes, but I really do thrive in this kind of project I love it, it’s what allowed me to keep up the intensity, the work rate. It’s no secret that I would have liked to decompress a bit after the Route du Rhum, but no, we’re cracking on at the same pace as The Ocean Race starts in a month, but this is what I want to do. As for it being a kind of win to be at the start of the Route du Rhum it was clear that it was a win for the team and for Biotherm, but in my own mind that’s not how I saw it, my objective was to go racing. I hadn’t sailed solo for four years. It was great to get back into it and I loved it. Especially since from the start we were really into Solitaire du Figaro mode, I had said that no one would pass through the Chenal du Four at night, and in the end, we all did so, taking the Raz de Sein in our stride. Afterwards things really actually calmed down a lot. If we look at the stats this edition is one of the least windy in history, I have a 15 knots wind average, with a maximum wind of 40 knots, we had more of 30 knots for five hours, we only really had the one front.
“I had a lot of fun
on this Route du Rhum”
► You finished sixth, was the result what you expected? And were there points where you were saying to yourself you could do better?
The result is still ahead of what I expected. Sixth is great considering how little preparation I had. But looking back there were certain points in the middle of the race when I was on the podium and I thought to myself that I had something big to play for. But towards the end I really put the racing on hold for the last two days. I had the sail locker hatch coming off, so I filled the boat with water a lot of times, it took me a huge amount of energy to empty everything every time, especially as I had pump problems. From then I was no longer challenging with Jérémie Beyou and Kevin Escoffier and 36 hours before the finish, I had problems with the bottom rudder bearing which was getting damaged, my rudder was coming off all the time. I had some scares on the passage around Guadeloupe when the wind was squally. I was not racing then at all. Maxime Sorel ended up passing me, but I didn’t find that frustrating at all, I only hold on to the positives. I already had a lot of fun on this Route du Rhum because I had confirmation of the boat’s potential, I knew then that I was going to have fun for four years on a boat which will allow me to perform.
► Did you have time to stop after the finish and take any time or did you immediately switch to The Ocean Race project?
In my head I just moved directly from one to the other. I only stayed In Guadeloupe three and a half days including two on the boat with the whole team to put everything back in order and pass the baton to Mariana and Giulio (Lobato and Bertelli, who are part of the crew for the race round the world) who bring the boat back with Anne Beaugé (on-board reporter, who will alternate with Ronan Gladu). And when we arrived back in Lorient, it was full on again, the scheduling, planning meetings. We sent the container to Alicante. We got back to our pre-Route du Rhum working mode.
“We are missing between 25 and 30%
budget for the Vendée Globe”
► What made you decide to do The Ocean Race after the Route du Rhum?
For four years I’ve been fighting to do it, first of all because even if there are a lot of French projects, it’s still super interesting to go and compare with sailors from other countries and on top of that personally I love the adventure, the challenge. Racing in Brittany, Normandy, Vendée are good, but I also want to see something more, something bigger. And at Biotherm they were very happy, because they have a big international business. It was not on the initial program for them, it was a decision that was made in June. And we had to find additional partners, we are still looking for some today because we don’t have the complete budget. We also thought that doing The Ocean Race would help us find partners for the Vendée Globe project. We don’t yet have the full budget for it, we are missing between 25 and 30%.
► How much do you have, how much do you need?
We do not communicate very much about it, but let’s say that we are not in the same division as the big teams, we will say that we are more of an intermediate budget. If we want to raise our level of play and do development we have to find additional partners.
► To some that might seem paradoxical when you know that Biotherm belongs to L’Oréal, an economic giant?
I don’t see things like that it’s still the first time for them in the Vendée Globe It is already incredible that they are embarking on this project with a new boat. And it was clear from the start that on their part that they wanted to integrate complementary partners.
“I chose sailors
who had energy”
► Looking ahead to the Vendée Globe, is it important to go sailing in the South?
Yes, of course, we have seen that the results in Imoca are now very correlated to the time you spend on the water. But even so I really am taking it race by race. I still have trouble projecting myself forwards to the Vendée Globe, I’ll think about it from next summer.
► How did you choose your crew for The Ocean Race?
We had to mix our objective to have an international crew because that’s in the DNA of the race and the fact that, as we don’t have time to train, I needed people who have Imoca experience. So I called on Anthony (Marchand), who is a friend and someone with whom I have sailed a lot. He will be like the co-skipper of the boat. But also Damien Seguin amazes me, and I’m not saying that in relation to his handicap: as soon as I told him about the project, he showed that he really wanted to be involved, he’s a really great champion who has a lot of experience in project management and a great drive, a real motivation on the water. Generally speaking, I chose sailors who had energy. I knew this project would be tough and what would hold us together would be everyone’s ability to have fun and bring a lot of enthusiasm. This is the case of Amélie (Grassi), who has a great temperament, Giulio, whom I met at Persico, and Mariana who has been super motivated since the moment I contacted her.
► What goal have you set for yourself and what do you think of the field of five boats which is less than was hoped for when The Ocean Race announced its agreement with the Imoca?
Given our level of preparation, which is still less than the others as is is also the case with our budget, it would be crazy to say that we are going to win The Ocean Race. But I think we will be able to play with everyone. I don’t really see a favorite that stands out, everyone will have their card to play. The fleet size? Of course we would have liked to have had more boats but we are a bit of the pioneers who will lead the way and I am convinced that on the next edition of The Ocean Race there will be fifteen boats.
Photo : DR