More than a year after the end of his collaboration with the Gitana Team, Sébastien Josse is back on the water. As soon as deconfinement started he started sailing and working with Nicolas Troussel helping him to prepare the next Vendée Globe aboard Corum L’Epargne, the latest new generation Imoca to be launched. That seems like a good opportunity for Tip & Shaft to catch up with the skipper who is originally from Nice and whose career to date spans Figaro, Imoca, Ultime and the Volvo Ocean Race.
Looking back how do you review your eight years in the Gitana Team?
Any time with the Gitana team is interesting: it is a team with means, ambition, which works on incredible projects, so it is inherently an important step in the career of a solo racer. Over my time there I have nothing to be ashamed of, no regrets about the times and energy, the work I did and the commitment that I have put into this project. The boat [Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, Editor’s note] is at the level where it is today thanks to a whole team who worked there, I think of Antoine Koch, of Romain Ingouf and others, people who are also passing through and made this boat work like it does today.
Is the episode of your departure digested, put to bed in your own mind now?
When you join such a team, you know that you are there for an indefinite period. I was fortunate to be the one who stayed the longest – eight years. It is an environment that was going well and my work was appreciated, I do not think that the sailing skills and the team work was called into question. After that there is another reality on which I do not want to say much, it is useless, it is the work of lawyers. The parting was hard and I did not expect it, but today, I am not bitter, I am lucky to have done the job that I did and that is the essential.
Then you obviously followed the boat closely on Brest Atlantiques, on which you were a consultant for the race management, what lessons did you learn from it?
The good thing is that the boats all arrived, except Sodebo, with minor, non-structural damage. But we see that sailing these flying boats offshore over several weeks remains a problem that is hard to manage and on the Brest Atlantiques, the boats actually flew very little. It proved that it’s going to take a few more seasons to get someone solo around the world on these machines.
Are these boats ready for the Jules Verne, that is Gitana and Sodebo at the end of the year?
Each project has its story and its own levels of planning. It’s like in the Vendée Globe, those who prepare four years before it are more likely to succeed than those who prepare six months before. Here you would think Gitana as the first Ultim flying to be launched, then we did the Transat Jacques Vabre, the Route du Rhum, so today it is certainly should be the project that has the most credibility from sporting point of view. Then there will be Sodebo, then Banque Populaire, but there will always be a difference of one or two seasons work and optimisation between the different teams.
How fast do you see these boats going on the Jules Verne?
Less than 40 days, that’s for sure, even if, at some point, we know that the boats will be using their appendages in a degraded mode, because of the threat of OFNI and others: we saw on Brest Atlantiques that a design with more conventional boards does not take very long. And there were stops allowed. Now, even without boards or foils, these boats continue to go very fast.
How do you react to Macif’s departure from the Ultim program?
It surprised the ocean racing world, myself included, because they were building a boat, skipper who is a master of his game and subject, all the lights looked green.
The Ultim 32/23 class has been slow to take off. Why is that in your opinion?
What is tricky with the Ultim class is finding the necessary means. It takes 15 million euros and two years to build a boat with a programme that is far from being certain. These parameters mean that it is not as easy as in the Imoca class, where there is the Vendée Globe which attracts a lot of people, with at least one major event every couple of years. Not everyone is able to enter the Ultim class and that is what makes it the ultimate class. That also concerns the sailors, as the number of people able to sail these boats is limited, so it is bound to be hard to get into.
Do you think a solo round the world race in 2023 is still realistic?
I’m going to be like Michel Desjoyeaux and opt out of answering that one. Did people think it was realistic two years ago?
The word was that it was, as Brest Oceans was scheduled for the end of 2019…
Yes, but we have seen it takes a minimum amount of time to get these things set up in terms of technology and safety. You have to understand what it entails to sail solo on these boats. So far, no one has yet crossed the Atlantic alone on a flying boat. Flying when racing offshore remains a rare occurrence. I remain totally convinced that this is the future of sailing and in the coming years, we’ll see boats sailed across the Atlantic in four days, but it is going to take more than one or two seasons.
Is Ultim racing still one of your personal projects?
Yes, of course, flying multihulls are something I think I can deal with and they fascinate me. Another Route du Rhum on an Ultim would be great for me. Today, I’m hoping to bounce back. I’m currently getting things set up to present my project, with the aim of publicising that. I know how lucky I have been never to have had really to search for partners and I know how hard that can be. There are no rules. We have seen people like Yann Eliès and Michel Desjoyeaux failing at times to even find a budget for the Solitaire. Times are particularly unfavourable. On the other hand, there is a boat that is up for sale, Macif. There are even two if you include the future one, even if I hope that François will manage to bounce back and find a partner to keep that boat. This is a great opportunity for someone interested in the Ultim Class.
Have you had any contacts about joining a team?
This year, there is only one Ultim aboard which I could apply to race (smiles). I didn’t do that, as it meant getting into place last year. Thomas (Coville) has already set up part of his team; if he requires a last-minute replacement, I’m available. On the other hand, I really hope to be part of the round the world crew for late 2021. It is important to stay in touch with this sort of boat to maintain your level, as these boats evolve very quickly.
Let’s talk about the Corum project. How did you join the team and what is your role?
I have known Nico Troussel since we were 17 and we have always got on. As he knew the timing was tight for his project, he wanted to work with sailors with experience to be efficient from the launch stage, so he asked me to join him. My role is both to help him settle in as quickly as possible, while offering him advice from my experience. That may concern ease of handling, but also food, clothing, the problems you encounter at sea… We are looking back at the last three editions and trying to come up with solutions to see how we would overcome those difficulties.
Do you think he will be able to perform well after just six months on the boat, remembering how complicated these IMOCAs are?
It is a challenge, but he knew that from the start. But then, it is true he was late starting, but that meant he was able to make the most of the latest technological developments. What really amazes me with him is he doesn’t feel the pressure on him. This means he doesn’t need to waste a lot of energy. He is very pragmatic and he works hard always aiming towards a key goal and manages to achieve that. In any case, where he is at, it is hard to compare with the Charal team, which started out almost two years earlier.
What did you feel when you sailed on the boat for the first time?
The gap between the latest generation of foilers and the previous one is huge. It is as big as the gap between Imocas with daggerboards and the first foilers. There is a difference of at least three knots and these monohulls are more and more like multihulls in some points of sail. I think they are likely to shatter the 24-hour distance record, maybe even as early as when they are reaching down off Brazil. If there a low-pressure system pops up in the Indian Ocean, they may be able to keep up an average speed of 28-30 knots. That is something boats from the previous generations simply could not do. It is incredible seeing how far the Imocas have come over the past eight years. This does however mean that life on board is very different too. It is getting worse and worse exponentially with the speed; when reaching at thirty knots, you don’t get up to make yourself a coffee! I think that the limit is more in the mind than with the physical aspects for the sailors. I don’t know whether the skippers will manage to stay on the attack for as long in the Southern Ocean to keep their boats flying.
What can you tell us about the Corum L’Epargne Imoca?
It is a boat that has quite a high freeboard, with a higher center of gravity and a light bulb; by comparison, the VPLPs and the Verdiers tend to have a very low center of gravity. Right now the sensations are good, the numbers too, but until you have really sailed alongside the other boats, you are still the king of the hill. In any case, Nicolas’ wish is not to have a tricky, difficult boat, but a boat that looks after itself, that skims rather than slams, that means that it touches the water, without necessarily being 2.5 meters above water. We want the boat to be 80% on its foils, and 20% on the hull, but not necessarily high. Flying is not necessarily the main priority of the boat you are looking for offshore.
What can Nicolas aim for on the Vendée Globe?
The history of the Vendée Globe is never pre-written, I think everything is possible. He can get on the podium, even win, he’s a sailor who knows how to be durable tenacious and efficient, wise too, which will be important on this kind of boat. For me, all the new boats can win. After all nothing is impossible and we can imagine situations where a foiling boat of the previous generation can win. Look at the last Route du Rhum: you had the four most beautiful Ultims on the planet and it was Francis Joyon who won. That’s why we don’t like predictions, the reality of the race is often out of step with the latest technologies.
Does the Vendée Globe still appeal to you?
It’s sure that the sensations you get from these boats appeal to me, and technically, I find it fascinating, so yes, it appeals. Being at the start of a Vendée Globe or a Route du Rhum doesn’t come round regularly, not like ten times in a sailor’s life. The Vendée, I did three, I didn’t finish the last two. So your story with the Vendée Globe is never finished, look at Jean Le Cam… I am 45 years old, I know that if I had a great project, I would be competitive. I’m lucky to tell myself that if I sail an Imoca, I am in the game and it is the same thing on an Ultim.
Photo: Eloi Stichelbaut / PolaRyse / Corum L’Epargne