Between taking part in The Ocean Race with Team Malizia and a double-handed season with Yoann Richomme, Yann Eliès is in demand. Next week he will be at the start of the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race aboard the new Imoca Paprec Arkéa, Tip & Shaft spoke with the triple winner of La Solitaire du Figaro.
► You are part of Team Malizia for The Ocean Race, what is your exact role?
I’m not with them permanently, I am not doing all the stages. It was impossible for me to be full-time. First of all I helped upstream to advise a bit with some of the technical choices in the preparation of the boat and also to continue to train some of them on the boat. That was the idea of the return delivery trip from the Route du Rhum, in particular with Rosie (Rosalin Kuiper) and Will (Harris), it was a bit of an overseeing role. Then when Boris had to drop out for the second leg, I replaced him on board. That really allowed me to discover the strengths and weaknesses of the boat. And I’m going to come back to Newport for stage 5 in performance role and to advise on the weather, since Nico Lunven will leave us in Newport. That will be quite a challenge to replace him, given the very good job he has done so far.
► What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the boat?
Its big strengths are its ergonomics and the hull, which allows the crew to maintain high speeds, maybe not in total relaxation, but more easily than on other boats. We really saw in the images in the big south the differences in life on board between the boats. On Malizia you see the guys standing up, rarely holding each other, they manage to chat and laugh. And on the others, we see some who are soaked, fully foul weather geared up. Yes, they certainly take it all with good humor, but they are doubled over most of the time because there is no headroom and the boat slams a lot, standing up is super stressful. Once more we see that the performance limits of the Imoca are dictated by what the human can reasonably withstand. That is an important aspect for performance. And these easier living conditions are due both to the volume inside the cockpit, but also to the passage of the hull over the sea which is a big success. The weak points are the flip side of all these things, namely that, with a very high freeboard and a high headroom inside, it is a bit heavier than the others, so it is not as good in less than 18 knots of wind, but that’s the way it was meant to be. And so for the moment, nothing proves Boris wrong, especially as the structural choices he has made make Malizia a very reliable boat.
“The dismasting of Holcim-PRB reshuffles the cards”
► How do you feel about the dismasting of Holcim-PRB on Thursday morning?
It’s so cruel for them, because since the start of the race, they are the ones who have sailed the best and have made the least mistakes. But with masts I do not know how they were set up on this stage, if they had a false forestay, as is the case for example on Malizia, but I think no-one is totally safe. I saw that Kevin (Escoffier) and his team were going to do everything to try to recover some kind of rig and finish the stage, it’s a real logistical and financial challenge for them. What is certain is that this dismasting reshuffles the cards. Bear in mind the Transatlantic Newport-Aarhus leg counts double points, everything is still possible on the general classification.
► This is your first experience of racing The Ocean Race, what are your impressions?
I think it’s great. It certainly has a human and financial cost for the teams, but it is better to do it, even maybe with limited means, a bit like Biotherm and Guyot, than to stay home in France. I think next time there will be more teams. First, because there is obviously the sporting interest and also because there is media interest, it goes when nothing is happening. And as well it is an exceptional human adventure with travel and family dimensions that are worth experiencing.
► Will this collaboration with Team Malizia continue?
Well, it is possible, the idea of continuing to work with them until the Vendée Globe to coach the team and Boris was one of the things we talked of at the start. That could be interesting. We will have to see if Boris is motivated by the new challenge and how he will recover from The Ocean Race.
“Charlie and Yoann have very similar profiles”
► You are now also with Yoann Richomme, whom you will sail with this season on double-handed races, how were you contacted?
I think the sponsors appreciated the work I did with Sébastien Simon on the previous boat, they probably pushed me a little bit when they discussed the co-skipper. And in the market for Imoca co-skippers there aren’t that many people left with my profile, that is to say with experience on foiling Imoca and the ability to transmit. It did happen naturally and quite early, last September. The idea is to reproduce a little of the work we did on Apivia with Charlie Dalin and to allow Yoann to line up at the start of the Vendée Globe in a position to win it by fast tracking progress on the learning curve between the launch of the boat and the start of the solo round the world race. Charlie and Yoann have very similar profiles, they are exceptional sailors, intelligent, have been through the same backgrounds, trained naval architects who understand everything that happens on board…
► So now Paprec Arkéa was launched two months ago, what do you think?
We can maybe say that it seems to be a mix between Malizia and a previous generation Verdier design, which worked very well on flat seas and upwind, but suffered from a hull that was too slim for downwind in the bigger seas. So far it seems to be a success but we haven’t seen much of the boat downwind in the sea.
► You are competing in the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race with Yoann, what is the objective of this first race?
The first key is first to discover each other, since we have never sailed together. Then it’s about doing the best with what we have, because in such a short time to prepare, we don’t necessarily have everything in place to fire 100% on the boat. We are still learning the user manual. We also want to line up with the others a bit, try not to let them get away and so have the first feel for a comparison with the others.
► And the same question as for Malizia is this likely to be longer term?
I don’t really know, we haven’t discussed it, but I have the impression that Yoann will become quite independent, so I probably don’t think it will continue after this year. I could have set myself in as a substitute skipper, but I can’t because I’m going to work on the race management of the Vendée Globe, it’s too complicated to do both.
“It is sure that I will not do any more solo Imoca”
► You have been a skipper for a long time, especially in the Imoca, how do you appreciate the role of co-skipper?
Yes, absolutely, I am into it 100%! The upsides are I’m not full-time, I don’t have the responsibilities and the pressure that the skipper has to carry. I have less contact with sponsors and the media, I manage have some free time to do something else , that’s all I have been looking for!
► You also seem to be retraining towards race direction, do you see yourself following the course of other former sailors who became race directors, Jean Maurel, Jacques Caraës…?
I think it’s a job I’m going to move towards in the next ten years, yes, even if I wonder a little about the role and the responsibilities of the race director, which I see as too big for me. I think we are moving towards a trend where the organizer hands the keys to the truck to the race director who finds himself managing everything. I wonder, for example, if it is really the role of the race director of the Route du Rhum to ensure that the boats leave the locks of Saint-Malo at 1:05 p.m. because there is a live broadcast starting. I think it’s starting to be a big, big pressure.
► You will be 50 at the beginning of next year, do you still want to sail as much and do you have unfulfilled ambitions?
Yes, I want to sail as long as possible, especially since I believe that to be a good race director or a good coach – another of my hats that I hope to continue to develop next year at pole of Port-la-Forêt with Jeanne Grégoire and Erwan Tabarly – you have to practice. I realize that I’m getting closer to the end of my sailing career on boats which are starting to be very difficult to sail, I can still go well and contribute a lot double-handed and crewed. I would still like to do a Jules Verne on an Ultim. But on the other hand, it is certain that I won’t be doing any more solo Imoca racing.
Photo: Eloi Stichelbaut / polaRYSE