Sidney Gavignet: “I have the impression of starting a new life story “

Retired from ocean racing since the Route du Rhum 2018, Sidney Gavignet has since reconverted to coaching in individual and collective development. This leads him to sail from time to time, as he did last year in the Figaro with Laurent Givry, or at the start of this year, as he was part of the crew of Alexia Barrier’s MOD70 Limosa, 3rd in real time in the Rorc Transatlantic Race. Tip & Shaft took the opportunity to chat with him. 

▶︎ How did you get involved in the Rorc Transatlantic Race?
Because Alexia called me to ask me to sail with her, and I suppose she did because I did spend four or five years on an MOD70 when these boats first came out. Her boat is called Limosa, the name of a migratory bird. For me, the MOD70 is somewhere between a bird and a stallion. I also really like Alexia’s project [of the Jules Verne Trophy on Idec Sport with an all-female crew, editor’s note], so this opportunity really appealed to me, and I’m also going to be joining them in the Caribbean 600.

▶︎ Did you know Alexia before you signed up?
Yes, I’d worked with her a bit when she decided to take a turn after the Transat Jacques Vabre 2021 and launch The Famous Project. She had heard a podcast in which I talked about my transition to this coaching profession and contacted me, more to help her formulate into a project an idea that she had within herself. It was a kind of coaching, even if I prefer the term “accompaniment”, which means helping something that’s already there to blossom.

▶︎ How did the Transatlantic Race go?
There were eight of us on board, five girls and three boys. In terms of performance, we were a little heavier than the competition [two other MOD70s, Argo and Zoulou, editor’s note], as there were six of them on the other boats and we had taken on board two gennakers, and Limosa doesn’t have any T-rudders, unlike the others. But the aim at this stage of the project is above all to get more and more girls sailing offshore and in multihulls. Aside from that, they all have a lot of experience, both in terms of pure technique, but also team experience – some of them raced in the Volvo Ocean Race on Team SCA, which wasn’t an easy campaign. Today, we can see that there is a real network of experienced women sailors, as we saw again in the last Transat Jacques Vabre. Personally, my role was fairly low-key, I was a grinder-steerer-trimmer; in a way, that suited me well, because I’m still in a bit of remission from the injury of having lost a crew member with my MOD on Oman (in 2015), and this transatlantic race has played a part in what I call my personal medicine. This Transatlantic Race has been a very good laboratory for the internal dynamics of the project, particularly for Alexia, who hasn’t had a crew skippering career.


“I sail for my professional activity”


▶︎ You sailed against your former MOD, now Argo, the winner of the race…
Yes, it’s amazing, because in my career, I’ve never been too emotional with my boats, except with the Oman MOD. I’m very happy to see that this boat is now in very good hands in this case in the hands of a team with almost unlimited resources, it’s like entrusting an animal to a good family. They’ve turned it into a jewel, there are no more stainless steel screws, it’s all titanium, it’s magnificent.

▶︎ Will you continue to support The Famous Project?
I don’t know, there’s no contractual agreement in that sense. For the moment, I’m just doing the Caribbean 600, and then we’ll see.

▶︎ You say you don’t sail any more, but you do these two races one after the other and you also sailed last year in the Tour of Brittany…
I’ve also raced in the Fastnet on the Gunboat managed by Alex Thomson… Almost every time, it’s as part of my professional activity. However, my reputation comes from my sailing career, so I can be called upon to support people who are active in this sport, including skippers, or others who come from the business world and are sailing fans. For example, in the Figaro, if I raced the Tour de Bretagne, it’s because I provide overall support to Laurent Givry, an amateur skipper who also charters my boat, and we thought it might be a good idea to do a double-handed race. That’s going to be the case again this year, as I’ll also be accompanying a lady who wants to take part in the Etape de la Solitaire launched in the next Solitaire du Figaro. After that, I wouldn’t say no to short trips in a MOD, these boats are marvellous, they’re simple, you don’t go overboard, and it’s ‘re-use’, you stay within reason ecologically, I like that.


“Ultims are Formula 1 boats
with little soul”


▶︎ Are you continuing to follow the latest in competitive sailing? In particular the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest which is taking place at the moment?
I watch a bit. As far as the Ultim class is concerned, I think the boats are extraordinary technologically, but my feeling is that, in the end, this round the world race is practically the first race that has any meaning for them. The class or the organisers could have a lot more imagination to look for ideas for courses which, for these boats on a planetary scale, serve a purpose, for the world, for life and the planet, and not just for advertising. That’s not enough for me, I think the Ultims are a bit behind in that respect, we have the impression of having Formula 1s with little soul. I think that technology and performance with the aim of achieving a result appeal to some, but only to 20% of the people who follow the races. What appeals to them most of all is the human element, the adventure, the sailors who disappear behind the horizon… In that sense, it’s great to see Tom Laperche, a newcomer with a smile on his face who is thrilled by every minute of what he’s experiencing, especially as he’s surrounded by a team that I find intelligent in the way it passes on the baton and evolves.

▶︎ Do you sometimes feel nostalgic when you think about your ‘old’ job as a skipper?
After the Route du Rhum 2018, which was a bit like my jubilee, I realised in the various coaching I was doing that I was still a bit too much of a racer in my head, which wasn’t the right posture. I became aware of this thanks to the people I’ve coached, and it’s been less the case since. I think the Transatlantic Race was my 36th transat, and I realise that I’ve been absent all these years as a husband and as a father, and now I don’t want to be away from home for as long as I used to. And I’m so happy doing what I do that I feel better now than where I was before, even if I was enjoying myself. I’m 55 and I feel like I’m starting a new chapter in my life.

Photo: Marie Cortial

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