After taking part in early February in the “Barrés de la Yole” in Martinique, it was in the garden of a sumptuous villa in Falmouth Bay, Antigua, from where he takes the start this Monday of his first RORC Caribbean 600 with the crew of the Multi 70 PowerPlay (ex MOD70 Paprec Recyclage), that Loïck Peyron replied to some questions from Tip & Shaft for its 200th French issue. Interrupting the conversation from time to time to remind us that it was here in English Harbour that he finished his first Mini-Transat back in 1979, to comment on the arrival in the bay of the 80-feet Ultim Emotion and to be amazed by the sight of a turtle eating a snail, the skipper from La Baule, now 60, looked back at his busy 2019 and talked to us about his latest news.
2019 was a busy year for you with the discovery of the Figaro 3. What are your memories of the 50th Solitaire?
It was simply a delight! Lots of work, discovering a boat that was really nice and a new generation that is gradually replacing us. The discovery too of Amélie Grassi, with whom I sailed double-handed and the infamous difficulty of this race, which was a great challenge. As for the result (24th), it could have been better or indeed worse. I’m just a bit frustrated about the final leg where some nasty seaweed meant that I dropped back twenty places in an hour and a half, while before that I was out in front.
You also sailed last year on the TP52 Paprec Recyclage?
Yes in the Copa del Rey in Palma. I found myself as tactician and it was fascinating. I may join them for one or two events this year. At the moment they are in Cape Town for the first leg of the 52 Super Series. Maybe I’ll be there for the second. I had been watching videos of TPs for ages and I wanted to give it a go. They are fantastic. Manoeuvres are amazing and there is a great team spirit with the crew. It is one of the rare French boats, maybe the only one, which offers a chance to youngsters to sail on this type of boat against the big guns.
You also sailed last year and you’ll be back again this week on the Multi 70, PowerPlay (ex MOD 70 Virbac-Paprec). How did you join that project?
Through the intermediary of Ned Collier-Wakefield, who really looks after the boat and Charlie Ogletree, a Tornado racer that I have known for ages. As I won the previous Transpac on Mighty Merloe, Franck Cammas’s former Groupama 2, they said that I must know what it was like. It was a great adventure, even if we were overwhelmed at the start by Argo, who won. I’m pleased to be back with them to race in the 600 Caribbean with our friends on Argo out there too – I thought I heard that Franck Cammas was on board… Then, there is Maserati and the former Prince de Bretagne. It’s nice to see that the old MOD70s are enjoying a new life. They were practically all bought by foreigners. Some have done a lot of work on the appendages, others have kept them more or less as they were. That is the case for PowerPlay, but they are all well looked after.
Talking about multihulls, how do you feel about the Ultims ?
I watched the Atlantic race (Brest Atlantiques) closely. It was great seeing the pictures. It is true that there are not very many, but I believe that the class has the right name, as these are the ultimate boats. There may be worse to come, but for the moment, they are one of the most amazing ways to sail.
Do you think it is possible to sail solo around the world on these boats?
Yes. It’s all a question of getting the mix right, and of the physical and mental endurance of the sailors. I’m not saying it is going to be easy. Not everyone will be able to do it. In fact, I think there will be fewer and fewer sailors able to do that. I get the feeling that the next generation aren’t that keen on flying solo on these boats. The boats may well be a new generation, but they are sailed by skippers from the older generation.
Talking about flying boats, what do you think of the AC75s in the America’s Cup?
I enjoy looking at them. They are magical and magnificent. It’s strange to think that the concept is sixty years old or a bit more. When you see the videos of Monitor made of plywood and steel in the fifties in the States, with her famous captain, Gordon Baker, this is exactly the same boat including the shape of the hull. I do wonder if it is the right boat for the America’s Cup. I remain extremely cautious. Any interest for the Cup, or rather lack of interest may come from the fact that these boats are too fast. Over the past ten years, the Cup has led the way in terms of pure technology, but has lost spectators and the interest of the general public. I feel that interest has waned in all areas of sailing, and this is no major, popular sport. Some events can be on a very local level such as the Cup in Auckland or the Vendée Globe, but they are hardly earth-shattering…
At one point, you tried to set up a French team for the Cup. Is France not made for the Cup?
We are not ready to take part in an elite event that costs so much and requires private funding. We enjoy great stories that cost much less and can be justified from a commercial standpoint. The Cup is not a commercial medium: for a century and a half, it was always a country or owners who wanted to show off their social position. When you succeed in becoming wealthy in France, you don’t show everyone what you have. The Vendée Globe is unrivalled in terms of popularity. The employees in a company are in general delighted that their bosses have invested in that area, but it would be much harder to justify such an investment in the Cup.
What do you think about the SailGP circuit launched by Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts?
It’s great, but it is exactly what I wrote at the end of the Cup in Bermuda. I did an article on it – From Lipton to Red Bull – I said that it was going to be a bit like a weekend with F1 cars. A quick thrill with fantastic pictures of amazing machines. Fortunately, it involved an enthusiast not interested in the money. For almost fifteen years, he has spent billions on his passion. It’s a great show that you are drip fed. I’m not forgetting the role played by Russell (Coutts)), who managed to sustain the support of an enthusiastic backer to create some really intelligent things. He is amazing, always inventing concepts. A long time ago, he wanted to do something like the MOD70s. He is always one step ahead of the game. It’s quite impressive.
What are your other projects this year?
I’m lucky to be the captain of the French team in the Star Sailors League Gold Cup. It is an honorary role. I’m there with other captains like John Bertrand for Australia and Paul Cayard for the United States. In theory, I won’t be sailing. It is essentially Xavier Rohart who will be doing the hard work. Once again, this is the story of an enthusiast who is willing to put money in to showcase the sailors by putting nation against nation in an event, the formula of which is a bit like Roland-Garros with tables and seeds. He wants to rank the sailors from around the world with thousands of racers taking part every weekend. There is a team of people in Switzerland working around the clock on that.
Are ocean races, like the Route du Rhum over for you?
Yes, I’m pleased to be able to slow things down a bit. I realised that last year in the Transpac in Hawaii. My final fast offshore race: I told myself that I was no longer as interested. In fact, when we finished we went gliding at North Shore. I understood my situation at that moment. I’m like a glider that is slowly descending. Sometimes I rise up again with different projects, but I’m pleased to come back down after them and in the end I’ll land. But I can’t yet see the runway and the landing gear isn’t out yet!
Photo: Jean-Mario Liot / Défi Yoles Martinique
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