Charles Caudrelier won the 12th edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe in Ultim on Wednesday ahead of François Gabart and Thomas Coville. Aided by experts – sailors Pascal Bidégorry and Franck Cammas, the race director of Finistère Atlantique (among others things) Gildas Morvan, Christian Le Pape, former director of the Finistère racing center off Port-la-Forêt, and Pierre-Marie Bourguinat, journalist who follows the Ultims for the organization -, Tip & Shaft, offers you a decryption of this announced success.
A good cast
February 2019. Three months after Sébastien Josse retired from the 2018 Route du Rhum (float damage), he was let go by Gitana Team. “We were convinced that we had the machine to do great things, but we couldn’t get there the way we wanted to,” General Manager Cyril Dardashti reminds Tip & Shaft today. “It was a super innovative project, hyper audacious, I think that at one point, Sébastien started to have doubts, and when you doubt, you are no longer able to do things correctly. That dynamic belief is what led to what we see today.”
Gitana Team were counting on two skippers instead of one with the Franck Cammas/Charles Caudrelier pairing, which according to Pascal Bidégorry, “happened just when the boat was reaching her peak. We mustn’t forget the work Sébastien Josse did before.” “Even if the story was that it was just a few friends who got on well together, there was the always that risk of creating a conflict between two egos,” added Pierre-Marie Bourguinat. “Clearly that was not to be the case and they really moved the project forwards together. That is the mark of a strong team that is never attached to just one skipper, like the other teams.”
Franck Cammas confirms this. “The team is well managed, like in Formula 1, by the manager and sponsor, and less by the skippers who are mere drivers. Sometimes, the manager stays and the skippers move on… but it works out, when you see the results.“ Charles Caudrelier said something similar at the finish, considering himself to be the pilot of a machine launched in 2017 and developed by a team which at cruising speed involves twenty full-time members.
“As they prepared for the Route du Rhum, everything was timed right,” added Gildas Morvan, “It was perfect. Charles clocked up miles with a crew, sailing double-handed with Franck, then sailing solo. They left him the time to adapt the boat to his way of doing things. They did what was required to ensure the boat was reliable, while at the same time trying to improve her. A good clean job.” Franck Cammas added: “We had time to think ahead, as it was early on they had the idea of going down the road of having a flying boat, so things were that much further developed than in the teams who took up this concept of offshore flying later on.”
Thinking ahead meant the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was equipped with new foils last summer, just a few months before the start of the Route du Rhum. “I must admit I was a bit surprised with the timing, but it just goes to show that they really knew the boat well and that this change was not a technical risk for them, but rather something positive,” analysed Pierre-Marie Bourguinat.
At the finish, the Guillaume Verdier designed boat remained a notch above her rivals, the latest Ultim boats, SVR Lazartigue, Banque Populaire XI (even if the comparison quickly ended) and Sodebo Ultim 3. “I think François’s boat can be quicker, but overall, that is not the case,” explained Pascal Bidégorry. “Gitana stated her case from the outset. She aims to be quicker and sailed quicker. If they want to sail higher, she sails higher, if they want to sail lower, she sails lower. Everything seems so easy.”
A skipper reaching maturity
A good team, a good boat and the third ingredient is a good pilot, which indeed was the case with Charles Caudrelier according to our experts. “He practically made no mistakes. He controlled the race from the start, gave it his all, as if it was a leg in the Figaro. This is the sign of a huge talent and a really mature sailor,” commented Pierre-Marie Bourguinat. A discreet sailor who has one of the finest list of achievements in French sailing with in particular a Solitaire du Figaro, three Transat Jacques Vabre, two Volvo Ocean Races and a Route du Rhum.
“He isn’t far behind Franck (Cammas),“ admired Christian Le Pape, who welcomed young Caudrelier to the Port-la-Forêt centre more than twenty years ago, but would never have imagined such a career. “There are the shooting stars, who have it all in place at the age of twenty, Franck, François Gabart, Armel (Le Cléac’h), Tom Laperche, and those, who do not appear exceptional at the start, but progress through hard work. Charles is one of them. He works hard and deserves what he gets. Like a medieval knight, he has a sacred path taking him to victory.”
The quality of a hard worker is also stressed by Pascal Bidégorry: “Charles needs to know that he has worked hard to have the right to win. He had the Route du Rhum on the back of his mind for a long time, but felt he needed to work flat out to find the means to achieve this. Before the start, he appeared relaxed, fully at ease and knowing what he was doing. That’s something that doesn’t come naturally to Charles.”
That did not prevent him from posing lots of questions according to Franck Cammas. “Charles doesn’t like having doubts. It’s an obsession with him. Even more than with me! A few weeks before the start, he was still wondering about a change made to the foil. We had to tell him that it was done and there would be no more changes. At sea, it’s worse than ashore! I’m not exaggerating when I say that with a lead of 100 miles over François, when he lost three, it was dramatic for him. Sometimes, we even said he shouldn’t have access to the AIS as we needed to get him away from those thoughts. I think he knew more about François’s speeds than François himself.”
Cammas was therefore impressed by Charles Caudrelier’s ability to “keep his foot down from the start to the finish. He never hesitated about going out and changing the sail, gybing or changing tack. We almost had to tell him to limit the number of manoeuvres so that he would have enough energy for the end of the race.” Pierre-Marie Bourguinat added: “There is something which ever way you look at it tells you a lot about the gap he gradually managed to build, and that is his ability to manoeuvre well. I talked to Yann Riou, the team’s media man about it. He was with him in the 24 hr Ultim race in October, and was amazed by the quality of his manoeuvres. When you know that there were more than 30 changes of tack and gybes in the race. If it takes five minutes less than your rival, averaging 25 knots out on the water, that makes quite some difference.”
And now ?
The season is far from over for Charles Caudrelier, as the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild will be tackling the Jules Verne Trophy this winter. The record has been held since 2017 by Idec Sport (40 days 23 hours), with according to Cyril Dardashti, the same crew as in the aborted attempt in early 2021 (Charles Caudrelier, Franck Cammas, Erwan Israel, Morgan Lagravière, David Boileau, Yann Riou) and a stand-by scheduled just before Christmas. The highlight of the 2023 season will be the Arkea Ultim Challenge Brest, the first solo race around the world on an Ultim, while Cyril Dardashti confirmed that a new boat is planned, once again with Guillaume Verdier.
“We were the precursors of offshore flying, but there are areas we haven’t yet explored. I’m not criticising, but we can see that our rivals were inspired by our boat, so it’s not that impressive. We are going to do something unusual. It’s part of the DNA of this project.” In which areas? “I prefer to keep quiet about that for now,” smiled the Managing Director, before adding, concerning the timing, “Ideally, we would like to be in the water for the 2025 Jacques Vabre, but it’s too soon to assert that.” That announcement led Gildas Morvan to conclude: “They haven’t finished one step before they are moving up to another. It’s all cleanly managed and smoothly done.”
Photo : Alexis Courcoux / RDR