At the end of the first leg of The Ocean Race between Alicante and Cape Verde (see the tracker), Tip & Shaft spoke with Sébastien Simon (32), crew member of Guyot Environnement-Team Europe which he will now join for the second stage towards Cape Town.
► Can you tell us about this first stage in which Guyot Environnement-Team Europe should take fifth place?
The start went well and the first night gave them some confidence, then the upwind part in the Mediterranean in strong winds was more complicated. The conditions were very rough up to 50 knots, but the boat and indeed the Imoca fleet got through that without a hitch, which is reassuring for the future. It shows that we still have reliable boats along with the Volvo 65s. Beyond that, the courses we see show that we are still on a bit if a learning curve, the other crews are very familiar with the Imoca, that makes a difference. We lack a little experience in our way of operating, but I am quite confident for the future. They also had their share of damage, two broken battens and a small hole in the mainsail, as for their option in the Canaries, they tried (smile). But anyway, the first two stages don’t count for too much, the race really starts from stage 3, with a lot of points from there on.
► You have the only 2016 generation boat (ex Hugo Boss) is this a handicap compared to your competitors, all launched in 2021 and 2022?
Yes, there is still a difference in terms of performance. Our boat has evolved a lot, so inevitably, it has also gained weight, it’s quite hard to remove that now. You feel it upwind and in light airs, but it’s still a boat capable of maintaining good average speeds. I was surprised by how easy and good it is in the breeze which really is a big advantage for the difficult oceanic conditions that we will meet in the South Seas and during the transatlantic stages. It is certain that stages 1 and 2, in manageable conditions with fairly smooth sea states, are to the advantage of the latest generation Imoca. We just don’t have their peak speed. But it’s still a very good boat and I think it’s a very good weapon for a single-handed Vendée Globe, which is a different exercise compared to The Ocean Race, where we’re very close to 100% of the boat’s potential.
► You stayed ashore on this first leg, do you have the right to communicate with the crew?
It’s the same rule as for the Imoca races, that is to say that we can call each other or communicate by WhatsApp to get news, but it’s a race without assistance, so we can’t talk about routing, the choice of sails. When I don’t agree with a decision, I keep quiet, it’s sometimes frustrating, but you have to respect it, it’s part of the game.
“Leg 3 is going to be a little revenge for me”
► What’s next for you?
I’m leaving for Cape Verde on Saturday to join stage 2 in place of Benjamin (Dutreux) who is going to rest. I can tell you that he really needs it, he has done such a lot this year between this project and the Route du Rhum. He was working up to now with a team of 4 people, now there are 30 of us, the switch between a relatively small entrepreneurial project and a sports project of this scale is not easy. It is has taken a lot of energy from him, but he has done well and it will do him the greatest good to have a break before returning to stage 3 that we will do together. I can say that I am really looking forward to this stage (between Cape Town and Itajai) because Benj remains one of my best friends. It will be a great first for us. We have known each other since we were very young, we sailed a lot against each other at the University of Nantes because our coach Luc Pillot did not want to put us together. Then we started the Figaro at the same time, then did our first Vendée Globe the same year. We are so totally different in everyday life, but we get along really well, we are very complementary. Stage 3 will also be a little revenge for me compared to the last Vendée Globe, since I stopped at the start of the Indian Ocean, after having participated in the rescue of Kevin (Escoffier). So it’s going to be quite an important moment for me to finally experience the Southern Ocean. Then, I will do stage 5, the return transatlantic, and at least one European stage.
► The Ocean Race, was it a dream for you or was it more the opportunity that excited you?
When I was young, I always watched videos of the Volvo 70s, I thought it was impressive and I loved the concept of this race. From there to say that I would find myself here with a French project [franco-german, ed], I would not have imagined it. But when Benjamin told me he was going to do it and asked me if I wanted to go, I obviously said yes, because that opportunity doesn’t come twice, and above all, because that it was with him on a boat that we knew.
► You speak about revenge for your last Vendée Globe, for you, is the objective still to be at the start in 2024?
My energy is focused in the short term on The Ocean Race, after which, of course, the Vendée Globe remains my objective. Today I don’t have much more to tell you, except that I still hope to be there. I think I have my place in the Vendée Globe, it’s the race of my dreams. It starts from my home (Les Sables d’Olonne), it’s the right time for me to go back, I’ve matured.
“I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet”
► There are very few boats left, don’t you worry?
That’s true but it is not something that worries me very much because I have the impression that there will be the chance to get hold of very good quality boats, with projects that have to halt for whatever reason and wont make it all the way to the Vendée Globe. I know very well that the timing will not be ideal, but my desire remains to be in the next Vendée Globe and to build something over the longer term.
► Do you give yourself a deadline to successfully set up your project?
It’s hard to say, I’m still in discussions with partners, but also with banks and investors to acquire a boat. I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet, because otherwise, I would blame myself and I would be getting nowhere. I thought about turning to another career direction but I also have a proposal for the Jacques Vabre, but for the moment, I can’t get rid of this Vendée Globe which remains an obsession.
► Your previous experience was difficult for a first project, with complicated relations with partners (Arkéa and Paprec) and Vincent Riou, what do you take from it?
Yes, it was a painful experience, I’m not hiding it from that, it was obvious for all to see. These are passion projects, so we can have moments of disagreement because emotions come into play. My 2022 was very difficult psychologically, I could have chosen to turn the page, but I’m still here, with this opportunity to bounce back on The Ocean Race. And it was not all bad on that project, I met some very nice people, I also learned a lot. I am well aware that I have been so lucky so far: I went to engineering school, I resigned from my apprenticeship contract to participate in the Bretagne CMB selection which I won; five years later, I had the chance to build a new Imoca, an experience that allowed me to build my skills, then I took part in the Vendée Globe with an ambitious project, everything had gone well from the start of my career. But I had a hard time, that’s part of the game. And if I’m at the start of the next Vendée Globe, I think I’ll approach it in a totally different way.
► Did you feel the end of the project questioned you?
Well I definitely questioned myself. I am a very emotional person, but I have always been very transparent and honest. There, I clearly think that I was taken in, that I came across some people who wanted to bring me down, but I am not resentful and what interests me is the challenge from here.
Photo: Gauthier Lebec