Christian Le Pape: “A new generation of sailors make their mark”
The Transat Jacques Vabre was a resounding success for the Finistère ocean racing training centre, as all three IMOCAs on the podium were skippered by sailors who train in Port-la-Forêt. This was a pleasing outcome for the director, Christian Le Pape, who examines what is happening in the world of ocean racing and at the Centre for Tip & Shaft.
Was Charlie Dalin and Yann Eliès’s win in the Jacques Vabre a surprise?
The surprise is more about how reliable the boat so recently launched actually was, rather than the potential of the crew and the boat, which during the training sessions proved herself to be fast and at ease in all sorts of conditions. In this race, it is true that conditions were fairly decent and as Apivia went through a very efficient running in period, and as in the end, it is normal that a boat from the new generation of foilers, which are much faster in every condition, finished first, even if we were maybe expecting it to be Charal.
They seemed to have it sewn up before the Doldrums, soJérémie Beyou and were very unlucky there…
People were talking about a development from the east on the satellite pictures and maybe Charlie and Yann saw something moving there, but at the same time they were better positioned than Jérémie and Christopher, who were closely watched by those chasing them to see what was happening: when you see the boat ahead has stopped, obviously you’ll try a detour to get around it. Jérémie and Christopher were severely punished however. It is not very often that you see someone lose 350 miles. It’s a pity for them, as up until then, they had sailed so well with a cautious start from Le Havre to avoid the other boats and then the strategy you’d expect from Figaro racers, when they waited until the final moment to choose between east and west, before finally choosing to stick with the others, which in my opinion seemed the right choice. They had a bit more speed and were 1 to 1.5 knots faster than Apivia.
What were the real surprises in the Jacques Vabre?
It wasn’t really a surprise, but Apicil, Corum and Banque Populaire kept up with the foilers for some time, before losing out when reaching. Banque Populaire finished sixth, with a straighter and smoother trajectory. They didn’t have any upsets and sailed cleanly. Even if we were expecting PRB on the podium, they too had a good race – Kevin (Escoffier) hadn’t sailed that much on the boat before – as did 11th Hour. They surprised us during the training sessions, as they were better than the others in terms of VMG, but it isn’t really the amazing boat they promised us when reaching or in moderate conditions. I believe that in this transatlantic race, they have made a lot of progress. We need to mention Advens which stopped, set off again and wasn’t really on the favoured side, but showed that she has a lot of potential, so they must have pushed her hard.
There are 37 candidates for the next Vendée Globe. We imagine that some will be knocking at your door at the Centre. How do you plan to organise that?
We have already limited the number of boats training for the Vendée Globe with us to ten. This year, we added 11th Hour Racing, as we wanted to see the potential of the former Hugo Boss, which is something we missed four years ago, but the group for next year is already in place with Jérémie Beyou, Sébastien Simon, Kevin Escoffier, Charlie Dalin, Sam Davies, Clarisse Crémer, Damien Seguin, Boris Herrmann, and Romain Attanasio, although there are still some uncertainties about Yann (Eliès), Jean (Le Cam) and Nico Troussel, who have earned their place if they want to come and train with us.
Talking about Yann Eliès, do you believe in his project?
I’m playing a wild card on that, as I don’t know all the details about his project. It must have been decided at the last moment. I am not even sure whether Charlie (Dalin) knew what was going on before the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre. Having said that, it doesn’t look impossible to me.
Are there any problems when organising the training courses when the performance of the boats has become so different?
I think that will be less of a problem than in the previous Vendée when everything was kept top secret because of the arrival of the foils. That was particularly tricky to deal with. This time, it’s much more relaxed. Sharing ideas is part of our DNA and it is going well, one of the best for three or four Vendée Globes. It may be down to the fact that we have seen a new wave of sailors arriving who bring a breath of fresh air, while at the same time remaining competitive after their successes in Figaro races in the past few years.
Talking about the Figaro, what is your feeling after a year with the new boat?
She’s a boat that is good fun, which in terms of modernity corresponds to her time. Having said that, we don’t wan to go through another year at the centre like 2019, which was tiring in terms of fine-tuning and adjustments, which relegated the racing itself into the background. It was frustrating to spend so much time on that. We’ll leave it to the class and to Bénéteau to deal with her youthfulness, but I hope we won’t go through the same sort of thing again in 2020. Remembering that there is a transatlantic race in the spring (the AG2R La Mondiale) with boats, which to my knowledge haven’t yet experienced 45 knots when racing.
You said during the Solitaire that the Figaro 3 meant you had lost some points of reference. Do you still believe that today?
I have been closely watching things since then and we have got used to the adjustments, settings, positions, trim. We have made progress, but things have indeed changed with the gennaker in particular, which in some angles, can make all the difference. I think that it requires more hard work. For the older guys, the physical difference is more important, as the boat is that much harder. If you don’t like suffering, you need to do something else.
For you, who were the revelations this year?
There’s the French champion (Benjamin Schwartz)! He doesn’t train with us and I didn’t know him at all, but we have never before seen a rookie become French champion. He did however benefit from a certain leniency in the Solitaire, when he was given redress [when he was unable to set off in the second leg after being hit by Alain Gautier’s boat – editor’s note], but he is a fine champion who deserves the title. What is astonishing is that he stepped in to work for a year and is moving on, so pulled out of the Macif selection at the last moment, which means he has his eyes on something else. Apart from him, there was Tom Laperche, second in the first leg of the Solitaire on his first attempt. We hadn’t seen that since Armel (Le Cléac’h). It’s important for us, because that means we got it right. I think too that worked out well for our partners, when they accepted the girls’ project.
You received 31 applications for the Bretagne CMB Océane project. Was that a surprise?
Yes, I wasn’t expecting that. I think that lots of girls applied thinking about the Olympics, as that is something that gets everyone dreaming.
Does the Centre dream of that? Do you intend to play a major role in preparing for the ocean racing event in the 2024 Paris Games?
That is already the case, as the Centre and in particular Jeanne (Grégoire), was chosen by the Federation to monitor the last European Championship in Venice. There is only one French ocean racing training centre, so there is no reason why that won’t continue in the future. The Federation wants the Centre to become involved in the selection and training of the crews. If we separate Olympic racing from ocean racing, we would be getting it all wrong.
You are part of the Federation (he is in charge of ocean racing in the high performance category of the national team)…
Yes, but I’m not the one who decides. There is a national technical director, the head of the French team, a president, vice-president… I’m not in charge of taking decisions in the Federation.
The Bretagne CMB Océane project fits in with this plan for the Olympics…
That is not our priority today. The priority in 2020 is to train a young skipper for the Solitaire du Figaro. The boat won’t be doing the Transat AG2R. Afterwards, we continue to believe that a good solo skipper will be capable of adapting easily to double-handed sailing – which is not necessarily the opposite of the Olympic format, which looks more like a 800m race than a marathon and is closer to a leg in the Solitaire.
Let’s end by talking about you. At one point you talked about retiring soon. What are your thoughts today?
It’s true that I did say that one day, I would retire, but I don’t think it was a good idea talking about that. When you say that, it makes you look as if you are easing off towards retirement and something of a ‘has been’. So I’m no longer talking about that. Of course, one day I’ll reach the age limit, but for the moment, I haven’t had enough and I don’t believe I am out of touch. I hope to retire before that happens. I don’t want to work for a year, if it is all too much. I don’t believe that I will do the Olympic preparation if we are asked to get involved, nor the preparation for the 2024 Vendée Globe. Does that mean I’ll retire on 1st February 2021 when all of the 2020 Vendée boats have finished? I’ve no idea.
Photo: Pôle Finistère Course au large