Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop

Armel Le Cléac’h: “of course i want to win the gold medal!”

Four Ultims set off on Saturday from Lorient for the 24H Ultim, a solo race of around 500 miles, which is designed to serve as a dress rehearsal at just over a month before the start of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe. Among these starters will be Banque Populaire XI, whose skipper Armel Le Cléac’h took time out to answer questions from Tip & Shaft.

► So Armel this Ultim race is what you say you need to really test yourself one last time before the Route du Rhum?
Yes, I had an exchange last winter with Jean-Marie Corteville of the Azimut Challenge to try and encourage them to have the Azimut Ultim back in place like last year but it proved complicated for him, so I posed the question a bit to Emmanuel Bachellerie and Mathieu Sarrot at the finish of the Finistère Atlantique [which they had organized with their company Ultim Saling, Ed]. They told me that they were interested, and here we are. This event is good, it’s the last meet for us to get into race configuration, timed best to be able to be at the start, on a decent course, with weather to manage, racing solo [in fact a ‘false solo’ as Sébastien Josse and Pierre-Emmanuel Hérissé will be on board to keep watch, Ed]. The forecasted conditions seem set to be quite hard with a fair bit of upwind in strong winds in the first hours, so it will look like a Rhum start. It’s going to acclimatise us a bit to the autumn mood. And it is good to do this rehearsal now as we know very well that we’re all going to be on the dock for more than ten days in Saint-Malo during which you lose your sailing feel and often the start is a rude awakening too much time off the boat. And this Route du Rhum is very much going to be a sprint, you will have get right into the match straight off.

► Can you tell us how you have prepared for this Route du Rhum?
There were two main phases: a first one to validate all the modifications. We did that last winter, with an out and back passage to Guadeloupe, a ‘false solo’ on the way out, with a crew on the way back to the Azores, then solo for my qualifying phase. Then, a second phase was the Finistère Atlantique in crewed mode [Banque Populaire XI finished second behind the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, Ed] and then some false solo sailing off Lorient with Charles (Caudrelier) and Thomas (Coville). In the end, we will have managed to compete all of the the whole program we wanted, which is never easy on these boats. In all, since its launch last year, we will not be far from 40,000 miles already logged.

► How has the boat evolved since last year?
We worked on a lot of details related to the aero and hydro, the appendages under water which are the two key elements of performance. We installed a new daggerboard before Finistère Atlantique we are very happy for that. We have improved out flying and the absolute performance, that we saw during the confrontation with Gitana on the Finistère Atlantique. We have also made improved reliability and we can see that as today, when we come back from sailing, there are fewer and smaller technical problems.


“A spirit of revenge”


► The objective on your boats is to reach high average speeds, can you tell us more about those you are aiming for solo on Banque Populaire XI?
Ideally, we are looking to do 800-850 miles in 24 hours, so around 35 knots on average. We know that we are capable of reaching these averages, we also know how to peak at 45-50 knots, even if that is not really the objective. Ultimately solo the aim is to know at what potential you will actually be able to sail your boat and then to execute. On average, it is between 80 and 100% of that depending on the conditions, if we reach 90-95%, that’s good, but it can be less if the conditions are difficult. Four years ago, before the boat broke, I was at 50-60% because the waves were too big.

► Have you completely put what happened to you in 2018 behind you?
It’s behind me in terms of having confidence in this boat. “BP IX” was a boat that we had not been able to sail on as much as we would have liked because we had suffered a capsize a few months before. It had been a race against time to be at the start. It was also a more finicky, tricky boat, which added to the actual complexity of sailing it solo. Today, we have a boat that is much more seaworthy, much more stable, and in terms of structure, we have reinforced the front beam a lot, there is no element of nagging doubt, and that really boosts my confidence. So I have no worries on the boat, I can speak more like I have a spirit of revenge for what happened, to get my own back. That how I want to use this experience.

► The Route du Rhum, which is still missing from your CV, is like the Olympic Games as it is only every four years, do you tell yourself that this it is maybe now or never?
Yes, of course that remains a very important objective, the same as the Vendée Globe was for my career. I am lucky to be at the start again in the absolute premier category on a boat that can win, so I will give everything to deliver. Opportunities like these, well I certainly know there won’t be a dozen in my life, so of course I want the gold medal! I’m ready to tackle this legendary sailing race, one which made me dream when I was a kid. The Route du Rhum was the first race I followed: we went to see the boats with my family in Saint-Malo for the 1986 edition. I remember Loïc Caradec’s catamaran Royale was the most impressive boat, with its big wing main mast, and unfortunately his disappearance which affected so many people. It’s a race that marked me a lot when I was young, but also during my career. The last two editions have been very hard to live through. In 2014 I had to hand over to Loïck Peyron [he had injured his hand, Ed]. And then four years later, I found myself in a fishing boat two days after the start. These are still two very difficult moments that I want to exorcise this year.


“The Route du Rhum is a key event”


► A word or two bout your competitors?
Of the eight Ultims set to be at the start, six of us have a good shot at the podium, I would say that everyone has a chance. In the end we have to name a favourite, it’s Gitana, it is the reference boat, with Charles who is an excellent sailor and masters it perfectly. But the others are also capable of winning the Route du Rhum, beyond Gitana, I don’t see a stand out. We saw four years ago that the outcome was very different from the predictions.

► Among these competitors is François Gabart. How did you feel living through that whole affair which set the Ultim 32/23 class up against his team and do you have any regrets about it happening and how it played out?
Yes, of course we have regrets, we all would have liked the story to be over a long time ago. It dragged on, there were changes and U turns. I especially regret that François never wanted to change his position. Today he has an exemption for the Route du Rhum so the sport is taking place, but the story is not over because we will have to settle a story on which we still do not agree. And at the end of the day none of this is a positive communication for all the parties concerned. People find it difficult to understand this situation. I understand that they criticize such and such a position, we are in a democracy, but we also have a duty to be exemplary in our way of working with the written rules.

► If François wins the Route du Rhum, will you shake his hand?
(Laughs). I don’t know, we’ll see, I haven’t decided yet! I hope I will arrive before him, so the question will not arise!

► What will be the continuation of the program in 2023?
We’re going to do Lorient-Bermuda-Lorient crewed, then, no doubt the Fastnet, then we’ll prepare for the solo round the world race (the Arkea Ultim Challenge Brest) which is close to our hearts. It will be an even higher pinnacle than the Vendée Globe, round the world in less than 50 days alone in an Ultim, it is a big, big step up.

► From that perspective, do you feel that the Ultim 32/23 class really is centre stage on this Route du Rhum 2022?
Yes, I think we have to prove things to the general public and to the sailing world, it’s a key race along the way, we are aware of that. We’re not going to think about it at the start, but we all want there to be as many boats as possible at the finish, that would erase some of what happened in 2018 and show that everything that we have done for four years has moved it all forwards.

Photo: Vincent Curutchet – BPCE

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