Second last weekend in the 24h Ultim finishing just 3 minutes behind Banque Populaire, Charles Caudrelier now heads to the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie-Le Havre, with his co skipper Erwan Israel, then to the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest, a unique new solo Ultim race around the world which will start on January 7. He spoke to Tip & Shaft.
▶︎ What is your assessment of the 24H Ultim?
The race was very competitive, we all had a share of the lead at different times, we all had our moments of glory. Apart from the fact that Armel sailed perfectly and that we made a small strategic error, we don’t draw too many conclusions from the race. You have to consider this is a different kind of course, it was a particular format, short and in very light weather. We like it when it’s windy, that’s where we have the edge. However, we see that the performances of the boats are extremely close, which means that now, the slightest error is very costly. All the teams are moving forward, the boats have made good progress, which makes this type of race even more interesting.
▶︎ You carried out a three-month refit in the spring. What changes did you make to the boat?
To deal with the newer boats coming on stream [the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was launched in 2017, Editor’s note], we needed to keep progressing and developing ours. But we didn’t want to make too many big modifications as we are planning a round the world race in early 2024, with the need to make the boat more reliable. The goal we all looking for is to limit cavitation as much as possible. We have improved the foil profiles. And at high speed it is true that we can clearly see that an improvement. We also changed the fin and optimized the profile of the skate wing in its supporting plane.
▶︎ Did you make specific modifications for the solo Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest?
I have an open cockpit at the back which I like. But we designed a rigid, light and removable structure to close it in a little and protect me more, especially for the Southern Ocean. As we only previously had masthead sails, we also chose to make a fractional to facilitate solo maneuvers. This is a good option because you may often have to go from a small to a large gennaker.
“Erwan is extremely efficient”
▶︎ During the refit, you took the chance to race the fifth stage of The Ocean Race aboard Holcim-PRB. What do you remember from this experience?
Even if it was a bit of a hassle because we did everything without electronics, it was a very good move. I was delighted to return to this race which has been key in my career [double winner, including once as skipper, Editor’s note] and I had more fun sailing on the Imoca than on a VO65. Technically, these boats are exciting, they go faster, it’s closer to what I do today. But I am convinced that the future of these boats is to put in place plans below the rudders so that they really fly. Because where they are are always in between which makes the boats uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous.
▶︎ For the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie-Le Havre, you replaced Franck Cammas who you won with two years ago, with Erwan Israel. Can you explain this change?
On the original plan we were not supposed to do the Transat Jacques Vabre and Franck Cammas left to work on the America’s Cup and on the Charal Imoca project, so he was no longer available when our participation in the transatlantic race was confirmed. Erwan was the obvious choice for me. After Franck and I he is the one who knows the boat best. He is also someone I have great confidence in. It is not very well known, but he is extremely effective. He’s one of the best I’ve sailed with in my entire career. On top of that, he is excellent at performance analysis which helps us progress a lot. The only negative thing was that he was my router, which required rebuilding a new team. Now we will undoubtedly work with Erwan Tabarly and Simon Fisher.
▶︎ How are you approaching this Transat Jacques Vabre? There is this challenge of not breaking anything before the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest which follows very quickly after it how are you going to deal with that?
In every race, we are out to win. The transatlantic race is a major event on our circuit, so we’re not going to let up because we have a round-the-world race ahead of us. In the rhythm and the way of sailing, we are not going to change anything. Obviously, there is always a risk of breaking something, but if I wasn’t involved in the transatlantic, I would have been out there training. And training in the Bay of Biscay is where there is the greatest risk of hitting something, of encountering rough seas. There is nothing better than racing to test and make the boat more reliable before this round the world race
“I have my revenge”
▶︎ What does this very first Ultim race, solo around the world, mean to you?
It’s a challenge, an adventure, that’s what I like. It’s going to be my first solo round the world so I’m super happy. I always wanted to race the Vendée Globe which I never did, I have waited a long time, but here I have my revenge. The Ultims are the most beautiful boats in the world, I am incredibly lucky!
▶︎ How will you approach it?
There are a lot of unknowns. I have never sailed solo for 45 days! I’m super excited, but of course I’m a little worried, I know there are going to be difficult times and I’m asking myself many questions: what will the pace be? What might the risks be? How will I manage my race, my boat? I tend to sail at 200%, I will probably have to change that pace, for me as for the trimaran. But I have confidence in the performance of my boat, it is really well suited to doing transatlantics and sailing round the world and we have the advantage of having already experienced a lot of things with it.
▶︎ Have you planned a new attempt on the Jules Verne Trophy in 2024?
Yes, and besides, it will almost be like a race because several Ultims will attempt it. It’ll be fun, and maybe the record will finally fall below the 40 day mark. In any case, the team will do everything for it!
“I wouldn’t want to keep racing
for too long”
▶︎ Where are you in your thoughts on the construction of a new boat by 2025? Will it be another Ultim, an Imoca?
It’s still under consideration. The heart of the team is very focused on the Ultims. Multihulls, innovation, it’s a real part of Gitana’s DNA. Everything will depend on selling the boat, whether it remains in the class or not. Ideally, we would like the class to develop a little bit more but we cannot do it alone. And we cannot ask our owners to build a boat if we do not have real visibility on what the others are going to do, so it is also a discussion between all the Ultim team owners.
▶︎ And what are your goals? Does the Vendée Globe still tempt you?
Honestly, I don’t know, Imoca is a very nice class with a very good level but I find the boats are a little hard. If they become properly flying with support planes, why not, that will interest me more. But it’s not an objective in itself. What I like today is developing this Ultim, it’s exciting. I do also like sailing an Imoca, but doing a Vendée is really something different. On big projects like this, you have to give 100%, and for the moment, I don’t yet know how I’ll be on the round the world race and after it. I’m 50 years old, and after a while, competition wears you out, I wouldn’t want to keep racing too much. Within the team the aim in due course is also to transmit to a young skipper, so we’ll see!
Photo: Yann Riou / PolaRYSE / Gitana S.A.