At 58, Roland Jourdain will start his fourth Route du Rhum in a month’s time. He is a double winner in Imoca (2006 and 2010). He now devotes most of his time to his company Kaïros and to the Explore fund but is setting off this time in the Rhum Multi class on the We Explore catamaran, a variation of the Outremer 5X, built partly in flax fibre. Tip & Shaft spoke with “Bilou“.
No, I haven’t prepared like I was able to do in previous editions. We only launched the boat at the beginning of June. We sailed a bit in the Mediterranean, then I brought her back. She has 4,000 miles on the clock – that’s not a lot – but everyone is struggling with their own situations! But really that doesn’t bother me so much as this is a bit like the entire history of the project, in the sense that it is centered around the message of doing things differently, about limiting the environmental impact, whereas in the Route du Rhum the objective is to go faster than the others. So, if you like, there are several different Bilous in my head right now!
► For you, this Route du Rhum is more a technological challenge than a sporting one?
Basically, yes. But personally it makes me very happy to compete in another Route du Rhum, but the objective is to take advantage of the size and scale of the event to shed light on We Explore, to ask questions. Originally, we had sworn with Sophie [Verceletto, co-founder of Kaïros and the Explore fund] that we would never use Explore, a general public cause and interest group for which we are volunteers, to fulfil my personal desires. But in the end we finally let ourselves be convinced by the patrons and partners who support the fund. They said to us: “Why don’t you tell your life story through this project?” And so we built We Explore. We want to show that there are lots of things to be made with this vegetable fiber, linen (linen is the woven flax) in particular, such as on the scale of a large boat. We felt the things were not moving fast enough and we needed to do something tangible. In my opinion there are more cultural levers and technological traditions to get over than technical levers. The project advances this, the object is that it serves as a proof of concept for those who are still doubtful or who do not know that one hectare of flax can cross the Atlantic. And the Route du Rhum is only the first chapter in the history of the project.
► The deck of We Explore was indeed entirely built in flax fibers, do you have any lingering doubts about this technology before you set off to take on the Atlantic?
On linen, as we have, no. VPLP sampled the boat so that it supports the normal weight of an Outremer 5X which is between 17 and 19 tons, I will be at 13 tons, so we have a very decent margin. And remember: the boat is 50% flax fibres. At first I wanted 100% with the exception of the mast foot and mainsheet bulkhead, Xavier Desmarets and the Outremer shipyard who is a partner in the project, convinced me to back off a bit. I can understand that it’s all a little scary, so I reined in my ambitions, but we have taken the shot. It is obvious that we need to put a lot more effort into eco-design. We will take stock after the Route du Rhum to see how we can advance in this direction.
“A club of oldies but goldies”
► There are people saying it is time to limit the race for performance at all costs. What is your opinion on the matter?
I agree 200%! I always quote the example of the last Vendée Globe: it was the Vendée of all superlatives, there has never been such a sporting level, so much media coverage, the sponsors were happy, the public loved it. The only thing what we had less of was speed. So we really do have concrete proof that there is no correlation between speed and the success of ‘the show’. I find that we haven’t looked long and hard enough at this subject. The increase in speed is synonymous with a huge increase in CO2: in materials, processes, maintenance, engineering…. these extra knots here and there all come at the cost of a lot of CO2. If we do not take environmental performance as a priority, we are wrong. We must be careful that our sport, which is healthy at the core, does not become blacklisted. And from a similar standpoint I know little about the world of cruising but I am not necessarily convinced that the boats of tomorrow really must be equipped as luxuriously our homes are. Do we need all these facilities on board just to be happy at sea? It is also part of the continuation of the We Explore project, there are undoubtedly solutions to make it less lavish and more virtuous with low-tech facilities.
► To come back to the Route du Rhum, how do you see the field in the Rhum Multi class?
We are lucky, because in this class it is about guile and experience. We are a bunch of ‘oldies but goldies’ Philou (Philippe Poupon) breaks the mould a bit with his 60 footer [the former Pierre 1er of Florence Artaud, winner of the 1990 edition, Ed], even with two reefed staysails he will give us a more than a run for our money. So we put him out of play, otherwise, I think that the TS50s [former name of the ORC 50s, which will be three at the start with Halvard Mabire, Loïc Escoffier and Gwen Chapalain, Ed] are a little superior they have power/weight ratios better than mine and are more performance oriented. But remember as I have said all along it is not my result on the finish line that will determine the success of the project.
Photo: Martin Viezzer