Last Wednesday the SVR-Lazartigue team held a press briefing at the Maison de la Bretagne in Paris to announce that, in early 2024, it will be the young Tom Laperche who will compete in the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest as François Gabart chooses to focus on double handed and crewed sailing with the boat. And at the same time they talked of integration back into the Ultim 32/23 class, as we announced two weeks ago.
It was something of an open secret as the information had leaked out a few weeks ago. It will be Tom Laperche and not François Gabart who will take the start of the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest, the first solo race around the world in an Ultim, on January 7 next year, on the helm of SVR-Lazartigue. And although the announcement was made official on Wednesday in Paris during the press briefing it is outcome of a process that actually began more than two years ago.
“This is a choice we made a long time ago, one which started out at the same time as the construction of the boat” confirmed Gabart. “Today, I want to sail as a crew and pass on my experience and knowledge. I have just turned 40, to me this is fairly logical for my evolution as a sailor, it’s not a sudden spontaneous decision.” Nor is it connected to any acrimony resulting from the affair which put his team against the Ultim 32/23 class last year (see below).
Gabart asserts that the decision to hand over the helm for the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest dates back to 2021. “With Kresk it was something we had out on the table from the start we have been firmly aligned since then“, confirms Gabart. The president of the Kresk group Didier Tabary was absent on Wednesday but was contacted by Tip & Shaft on Thursday. He confirmed he was on the same wavelength: “Since the start of the project, this subject had been open, the question was, ‘would we find the right skipper?’ ”
“Tom has the talent, the maturity, the desire
and the energy for this challenge”
It was for the 2021 Transat Jacques Vabre that Gabart first put forward the name of Tom Laperche. Since a first meeting in 2017 when they sailed a Flying Phantom in Saint-Lunaire, the duo have stayed in touch. Laperche even did his end-of-studies engineering internship at Gabart’s MerConcept during the design and construction of the current SVR-Lazartigue.
The sponsor agreed and Gabart turned to Laperche, who tells Tip & Shaft: “When the boat was being built François had already asked me to be part of the crew, but it was still quite vague in terms of the program detail. The real proposal for the Transat Jacques Vabre and for the Arkea Ultim Challenge came two years ago in Concarneau, just before the start of the Transat on Figaro. I said yes straight away for the Jacques Vabre. For the the round the world, I knew I wanted to do it, but I was more reserved about my actual ability to take it on.”
Several training sessions in 2021, a Transat Jacques Vabre when the duo finished in second place, and other sails in 2022, including a solo qualification for the Rhum as the substitute skipper, all these things convinced Laperche to accept the full mission, even when he who was still Figaro sailor at the time. “I said yes in 2022. There is always apprehension, because a solo world tour in an Ultim is exceptional, but I feel I am capable of it. And it affords some kind of continuity, I’m someone, after all, who has actually sailed the boat the most.”
Gabart, who is looking for a “a short to medium term break” from single-handed sailing, without swearing that he is giving it up forever, adds: “It has become obvious to all of us that Tom is a good person to be at the start of the round the world race. He has the talent, the maturity, the desire and the energy for this challenge.” Until then Laperche, who still has to compete on the short leg of The Ocean Race between Aarhus and The Hague aboard Holcim-PRB, will compete in the Transat Jacques Vabre, little more than two months before the start of the race around the world, with François Gabart.
François Gabart is reluctant
talking about the past
That in itself is a tight timeline, as announced two weeks ago by the Ultim 32/23 class, particularly when the Transat Jacques Vabre initially was not on the program (see our article). But it is one that SVR Lazartigue team are happy with. “We are very satisfied to be at the start of the Jacques Vabre where the Kresk group will be able to highlight its brands”, confirms the team manager, Cécile Andrieu, present on Wednesday at the Parisian press briefing.
And of course, during that briefing the audience wanted to come back to the reasons that led SVR-Lazartigue to be integrated into the class, when the situation had been at an impasse for so long. Especially since, apart from comments quoted in the press release sent by the class, the team had not discussed it openly. François Gabart showed little inclination to speak on the subject while Cécile Andrieu, just like Didier Tabary and others Tip & Shaft asked later, were more forthcoming.
All tell more or less the same thing: a first rapprochement under the sun of Pointe-à-Pitre, a fundamental agreement between the parties in December to find a solution, before full accord reached in February helped by the arrival in January of Stéphane Guilbaud as new general secretary of the class.
“The dialogue was never completely broken even if the positions were diametrically opposed” comments Didier Tabary. “We spoke to each other at the finish of the Route du Rhum, everyone thought and understood that it was in everyone’s interest to make a move towards each other, our boat is built to race and for the class to accommodate as many boats as possible. Things were then easier under Stéphane Guilbaud, who was a catalyst. With recognized competences and a fresh eye on the situation, he was able to propose solutions which were acceptable to all.”
A decisive meeting in the cockpit of SVR
Contacted by Tip & Shaft, Guilbaud explains: “What I brought was that I was outside the story, but there was also the involvement of sailors, and in this specific case, two were very present: François on one side, Armel (Le Cléac’h) on the other. It was not stories of threats, pressure or lawyers, but more the desire to find solid seaworthy sensible solutions.”
And the secretary general adds: “I asked SVR-Lazartigue to agree to bring the “opposing” teams on board the boat, in the yard. So there we all found ourselves in mid-February in the cockpit of SVR, we took measurements and proposed the changes so that François’ team could do the work. We really went into fine detail. Firstly because on these technologically advanced boats, a centimeter or a kilo counts. But also so as there was no chance of disappointment or uncertainty.”
Modifications that Cécile Andrieu recalls: “The specifications were to improve visibility from the cockpit, so that the pedestal operator could see the outside environment and the horizon as well as the helmsman. It is up to us to find the means to respond to this without massively deteriorating the performance. We are therefore raising the column of winches by about forty centimeters, which forces us to widen and enlarge the bubble that covers the winch station.”
“This page is now definitely turned”
Will SVR-Lazartigue lose performance with these modifications? Joined by Tip & Shaft, Xavier Guilbaud, architect who worked on its design at VPLP Design, replies: “It’s not cosmetic, there are a lot of small modifications, they had to raise the boom in particular, otherwise, it risked hitting the bubble. In all, it will perhaps cost a hundred kilos more and a little bit in aero, but it’s really marginal, we haven’t even quantified it.” This work will be supervised by the class measurer, René Boulaire and will be completed in the coming weeks for a launch in May, when SVR-Lazartigue will officially receive its measurement certificate.
“This agreement will allow us to focus on the purpose of our investment, namely sport and the pleasure of sailing fast. The main thing for me was that the boat does not lose its DNA and remains competitive and ergonomic, this is the case with the accepted modifications, everyone has returned to a form of common sense, this page is now definitively turned”, enthuses Didier Tabary. Did the boss of Kresk ever consider, even for a moment, chucking it all in? “If there hadn’t been an agreement, the program would have been different, we would have focused on records; but no, we had made this commitment [for four years, i.e. until the summer of 2025, editor’s note], it was out of the question not to keep going.”
Records will still be on the program, with the Jules Verne Trophy in the sights at the end of 2024, who will be the skipper of the boat, between François Gabart and Tom Laperche? “The Jules Verne Trophy is being planned right now, it is already integrated into our sporting and technical thoughts, we are both involved with Tom to put together a crew, I would be very happy to take on the responsibilities of skipper, but that doesn’t is not a question that we have yet asked ourselves”, responds François Gabart.