Yves Le Blevec is the Deputy Mayor of La Trinité-sur-Mer in charge of water sports and tourism, he is race director of the Mini en Mai which starts on May 17 and of course is also the skipper of Actual Ultim (which was runner up on the last Route du Rhum as Francois Gabart’s Macif 100) which has just been relaunched. And so clearly Yves Le Blevec is something of a busy man. Before his solo training started he took the time to talk to Tip & Shaft.
You have just relaunched Actual Ultim. What did the winter work involve?
We have a particular strong point with this boat that is its agility. It’s the smallest of the Ultimes and probably the lightest. Overall, the focus has been to further strengthen our strong point, particularly its great responsiveness. So we can adapt the sail plan and the trim of the boat as quickly and easily as possible for a single person.
What does that mean in practical terms?
Nothing special from the outside. We have worked hard to get the cleanest wind flow possible with the minimal turbulence. On these boats we gather data a lot to have a real tuning guide because your feeling is not enough. And the real wind conditions are everything. When you are looking to reproduce a performance you must be able to have measured and optimised it correctly beforehand. Then there is the issue of the foils which weigh more than 300 kilos and are difficult to manoeuvre. This is why we have updated the hydraulics to be able to use the power of the leeward foil to help lower the one that will work on the new tack. That is a bit like what we do for a mast cant if you want.
The rules allow it we suppose?
Yes, it is set apart from the usual rules of offshore racing which says that everything must be operated manually this is not the case with the Ultim class. But you can only use this energy to help with the very same maneuver. You cannot for example use the power of the foil to reef your mainsail for example.
“We have started to work
on a foil V3”
So, for the Route du Rhum, will you have the same configuration of appendages as when you bought the boat last year?
That’s right. In fact, we looked for a solution to upgrade the existing foils without making too many structural changes but that didn’t work. At the same time we took out a license on the SYD simulator from VPLP and started studying what a V3 of the Actual Ultim foils might be. Once you have entered all the characteristics of the boat, you can test new shapes quite easily. During virtual sailing session it is amazing to find very precisely the behaviour of the boat that we know especially as the graphic interface is so realistic. And with this tool, you can precisely quantify the gains and losses of each configuration you want to test.
Do you have free rein from Actual to press on with this project in 2023 for the Arkéa Ultim Challenge Brest?
These are indeed big budgets, around 1 million euros if you include everything, the studies, the tools, the production of the parts and their integration. I’m just explaining! So we have not budgeted for this project in 2022 but for 2023, yes it is on the programme.
You have always been clear about your ambition to win the Route du Rhum. Is there an ideal scenario that could work for you?
I don’t really project myself in that situation. The aim is to race well and not be looking for or reliant on a weather sequence that I can’t control, I have so many other things on which to focus my energies…
“The collective interest
is more important”
Another way to ask the same question might be: Can Actual Ultim win even of the others have no technical problems?
Yes, I believe so because the differences are small. A big half of the Route du Rhum is raced in the trade winds which are not stable wind at all. The winner is often is the opportunist who works hard to gybe several times in squalls to have the boat go faster the boat goes, the truer this is. In pure speed potential, the next-gen Ultims are very fast, that is true. And if MerConcept decided to make a new boat, it was because they were coming to a limit in terms of possible development. But I believe in this boat’s agility on the Rhum which is quite short. And then there are two ways to go faster. Or you increase the potential of the machine. Or you increase your ability to be at or close to being at 100%. That’s where my money is.
You quote MerConcept. Will François Gabart be at the start in Saint Malo on November 6, in your opinion? I have no doubt about it, none. And I’d be more than upset if he isn’t.
Do you think you can play a role in resolving the conflict?
Our best role is to keep quiet! We are in a situation where everyone’s opinions are divided. There’s no point in adding fuel to the fire…
Do you think that SVR Lazartigue can be modified to comply with the class request?
No, I think the conflict has gone too far for it to be resolved technically. François will not make these modifications, he cannot. And besides, what is required is not very clear. We have to find another solution. And understand that the collective interest must be more important than his self-esteem or his individual condition.
“My moral contract is to present
to Actual a possible successor”
What is your program between now and the start of the Route du Rhum?
We’ll be doing a little crewed training in July with the Finistère Atlantique and the Dhream Cup, but for the rest, it’s all-out solo training in maneuvers, speed, life on board. That translates into real teamwork. We are working with Anthony Marchand and we are very complementary. It also secures Actual Ultim’s participation in the Route du Rhum by having made him the boat’s official co-skipper.
Is there a form of succession planning with Anthony?
The prospect of the Route du Rhum excites me enormously, but you have to be realistic. I am 56 years old, the boats are physically very hard, the mental workload and the level of stress are enormous. Sailing on an Ultim is tough. I can see that at some point I won’t be able to race too much. A successful world tour in 2023 would be a great career pinnacle and we have to prepare for the future. Today, Actual owns the boat that without a sports and technical team, is not worth much. So, even if nothing is set in stone as we speak, my moral obligation is to offer Actual a possible successor. This is how I see my job.
Speaking of jobs, you have a few. Deputy mayor of La Trinité-sur-mer, race director. We are coming to a time of the year when the diaries start to get super busy, aren’t we?
Oh yes, of course I could launch a business for calendar management training! But it’s all exciting. The “assistant mayor” thing takes a lot of time. It is a school of mutual consent which is very enriching. Humanly, it also allows us to get out of my usual domain. In ocean racing, you feel like you know a lot of people, you’re a real original, but we’re still kind of all clones of each other!
“I can respond
to a lot of projects”
You have set up the Orlabay training center which seems to be off to a strong start.
Yes, in two months of activity, we have already welcomed many boats and teams for training. Around forty IRC duos and Minis, a few Class40s. We are currently being approached by Multi 2000 racers and those from the Rhum mono and multi classes. The support is attractive to many today. Everyone can see that seeking a top performance without some kind of team support or training is pretty much impossible. Maybe except for Francis Joyon, but not everyone is Francis Joyon!
This world has changed a lot since your debut in the Mini in 2001. It is a story of changed outlooks on life and the pursuit of adventure?
Yes, and accessibility too. It’s easier to get into it all now today. The Mini Transat, when I started out was still a bit of a pioneering adventure. Today, a young graduate can take some loans buy a ready-to-use boat, enroll in a center and integrate in a programme which will help him or her progress quickly. Everything is more structured. Look at the Mini in May: we had to increase the number of entries to 100 boats! All races on the circuit are sold out.
After your racing career, do you see yourself doing more politics, cruising, race management? What will your preferred choice be?
That I can’t say I am unable to tell you. I am reaching an age in my life where the combined experience and skill means that you know how to do a lot of things. And suddenly, I can take on a lot of projects, but I have no career plan, or retirement for that matter! I have a lot of desires and absolute confidence that I will do things that will excite me.
Photo: ATM Communication