Sébastien Destremau à bord de son Imoca Merci

Sébastien Destremau: “Fortunately for me, the Vendée Globe does not start fom Cape Town”

Last to finish the last 2016 Vendée Globe, Sébastien Destremau, 56, will set off on November 8 for a second round-the-world race, this time at the helm of Merci, the boat with which Conrad Colman raced four years ago. The former America’s Cup specialist, also a former journalist, spoke to Tip & Shaft from Les Sables d’Olonne at two weeks before the start.

Can you first tell us about your trouble last week with your engine?
We had to pass the 5 hours motoring at 5 knots test as imposed by the class to have the class certificate, we failed it because of a battery problem, which put us in a delicate situation, since we were already 24 hours from the deadline for the certificate. Laura (Le Goff, CEO of the Vendée Globe) and Jaco (Jacques Caraës, race director) came to see me telling me that if I didn’t have it, I couldn’t take the start, but they granted me a delay of a few hours. Then, very luckily, we came across an expert amateur in Nantes who had all the tools and, more particularly, the skills to solve the problem, which he did in three hours. So we left the dock at 6:00 p.m., and at 11:42 p.m., just before the midnight deadline, the test was passed. It was bloody close!

Was this project for the second Vendée Globe difficult to set up?
Yes and no. On the one hand, it was much simpler because we knew how to do it, whereas the last time, we started from scratch. On the other hand, it was more complicated because I did a lot of other side projects things that took me a long time, but that I wanted to do because it was an extension of my Vendée Globe : a book, comics, audio books, a play, conferences, a line of jewelry with my key to the oceans. In essence I did not focus on preparing the boat and getting the sponsors, I wasn’t 100% focused like the last time. Suddenly, I found myself in complicated situations, like the one last week. I should be a lot more ready. But it’s my fault. Three weeks ago, I took nine days off to go and perform my play. At one month before the start of the Vendée Globe, that should not be  happening, but I did. It’s not negligence, that’s just how I want to experience the Vendée Globe.

“I’ve done only 3,000 miles”
How many miles did you do before the start of the Vendée Globe?
Ooofh… I’ve only done 3,000 miles. It’s clear that I don’t know this boat it well enough, I’m the one who by far the has sailed the least number of miles. But I will have three weeks racing before you get into the really tough part of the Vendée Globe. I hope that will be enough for me to get to know it better. From what I’ve seen, it’s easy, very straightforward, I’m not worried, but given my lack of preparation I’m happy to have these three weeks before getting into the real meat of it. Fortunately for me the Vendée Globe does not start from Cape Town…Has the boat changed since Conrad Colman’s Vendée Globe?
Conrad finished without a mast, so we put in a new one that had to be adapted and cut, but it’s a super mast, built at Southern Spars for Dominique Wavre. It is taller than Conrad’s, more than 2 meters, we added 104 kilos in the keel. As for the sails, I only kept two gennaks and a Conrad spinnaker, the mainsail only did the Route du Rhum with my old boat, we altered it, only the upwind sails are new. I will tell you something I have not mentioned. I had to do my qualifying passage on August 15, we launched the boat on the 13th in Saint-Malo and on the morning of the 14th, three of my sails were stolen! A new J1, a super J2 and a J3 that I had to change anyway! So we have we replaced everything with new sails that we tested this morning, it made a bit of a hole in the old pockets I can tell you. Also something that I have been determined to do: on Monday we will install a protective cardboard cuddy made with resin on it to make it waterproof. We will see if it holds, but the philosophy is interesting, because I think that today we could get the Imoca to develop bio-sourced materials much more, at least for everything that is not structural. In this respect we had a partner, EcoAct, to calculate the total carbon emissions of the project between the Route du Rhum and the end of the Vendée Globe – i.e. 89 tons – so that this footprint is 100% offset.

What is the budget for your Vendée Globe?
Including the purchase of the boat, 400,000 euros.

“I only have one competitor, one person to race against and that’s me”
Did the desire to be back here for this this second Vendée Globe follow soon after the first and what are you going to do differently?
When I was crossing the line last time I already wanted to start again. Initially, the goal was to tell a family story with my three brothers; this project did not take off, but it did not kill my desire. Now I am back, it is to answer a question that I had already asked myself about the first one: am I able to be at the start and then at the finish of the Vendée Globe? The last time was totally unknown, this time it’s the same question except I know what to expect. As for the story, I have no plan or editorial line, I will tell what I will feel as I go along, people will either listen or they won’t!Is this, then, just a personal adventure for you, not a race at all? Aren’t you even trying to do better than last time?
It’s not a race at all, no. I only have one competitor, one person to race against and that’s me. Whether I do 80, 100 or 120 days, 10th, 15th or last, I don’t care, that’s not my topic. All that matters is doing less than 164 days to be get a placing on the results table. I do it for myself and for those who watch me.

Wouldn’t you like to do something more ambitious one day? When you see the boats around you here, don’t you want to?
I would love to do a Route du Rhum on Hugo Boss or Apivia, they are real war machines, but a Vendée Globe, no. Because the Route du Rhum is really a race where you try to beat your rival to win. The Vendée Globe, you go out to win it or to finish it, and I know that I have absolutely no means to win it, I am too old. I’m not interested in doing the Vendée Globe to finish in the first half, but I absolutely do not mean to or seek to put down those for whom that is the goal. I know very well that some may find it difficult to understand why someone who has raced hard and competitively for twenty years does this big change, but it was the Vendée Globe that did that: when I see what has been happening for four years, I tell myself that I would never want to do the Vendée Globe for anything other than my personal drive and for what it brings to people. For them, it’s something much more huge than just three months at sea, it touches them deeply for years, it marks them, it permeates them, it is inked into their beings.

When you see the other skippers of this Vendée Globe, do you feel like you’re living in the same world?
We’re going to do the same route, so we’re from the same world and going round the same world but the comparison ends there. They leave for 70 days, they tell a story of technological and human performance. Me, this is proper adventure. That’s the beauty of the Vendée Globe. Afterwards, unfortunately, all these big teams elevate everything upwards, and that is just normal evolution. I’m a bit afraid that everyones forgets the difficulties that this creates for the small teams who are trying to take part in the Vendée Globe. And to come back to your previous question, I have the impression that it’s a lot more complicated this time around than it was four years ago in terms of rules and regulations. The barriers are rising, the game is tightening, there is not much room for people like us. This year, it is only Didac Costa and I who have sailed so little.

You said it at the beginning of this interview, you have done a lot of things over the last four years, other than offshore racing, including books, theater … so in the end what is your metier, your job description?
Good question ! I don’t have one, I think… maybe a sharer, if such a thing exists!

Photo: Christophe Favreau

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