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Maxi Edmond de Rothschild: Step by step towards the Rhum

by Gitana 21 Jun 12:27 BST
Maxi Edmond de Rothschild © Yann Riou / Gitana S.A

On 7 May 2018, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild left Gitana's new base in Lorient after her first four-month winter refit, which was primarily geared around making her systems reliable.

Together with Cyril Dardashti, the team's director, Sébastien Josse had come up with a pre-season sports programme based around two transatlantic crossings. These 6,000 miles were designed to build up towards the exercise of sailing the multihull singlehanded offshore.

However, the rather unfavourable weather of this late spring has forced the skipper of Gitana Team to review his programme in order to adapt the preparation for the Route du Rhum - Destination Guadeloupe as best as possible. No matter though, the playing field is vast and there are multiple options between now and 4 November 2018. The most important thing is to keep up the great momentum that has coursed through the five-arrow team during the fine-tuning of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild since she came into this world nearly one year ago.

Programme reviewed and adapted

Sailing is a mechanical sport where technical skill and technology have a key role, more so today than ever before. Nonetheless, it remains a discipline where the athlete has to constantly deal with the natural elements of the sea and the wind. "We have to always work around what the weather dishes out! Since our relaunch, it hasn't really been spoiling us.

Over the past few weeks we've been in the warm sector of a low pressure system. From the Ukraine across to Brittany, you could see a massive zone of high pressure stretching out, creating a genuine barrier for all the low pressure systems. The Azores High hasn't been playing its usual role over recent weeks, instead getting wedged over the Canaries instead of the Portuguese archipelago. These weather conditions clearly weren't favourable to the record/Atlantic crossings we envisaged in our preparation," explained the skipper of Gitana.

"The idea isn't to make the crossing in 10-15 knots of breeze... to progress with our fine-tuning, we need to put the Maxi to the test. We're looking for 4-5 day phases where we can push the boat in medium to strong conditions (25-35 knots of breeze), but up till now this configuration hasn't been on the cards. Rather than sitting idly by, we've decided to modify our programme."

"We knew the timing was tight and everything had to link together nicely. Unfortunately, we simply don't have the time now to do this return transatlantic as we have some very long-standing in-house plans with the Edmond de Rothschild Group kicking off in early July. Instead, the following weeks have to be dedicated to technical matters in Lorient, but we have progressed with the work first envisaged such as taking out the foils for a thorough check-up and reprofiling. As such the summer's going to be really open for getting out on the water, in the hope that the weather will play ball this time!" added Cyril Dardashti.

A methodical apprenticeship

On 4 November, offshore of Saint Malo, there will be six boats setting sail in the legendary Route du Rhum in the Ultime category. In the meantime, there are few confrontations scheduled between the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild and her adversaries: "The desire's not lacking, but we have all our refit and agenda constraints to reckon with. In sporting and technical terms, we're on very different levels in our preparation. Boats like Sodebo Ultim' and Idec Sport are highly optimised and today they also benefit from all the technical experience amassed by their respective skippers. They're not exactly in the same phase as us regarding fine-tuning and improving of reliability... Macif is in refit for a few more weeks yet, as is Banque Populaire! This phase of sailing together is more likely in September or October should the opportunity present itself. Otherwise, we need to wait until early November offshore of the Breton coast," says Sébastien Josse, not without some impatience.

However, before this main event of the 2018 season, the five-arrow team has a lot to do! Racking up miles offshore, taming the machine, getting in some practice and going through the moves umpteen time in every possible weather scenario so that they become second nature... Every year, it's the same old song, but the tune differs given how unique each boat is. This is particularly true for the latest addition to the Gitana fleet.

"To build Gitana 17 we set out from a blank page and less than a year after the launch of the boat, I'm not ashamed to say that we're still in a phase of discovery. This discovery doesn't relate to the boat but rather the fine-tuning and the tweaking of all the on-board systems, the complexity of which is equal to the ambitions and promises synonymous with sailing this 32-metre giant", points out Cyril Dardashti, the director of the team.

In other words, though Gitana Team hasn't been making much noise for the past few months, it is busy working... "Within Gitana, we are still in a technical 'quality control' phase after a winter refit guided by the experience acquired in the Transat Jacques Vabre. Each time we go out on the water, whether it's for a few hours or a few days, we have a precise jobs list to implement. Some of the outings can be based on a theme (sails, appendages, electronics...) but generally every domain is reviewed. You have to go about it point by point without cutting corners! The sports phase will follow, we just need a little patience," explained the skipper.

"These new, big oceanic multihulls force us to be a lot more rigorous. The preparation is methodical. Naturally, Banque Populaire's capsize back in April gives you pause for thought! We know that our discipline comes with certain risks, and that one in particular. It's an alarm bell which reminds us of the reality of sailing a multihull singlehanded... particularly as it's something I lay real stress on. However, these new boats are propelling us into another dimension. To date, there are just two in existence and as a result solely Armel (Le Cléac'h) and myself understand the stresses these latest generation machines are under in practical terms. And we're still only at the beginning of our journey! We're trying out a number of things and we're discovering new features every day thanks to this phase of fine-tuning, which is very intense and thrilling above all!"

An eye on the Volvo!

A few days ago, during one of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild's offshore outings, Sébastien Josse and his crew made a quick detour via the Celtic Sea to pay tribute to the Volvo Ocean Race fleet. The seven one-designs were just starting the tenth and penultimate leg of the event between Cardiff and Gothenburg. In addition to the beautiful images spread across the social networks, this encounter between two worlds of offshore racing was a moment cherished by the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild.

Indeed, Sébastien Josse has not forgotten that he owes a great deal to this famous round the world race with stopovers. In 2005-2006, he was the youngest skipper in history to have been entrusted with a Volvo boat and above all he was once again paving the way for French sailors in the event, the last such skipper being a certain Eric Tabarly! The Volvo was a key stage in his life as a sailor, as it was for Thomas Rouxel, his co-skipper and training partner in this year coloured by singlehanded sailing. Originally from Erquy in Brittany, the latter finished third in the 2014-2015 edition with Dongfeng Race Team and more recently has sailed aboard Brunel. It was during the leg across the Southern Ocean between Auckland and Itajai that the Dutch VOR masterfully took the win...

Tomorrow, the Volvo fleet will set sail on the last 700 miles of its 2017-2018 edition. A very short leg, but one where the atmosphere promises to be electric. Prior to this final leg to The Hague, three of the seven competitors are still in with a chance of outright victory, virtually tied on points at the top of the leaderboard... As such, the suspense is tangible and the tension will be at its peak on 24 June, the date the one-designs are expected to reach Holland.

Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel, enlightened observers of this perfect scenario, have kindly got embroiled in the game of predictions for us: "It's kind of like the perfect goal this story! I have been thinking about all the teams, as it promises to be a really intense finish. The next days will be very intense for them, but that will make outright victory all the finer... Brunel is the crew to beat at the moment and they've racked up a massive amount of confidence over the past four legs. They're solid and I greatly admire the way they've sailed at the end of this race. Mapfre, after dominating play at the start of this round the world, seems in contrast to be performing less well now... but they're still in the game. Xabi Fernandez is a great sailor. Dongfeng has displayed impressive consistency for months and is always at the top of the table. All three clearly deserve to win, but my favourite has to be our 'frenchies' led by Charles! They're honouring French expertise", admits Sébastien Josse.

"It's a very tough question! There is very little separating the teams at the finish of the long legs so imagine what it will be like for this one... There will be a massive number of moves to be played with a lot of localised effects and tides to negotiate... Anything is possible among the three and the fact that they're virtually tied on points shows that they all deserve it. However things play out, the winner of this edition will be a very fine victor! Personally, Brunel seems to have the psychological advantage for the end of this race and has been very successful since their victory in Itajai. They're sailing very well and confidently. But inevitably I have a lot of very good friends aboard Dongfeng and I'd like to see them win this Volvo," explains Thomas Rouxel.

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