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Being a solo sailor is something you can't learn on your own!

by Vendee Globe 18 Jun 2023 10:43 BST
Benjamin Ferré and Pierre Leroy © François Van Malleghem | Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race

While five IMOCA boats are currently competing in a crewed race, The Ocean Race, the season was launched in France with the double-handed Guyader Bermuda 1000 Race. During the 2023 season, the future skippers of the Vendée Globe will be competing in several races in this configuration: the Rolex Fastnet in July and the Transat Jacques Vabre in November. While they readily admit that they enjoy sailing their boat alone, sailing with others is one of the essential steps in preparing for a solo, non-stop round-the-world race without assistance.

To be at the start of the greatest single-handed round-the-world yacht race is a huge goal. None of the sailors in the Vendée Globe is fooled: they will only achieve it by taking it one step at a time, thanks to meticulous preparation. To achieve this, surrounding yourself well seems to be one of the keys. There's the shore crew, of course, the technical team in the front line, but also the sailors with whom the skippers train and race. Damien Seguin, who has raced legs of The Ocean Race with Paul Meilhat and Sam Davies, as well as the Bermuda 1000 Race double-handed with the latter, on his own boat, can testify to this: "I like sailing alone, but I need the others. I need the skills of my shore team but also those of the other sailors to progress."

"The goal is to do well in the Vendée Globe"

Damien Seguin, whose IMOCA has been in refit for the past 8 months, is preparing to launch a boat with new large foils, a new bow and a new rig at the beginning of August... The first phase of his season will be dedicated to understanding, fine-tuning and improving the reliability of this 'new' boat. This 'performance-building' phase - as the skipper calls it - will be carried out in tandem with Laurent Bourgues, his co-skipper for the 2023 season, who has already joined the team: "Laurent has worked for a long time in the technical teams, in particular Thomas Ruyant's one. He has a great knowledge of recent IMOCA. We're working together on refitting the boat. The aim was also to benefit from his skills upstream, during the shipyard phase. Sailing will be an extension of all that work. Aware of the challenge ahead, Damien adds: "The aim is to do well in the Vendée Globe, so that my boat and I are ready to take the start and race around the world. To achieve that, we'll have to build everything up as we go along."

For Benjamin Ferré, the young IMOCA skipper aiming to take part in the Vendée Globe 2024, his 2023 co-skipper Pierre Le Roy is also an integral part of the project, as he takes on several roles: "Pierre has the particularity of being originally a meteorologist. Last year, I approached him to help me prepare my weather strategy. Today he's also wearing the boat captain's hat, which isn't very common in IMOCA teams." The two friends know each other well, as they prepared the 2019 Mini Transat together and finished it just a few hours apart. In 2021, Pierre Le Roy took part again and won. "As we followed the same course, we sail in much the same way," says Benjamin, before adding that "the spirit also has an important part to play. I'm working on setting up an IMOCA project with people who share the Mini spirit: people who do things seriously, without taking themselves too seriously! With the Vendée Globe in mind, Pierre was the most coherent choice considering the spirit of the project".

The privilege of solitude

But although the skipper of the Vendée Globe is a sociable person, he is nonetheless a solo sailor! Nowadays, taking advantage of a moment of disconnection is a luxury that solo skippers are the rare ones to enjoy... "I like to take advantage of the solitary space offered by solo sailing, which is quite rare, after all," admits Damien. For Benjamin, offshore sailing means solo sailing: "I've almost never sailed double-handed or with a crew. I discovered the open ocean without any means of communication when I crossed the Atlantic using a sextant, then on the Mini circuit. Now that I'm in the IMOCA class, I've kept those habits. Ashore, I'm more connected and surrounded... But it's such a privilege to have the opportunity to spend this time alone at sea, it would be a shame not to make the most of it!" Over and above this unique feeling of solitude, this configuration brings a certain pressure from a sporting point of view: "sailing solo, you can only blame yourself when you make mistakes. You manage everything from A to Z. It puts pressure on you, but that's what makes you better. When you're sailing double-handed or with a crew, the responsibility for your performance or lack of performance is somewhat attenuated," explains Damien Seguin, 7th in the last Vendée Globe. For now, the two sailors are concentrating on doing things in the right order and taking advantage of the many skills around them, starting with those of Jean Le Cam for Benjamin, who continues to support his young padawan despite the construction of his new boat!

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