Recent winner of the double-handed round the world race, the Barcelona World Race alongside Jean Le Cam, Bernard Stamm is planning to compete in his fourth Vendée Globe in 2016, but not at any price…
We met up with the skipper of Cheminées Poujoulat who looked back at what happened in his recent round the world race.
Winning a round the world race is a great way to bounce back after losing your previous 60-foot boat in late 2013 on the way back from the Transat Jacques Vabre.
Bernard Stamm: “This result has done me a lot of good removing a lot of the frustration on losing my old boat (a Kouyoumdjian designed boat from 2011 aboard which Bernard took part in the last Vendée Globe, editor’s note). A win in this Barcelona World Race was from certain, as the project was only set up late on. In the beginning, I was supposed to compete with Yann Eliès aboard my previous IMOCA. Everything fell apart in late 2013… The opportunity of chartering the former Mare (which was Michel Desjoyeaux’s former Foncia, the winner of the 2008-2009 Vendée Globe, editor’s note) came up with Jean Le Cam alongside me. So I set off aboard a boat and with a different co-skipper from what we had planned and it all worked out in the end. It’s just one of those things that happens. Winning in spite of these upsets was even more rewarding.”
When Alex Thomson and Pepe Ribes (Hugo Boss) were forced out early on and Guillermo Altadill and José Muñoz (Neutrogena) had to make a pit stop in New Zealand, the suspense was over. How did you take that as a competitor? Was it pleasing to have overcome the challenges or frustrating not to be directly racing against another boat?
BS: “A bit of both. I can never smile at the misfortune of others. On paper, Hugo Boss was the clear favourite. An experienced duo aboard a boat from the last Vendée Globe (2012/2013). But when you set sail for three months in a round the world race, you have to expect things like this to happen. We knew too that Neutrogena, a 2007 Farr design, would also be very dangerous. Altadill and Muñoz had done a lot of training. When Hugo Boss was dismasted, they were in front. We had to fight hard to get first place. We had some very close racing until they had their pit stop in New Zealand. That changed everything, but at no point did we think that the race was done and dusted. Of course, it’s always nice to have a lead of 1000 miles rather than 100. But when the gap is so wide, it leads to situations that are tricky to manage, as we are sailing in different systems, so you can’t control your opponent and things are left wide open behind you. So we always kept a close eye on the weather behind us.”
At no time did you ease off?
BS: “We kept up the pace from start to finish, whatever lead we had. We wanted to widen the gap as much as possible, in case we had any unexpected problems. As we were no longer in contact with any others, we were rather more cautious with our manoeuvres. But for everything else, we put the right sail up for the conditions to reach the boat’s polars. The only time we eased off was in the final third of the Indian Ocean. We put the brakes on for 36 hours so we didn’t get caught up in the remains of a tropical storm. We would have faced 60-70 knot winds and the corresponding sea state. We didn’t have any choice and just acted like wise sailors in these conditions. It is rather unusual to have to slow down, and that had never happened to me before in a race.”
“Rounding the Horn didn’t mean the end of the difficulties”
From dry land, your race looked easy, which of course wasn’t the case. The conditions were testing in general…
BS: “Yes we had a lot of wind in the Southern Ocean. It wasn’t easy to sail fast in such seas. It is often thought that rounding the Horn means the end of the difficulties, but that isn’t often the case. We left the lows behind us in the South as we passed Uruguay. So the Southern ocean conditions stayed with us for quite some time. Climbing back up the North Atlantic, the stretch from the Doldrums to Gibraltar wasn’t that simple either. We had to sail close hauled and never reaching. And the Med wasn’t easy either…’
Your wind gear could not be used from the Doldrums to halfway across the Pacific. You had problems with the genoa hook, the mast track snapped off, so you had your fair share of technical problems. Could you have completed the race if you had been alone aboard or would you have had to carry out a pit stop?
BS: “It would have been very hard. We would really have felt alone at times. The worst thing with our problems is that we took a lot of time trying to sort them out because of the conditions we encountered. When there are two of you, you feel more relaxed as you have twice as many hands and brains to get over such problems.”
Did you ever think about stopping to carry out repairs?
BS: “Yes, but it was never clear for us. In the back of our minds, we thought about it. The broken mast track was the worst. If we hadn’t managed to get things back in place at sea, there would have been two solutions. We could finish the race with two reefs or stop for repairs. We would have chosen the second solution. The problem is that you lose a lot of time moored up (the Barcelona World Race rules meant they would have had to spend at least 24 hours moored up, editor’s note) and you never know what sort of conditions you’ll get when you set off again. You can really get punished. We’re pleased to have completed the voyage without stopping, as that is what we had planned.”
Bernard Stamm with Jean Le Cam: two solo sailors together. What sort of result did that give?
BS: “Some good ones! I never had any worries about us being together and the result shows that I was right. There were ups and downs, which is only normal when you’re living with someone for three months, but we never fell out. We just kept pushing the boat as hard as we could. Time slipped by as there is always so much work to do aboard these boats. I learnt a lot from being alongside Jean, and he probably did too.”
What did you learn?
BS: “Jean has an amazing ability to get a boat moving quickly with a little less sail than you would expect. In some conditions, you end up sailing just as fast as if you had hoisted more sail. He looks at things in a very positive way. He doesn’t stop when there are problems and never feels down in tricky times. He has an excellent knowledge of these boats and shows remarkable seamanship. That helped a lot when we carried out repairs.”
“Sailing around the world isn’t like going down to the shops”
Will you be getting together again for the Transat Jacques Vabre for example?
BS: “I’d have no hesitation in setting off again with Jean and why not in the Transat Jacques Vabre. But that would require me to take part… Things aren’t very clear for the future. The only thing I do know is that I’ll be taking part in the Tour de France sailing race aboard a Diam 24 this summer. As for everything else, we shall be entering discussions in the coming days. My partnership with Cheminées Poujoulat was always meant to end at some point, with us one project at a time.”
If you compete in the next Vendée Globe, will it be with a potentially winning project?
BS: “Exactly. I have always taken part in races with the express aim of doing well.”
Would your current boat do with that in mind?
BS: “Yes, I could imagine setting off aboard this boat. There aren’t many available in the market. It’s too late to start building one now. This 60-foot boat doesn’t belong to me and was chartered for the Barcelona World Race. So we’d need to buy her. She’s a good boat. The whole of the hull from the bow to the keel was changed, while in the colours of Mare. She can perform better now than when she was in the hands of Michel Desjoyeaux in his winning Vendée Globe aboard her (84 days, 03 hours and 09 minutes, editor’s note). I know all about this boat and know how we could fine tune her. If she was correctly prepared, she could really do well. The new IMOCAs should perform better however, but if you look at the scale of the Vendée Globe an older 60-foot boat can still get a good result.”
So whatever the situation, do you still want to compete in the Vendée Globe for the fourth time?
BS: “Yes, but not at any price. It would take a lot of funding and time to prepare well, so that means we’re going to have to decide quickly. Having said that, I’ve only just got back from a very tiring double handed race around the world and I need to slow down a bit. Sailing around the world isn’t like going down to the shops. Contrary to what people watching might think, the Vendée Globe doesn’t start when the gun is fired. The marathon begins long before that.”
Interview with Olivier Bourbon / Mer and Média Agency