François Gabart: “Emotions all round!”
Now is not yet the time to closely assess what happened to the MACIF trimaran and the amount of damage she underwent. At the moment, François Gabart says he’s happy with his finish at Pointe-à-Pitre and to have been able to battle to the end, even though Francis Joyon stole the victory by taking the lead at the finishing line, just seven minutes ahead of him.
The MACIF skipper has a positive approach and, in any event, will remember this Route du Rhum as a classic.
François Gabart: “It’s been a wonderful race and it’s a good second place, because it wasn’t easy to win. It’s not a victory, but it is just as good as one, because it was a well-earned. I experienced some amazing things and lots of emotions all round right to the end, in fact, right up until now.”
Losing on the last tack
F.G.: “Yes, it’s awful, you cannot imagine such a thing will happen. In the last two or three days, Francis made a strong comeback and I thought he was going to sail past me when I started to tackle Guadeloupe, but I held strong. It went fairly well at first, but everyone knows the sail round Guadeloupe. It’s a classic. I succeeded in coming out a little ahead and, in the last hard section between the Saintes and Guadeloupe, I hit one last area of flat calm and I got stuck there a little too long. That’s life and it made for a good race.”
A series of breakages
F.G.: “What you need to understand is that I could have stopped in Spain. In the first 48 hours of racing, I had as much damage to the boat as during the full length of my round the world. I lost a rudder, the foil, the J3 actuator and, you would not think it, but it’s really hard to manoeuvre a boat like this without these parts. Before the start, I felt that I was going to have to adapt my sailing, but I did not think it would demand quite so much.”
Was it predictable?
F.G.: “It was interesting, a great experience. We have made a lot of progress, but we knew that we would have to make the boat more reliable. We felt capable of achieving something in a race like the Route du Rhum.”
Why did you continue?
F.G.: “I could have retired, yes, but I believed I could do it! The whole thing could have worked out okay. In the end, the breakages happened as the race went on and every time I asked myself two questions: ‘Are you safe? Do you feel that you are capable of entering a harbour? The answer was yes. I believe I have never raced single-handed without having a few problems. You take them as they come and you manage them. I know how to do this. However, I believe that I have never had as many problems in so short a space of time.”
Are these last three hours hard to swallow?
F.G.: “The last three hours around Guadeloupe were not the hardest, contrary to the last three days. It was frustrating not to be able to get the boat up to the kind of performances I know she’s capable of, but you have to make do with what you’ve got. And I could feel Francis’s inevitable comeback. It was hard to handle.”
Were you frightened?
F.G.: “I was never frightened, but there was a constant dose of stress on board, since the boat was not in its normal state. It’s not easy to luff with a trimaran when you only have one foil to work with. I mostly felt frustrated not to experience the sensations.”
Francis Joyon’s Win
F.G.: “I’m really delighted to finish behind Francis. If I had to choose someone to finish behind, it would be him. He is an incredible sailor and I have always admired him. Winning second place behind him is just amazing, because he’s a wonderful winner. And I’m really delighted that we were there to write this year’s version of the race.”
Today’s IMOCA analysis by Roland Jourdain
It was a short night with the incredible show that Francis and François put on for us. I like both these sailors, although each of them has their own style. They had an amazing race. With the boat and the man himself, Francis is an example of sustainable development. That’s something that interests me, as I have been working on those matters alongside my ocean racing career.
As spectators, we are also being spoilt in the IMOCA class. There is a great line-up of foilers (from various generations) and non-foilers. It’s a fascinating contest to watch. We can more or less follow what is happening live with the tracker updated every hour. The problem is that it can take up your whole day.
“The leaders must be working flat out”
Looking at the trade winds on the weather charts from ashore always gives the impression that it is easy sailing. That is however far from being the case, as the wind is rarely stable in strength and direction. It is often very hot, which drains your energy. The point of sail the leading boats are currently in is far from simple. Alex Thomson, Paul Meilhat, Vincent Riou, Yann Eliès and indeed Boris Herrmann are sailing downwind trying to find the best VMG (Velocity Made Good, the perfect compromise between bearing and speed). This is a point of sail we don’t look forward to, particularly as you have to spend hours at the helm. Autopilots may be excellent, but they don’t offer their best performance in these conditions. You also have to plan gybes. The lads must be working flat out. Under gennaker, the boat stays on course more than under spinnaker downwind, where it can be quite scary. The rule is that the more sail you have up front, the worse you sleep. There are still a number of hurdles to avoid before the finish: the squalls as they approach the islands with all the seaweed, crab pots, and anything else that you cannot foresee in our line of work. You have to remain fully alert.
“Sailing around Guadeloupe is like Chinese water torture”
For the moment, Alex Thomson appears to be in control of the situation. It is true that he is unable to keep his opponents in the south and north in check at the same time. But when it is like that, you keep an eye on those that are closest, which in this case means Paul, Vincent and Yann. Alex has a strong lead, but he is going to feel the pressure on him from behind right up to the finish. As we saw with the Ultime boats, potentially everything can change. You really have to think twice before making any forecasts or saying what you think is going to happen.
The more miles Alex puts between himself and his rivals by the Tête à l’Anglais island (located to the north of Basse-Terre), the better it will be for him, as sailing downwind of Guadeloupe is like the famous Chinese water torture. In 2006, when I won in the IMOCA class for the first time, I had a lead of at least 120 miles over Jean Le Cam at Tête à l’Anglais island. But with the wind shadow from the main island and the trade winds disappearing, I found myself becalmed. The wind strengthened from behind, which allowed Jean to catch up. In the end, I reached Pointe-à-Pitre just twenty minutes before him. When I crossed the line, I could already see his mast lights arriving… This year, if the same thing happens to the IMOCAs that we saw with the Ultimes last night, our blood pressure will be rising to very high levels. Until the finish, there is going to be something to keep us enthralled in terms of who wins and who makes it to the podium.
“Wherever I look on the tracker, there are things to learn”
It’s no surprise that we find Alex, Paul, Vincent and Yann in front. They are after all the star pupils. We would have liked to have seen Charal up with them to compare the speeds.
The little group further back is logical too. It’s nice to see Alan Roura, Damien Seguin and Stéphane Le Diraison fighting it out. It’s interesting to compare three similar boats, remembering that Alan has added foils, unlike Damien and Stéphane. We’ll also see whether Arnaud Boissières with an updated boat will shine and catch them up. I don’t know Erik Nigon and Ari Huusela, so they’re a bit of surprise for me. It’s great to see them keeping up with the others like that. The wide range of backgrounds is one of the nice things about the IMOCA class.
Wherever you look on the tracker, there are battles going on and there is plenty to learn. It is hard even from ashore to be detached from the Route du Rhum. From time to time, I imagine myself out there with them. It really makes me want to be out there.”
Onboard update from Alex Thomson
by Route du Rhum