On 6th November, Thomas Ruyant will be lining up for the start of his first round the world voyage aboard a boat completely devoid of advertising, “Le Souffle du Nord pour Le Projet Imagine”.
He will be taking advantage of the media impact of the Vendée Globe to throw the spotlight on some operations to bring people together and show us who is behind them. But the skipper from the North of France, who has been involved in all the major offshore racing circuits, is not going to forget the race itself and will be determined to get a good result.
Thomas, you now have over a hundred backers alongside you. Is it essential for you to compete in the Vendée Globe with a project that conveys certain values?
Thomas Ruyant: “Yes, the fact that this is my first attempt at the Vendée Globe and that I can pass on this unifying message is important to me. If we can give real meaning to such a project with incredible media attention, it’s even better if we can make the most of that to promote ideas and charitable work. This is not the same as a traditional sponsorship, but a real project bringing everyone together, which aims to take on board as many people as possible for this adventure. The partners that support me have accepted that they won’t have any advertising on the boat in exchange, but they do have something to gain in terms of communicating. I’m over the moon, as I have managed to get this project up and running in the North and people have taken their hands out of their pockets to get involved.”
Have you got your full budget together and is it now certain that you will be there in the next Vendée Globe?
“We’re still missing 40% of the budget required to be there at the start. Things are moving along nicely and the project is attracting people and new firms are joining us every day. But we can’t ease off just yet and we need to continue to work hard to bring people along with us. I have a team with me that is getting things going in Northern France. We can’t imagine not making it to the start. We’ll manage it and will be there in the next Vendée Globe!”
Your boat, a VPLP-Verdier design that was launched in 2007 (Kito de Pavant’s former Groupe Bel) is still in the yard. What work is being done on her?
“One of the priorities is to offer protection on this 60-foot boat that was very exposed by fitting a new protective cover. As with Yann Eliès’s boat (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir, another VPLP-Verdier design from 2007, editor’s note), we have fitted a tubular structure covered with cloth. My boat was going to be the only one lining up at the start of the next Vendée Globe with a wheel. It was nice enough, but not that practical during manoeuvres, as it wasn’t easy finding precisely where the central position was. So we’re moving to tillers. We have also decided to build some new ballast tanks placed under the cockpit. These tanks should allow us to make up for the slight speed deficit we noticed when reaching (with the wind on the beam), a point of sail that will be quite common in the round the world voyage. We have also carried out all the usual checks to ensure the boat makes it around the world. We took everything apart aboard Le Souffle du Nord, checking all the deck hardware, hydraulics, electrics, lines, cables, sails… We can’t leave anything to chance on a technical level. I want to be there at the start… but more importantly I want to be there at the finish in Les Sables! In the St-Barth/Port-la-Forêt transatlantic race, I discovered a problem with the forward keel bearing. We found out what caused this damage and we’re repairing the damaged parts so that won’t happen again. I will be able to feel relaxed when I set off. I have a great boat for my first Vendée Globe, and I couldn’t have dreamed of anything better. My boat is pleasant, sturdy and responds well at the helm. It’s sheer pleasure being on her.”
Why aren’t you taking part in the 2016 transatlantic races from Plymouth and the return race from New York to Vendée?
“Above all, it’s down to financial reasons. Our budget, which aims to be reasonable isn’t yet complete. So, it seemed wiser for us not to take part in these races. Competing in two transatlantic races in a Vendée Globe year seems like a lot to me in terms of sailing and the energy required. I’m already qualified for the Vendée Globe thanks to the Transat Jacques Vabre and the St-Barth/Port-la-Forêt race. But it’s true that I’m going to have to do some sailing, particularly solo. Le Souffle du Nord is due to be relaunched in the third week of April. I intend to carry out training sessions at sea for 3-4 days at a time. In the Bay of Biscay, we can quickly find the sort of sailing conditions that we can expect in mid-Atlantic. So even if I don’t take part in the transatlantic races, I’ll be ready to go.”
In any case, you acquired a lot of experience and built up your confidence in 2015 with what was an encouraging fourth place in the Transat Jacques Vabre, sailing double-handed with Adrien Hardy…
“Yes I’m very pleased with my first season in the IMOCA class. I had to learn everything from scratch and now I know more about sailing these boats and how big a challenge the Vendée Globe is going to be. With Adrien Hardy, we learnt a lot during the Transat Jacques Vabre. I could have chosen one of the big names in the circuit to come with me on this first major IMOCA race. But in the end, discovering how the machine works all by ourselves turned out to be a good way of doing things. By the end, we were much faster than at the start. The St-Barth/Port-la-Forêt transatlantic race was an enriching experience in some very complicated weather conditions. It took me at least two days to get into the swing of things, to find the confidence I needed to sail solo. The race ended in the Azores because of my keel problem. It’s a pity because I was starting to feel at ease in spite of the strong winds. But this race really taught me a lot, in particular helping me decide what work needed to be done in the yard.”
“The cursor is slowly moving from adventure to racing”
You’ve been thinking about the Vendée Globe for some time. You started looking for partners for the 2012-2013 race…
“Yes… When you enjoy solo saling, the Vendée Globe is the Holy Grail. The task is so thrilling that you really want to push back your limits. I have sailed in all sorts of series with experiences on Mini 6.50s, Class40s and on the Figaros. I’m pleased to have been through all those classes to be ready to sail an IMOCA, as these are crazy boats. I can see some similarities with the Mini in the way the daggerboards, canting keel and wing mast work as well as in deciding which sails to use, but this is on a very different scale, with much more effort required. I can see here all the technical aspects which I love, but which were missing from the Class40 and Figaro. However, the latter helped me a lot in precision trimming and the ability to push until it hurts out on the water.”
In less than eight months from now, you will be lining up at the start of your first solo round the world race. Do you feel apprehensive?
“Yes, I’m bound to. But I’m working. I’m training in every field to try to reduce that apprehension. The work done beforehand is vital. Today we are not like Moitessier or Tabarly, as we’re not about to embark on an adventure. Even if I have never sailed in the Southern Ocean, I have been able to take advantage of the feedback from sailors, who have been down to these places. The cursor is gently moving from adventure to racing. I need there to be these two dimensions. I wouldn’t set off around the world, if there wasn’t the competition in there.”
What are your goals in terms of racing?
“I am working on a project to bring people together, but at the same time I don’t want to set up some sort of cheap racing project. I won’t be up there with the frontrunners, but I believe that a good result is possible. I want to battle it out with the other boats from the 2008 Vendée Globe generation. There’s going to be a race within the race and the winner of this battle will be well placed in the overall rankings…”
by Olivier Bourbon / Mer and Media Agency