The Golden Boy of the Vendée Globe
The Golden Boy of the Vendée Globe
It is hard to know just how much Francois Gabart (Macif) thinks about the possibility that he could be the youngest sailor in history to win the fabled Vendée Globe race in just a few days at the age of 29. When I spoke with him by phone as he approached the doldrums in the Atlantic, he seem more concerned about maintaining his lead of a hundred miles or so ahead of the more experienced and very, very capable Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) than the not-so-lofty chance that he could be the victor. After all, Gabart and Le Cléac’h were battling each other to stay ahead as they approached the Cape Horn, trading first and second place over 130 times while remaining in sight of each other. Gabart also knows, of course, that almost anything can happen between now and before making it back to the Sables-d'Olonne, which is now about 2,500 miles away.
Instead of daring to think about the specter of winning and how he might deal with the sudden rock star-like fame waiting for him back on shore after living alone on a metal drum for almost three months, Gabart is thinking about sailing. Keeping his lead, of course, involves constantly monitoring of the weather, sails, and instruments and dealing with both minor and often major breakages than it does with predicting what can happen in a few days.
Gabart enjoys some warm weather not far from the equator. Photo: F.Gabart/Macif
But this is also the Vendée Globe. Just finishing the longest, most brutal, and ultimately, the most fabled offshore solo race in the world inevitably carries with it extreme emotional highs and lows. Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec), who is in third place, said he has spent some time crying a few days ago, and he is certainly not the only sailor in the fleet to do that. Gabart admitted that he has wept a bit as well, although he said he cried more often out of joy. This is just the way things are when you are alone on the ocean and sailing against ferocious competitors in the Vendée Globe, they say.
SW: What do you expect your main challenges will be as you make your way through the doldrums?
FG: I became used to having other boats around me, but now, Armel is 100 miles away. When you can see the other boats, you know right away if your speed is okay or not. One of my main goals now is to make sure that the boat is going as fast as it can. Even if the trade winds are not stable, blowing only at 10 knots, you have to make sure you choose the right sail and keep a good speed.
The timing of my next tack is important, too. If you go too much to the east, you remain there farther for six days longer than you want to. If you tack too early, you will be too much in the west.
SW: What variables will you take into consideration when you make your decision about the time of your next tack?
FG: I will first have prepared the flat sail for going upwind, so I will probably use my flat sail for a few days because afterwards I will be reaching in 15-20 knots.
The weather conditions are the most important thing. The software will calculate the route as it takes [the weather into consideration]. But in addition to that, I rely on my own feeling that I have as well, when deciding when the best time to tack is.
SW: While it is definitely easier to sail faster with the competing boats in sight, it must be a relief when you can distance yourself from Armel [Le Cléac’h].
FG: I don’t miss him at all [laughs].
The finish is still far, far away, but it is getting closer. All the miles I have in front of him is a good thing to have. But of course, I will be happy if I can keep 200 miles ahead of him.
Being about 80 miles ahead of him in the doldrums is a good position to be in.