The Golden Boy of the Vendée Globe
The Golden Boy of the Vendée Globe
SW: When and how did you take the lead after it was so close before Cape Horn?
FG: I think I was a little bit faster than Armel at the end of the Pacific when sailing with a gennaker in 25-30 knots of wind. I was sailing 1 to 2 knots faster than him for a couple of days, so I was 30 miles in front of him at the Cape Horn, which helped me to stay in the lead. After that, our strategies were a bit different after the Falkland Islands when Armel stayed a little bit more in the east and I took a more westerly route where I had stronger winds for longer than he did.
SW: When you were within eyesight of Armel and you continued to battle it out with him for first place, were you reminded of Le Figaro race?
FG: Yeah [laughing], a little bit, except in that race you have about 20 or 30 boats close to you and in this race, I could only see Armel’s boat. But the constant pressure and the fight I had with Armel could be compared to what you experience in Le Figaro.
Gabart and Le Cléac’h battled it out for the lead until Gabart put some distance ahead between them after the Cape Horn. Photo: F.Gabart/Macif
SW: Can you describe how you are feeling? Are you able to have fun sailing?
FG: I am in good shape, and I am a little bit tired after sailing for two months. I am not as fresh as I was at the start of the race. If you are running a marathon, after 20 or 30 kilometers you are, of course, more tired than you were at the start, but this does not mean that you are running too fast, but are running at the right speed. I am in good shape and am trying to do all I can to race. And I am ready to fight for the final part of this race and am in good shape for it.
SW: Jean-Pierre Dick said the other day that he has experienced some emotional highs and lows during the race and has admitted that he has spent some time crying. Have you experienced emotions like that as well?
FG: Yes, of course. This race causes so many strong emotions … the feelings you have are stronger than they are when you are onshore; when you are happy, you are very, very happy and when you are sad, you are very, very sad. I was actually crying for joy at one point and was very, very happy. Sometimes, you wish you were onshore with your loved ones and you cry a little bit, but it is not bad, it is good.
Enjoying some olive oil a few weeks after the start. Photo: Gabart/Macif
SW: What has been the most difficult moment of the race?
FG: Conditions near New Zealand were difficult. The winds were strong and shifty. The winds varied between 20 and 50 knots. I would have preferred a wind of 50 knots if it were steady. The wind at one point reached 55 knots near Auckland Island. It is difficult to measure the size of the waves, but they were definitely powerful, which made sailing difficult.
I had two reefs in the mainsail then. The problem is that when the wind is unstable, you are very slow when you have three reefs at 20 knots and when the next boat is five miles in front, you have to have fewer reefs. So you really need to find a balance with a sail for low and high winds.
When the winds reached 50 to 55 knots near Auckland Island, I only had one reef in the main [laughing] and used either a fractional gennaker or reacher. But the wind only remained at 50 knots for five minutes. So, for five minutes I [focused] on steering and trying not to break anything.
I used the fractional gennaker until the wind reached 35 to 38 knots and then the reacher for stronger winds. I was running downwind. With one reef, you don’t have much choice about where you want to go [laughing].
SW: So obviously, you were taking a risk?
FG: Yes, for sure. I mean the wind was just 25 knots a few minutes before and the wind was only at 50 knots for about five minutes. I could have had many breakages, and so yes, it was a risk. But like I said before, when you are sailing with three reefs, you cannot lead the Vendée Globe. You have to keep a good balance. Sometimes you have to keep some size in the sails for big wave conditions, because if you are going too slowly, slower than the waves, the boat can be at risk. Sometimes, you need to keep some size in the mainsail and the gennaker and make sure that you maintain 20 to 22 knots to navigate in big wave conditions.
SW: Your's and Armel’s boats are among the fastest and newest in the fleet. How much have the newer technologies and design helped you to stay ahead in the race?
FG: This is difficult to answer. Sure, we both have very good boats. But I don’t know exactly the performance advantages they offer. The Vendée Globe race officially started November 10, but for me, it started when I first began to build this boat, and it is certainly fast.
But it is hard to separate the boat from the skipper. In a way, I am part of the boat, and the boat is part of me right now. After sailing the boat for more than two months, we are now one. If I put my boat in the hands of someone else, he wouldn’t use it in the same way that I do so.