Whether crushing speed records, nailing ocean races, or pioneering new technology, Stan Honey knows his position precisely. (Parts of this interview appear in our May 2011 issue.)
Part of the irony in these Jules Verne record attempts is that everyone thinks you make or break them in the Southern Ocean. But the Atlantic legs are the key, right?
Yeah. And that’s something that’s changed over time. People used to think the Southern Ocean was the key, and they’d build these big, strong Southern Ocean racing boats. Now what you do is build boats that are nimble, and do really well in the light, so you can do really well in the North and the South Atlantic, both going and coming. In the Southern Ocean, you presume that you’re going to be fast enough to stay ahead of the storms. And everyone goes the same speed. You go as fast as the storm. You can’t go faster than the storm. And then you have to just not break. And the not breaking is really important. The folks that fail to set a Jules Verne record almost always fail due to breakdown, not because they’re slow.
What’s it like sailing a boat like Groupama day after day? Is there a pucker factor? Or do you just get used to it?
The motions are very different than a monohull. On a Volvo 70, there’s a lot of slamming. And that’s true on all points of sail. But on a multihull going very fast—30 or 35 knots—there’s just a lot of very short accelerations. In all directions. They’re completely unpredictable, but you’re just constantly being jerked around, to the point where it becomes much harder to just do your work as a navigator. You can’t even use a mouse, you have to use a track ball, because the mouse is just jumping all around. So you use a trackball, and you kind of jam your fingers on the edge of the ball so you can kind of force it with heavy load to move the cursor.
In terms of the mental part, and it’s easy to do, you just have to convince yourself that the guys on deck are the best French multihull sailors in the world. And they’re paying 100-percent attention, and if they need to shorten sail, they’re going to call. And you just have to decide that everything is completely squared away on deck.
Has that been a leap of faith?
Actually, it’s not, and that’s been one of the most enjoyable parts of the recent sailing I’ve done in the last decade or so. I’ve had the pleasure to sail with really, really good crews. Whether it’s the Pyewacket guys, or Alfa Romeo, or ABM Amro, or the Groupama crew—and they really are the best guys in the world. And you really do have the confidence that if anyone on the planet is qualified to deal with that boat in those conditions, then those are the guys. Then I’ve got my job, and they’re dependent on me.
The other interesting thing that is fun for me as the navigator is that I’m always on stand-by, so whenever something is happening on deck, whether it’s a reef or a sail change or a tack or jibe or whatever, the stand-by guy goes up. So even if I’m asleep, I’m on standby. And I actually enjoy that part, because while I’m not on deck hour after hour standing a watch, it’s good to be part of every single maneuver, because it keeps you in touch, and you’re always there for the exciting bits.