Living in St. Malo, France, you run into a lot of talented sailors who have no problem mustering the seamanship skills, mental toughness, and incredible physical stamina required to face fabled offshore challenges like the Vendee Globe and the Barcelona World Race. The one thing many lack, however, is the sponsorship needed to fund a top-level campaign. While working hard to convince sponsors to invest big money in exchange for publicity, brand awareness, or whatever it is that marketing folks seek, these aspiring offshore sailors work day jobs like the rest of us. Route du Rhum and Barcelona World Race veteran Servane Escoffier is no exception. She runs a boatyard in St. Malo, which is where I met her.
Escoffier hails from a family of sailors. Her uncle Franck Yves Escoffier twice won the Route du Rhum in the 50-foot multihull class; her father, Bob, founded one of the first boat clubs in St. Malo and competed in several major transats.
Although the 30-year-old has yet to win a major race, she has come within striking distance. She placed second in the Class 2 monohull division in the 2006 Route du Rhum; in last year’s race, she singlehanded the gigantic 74-foot by 38-foot multihull Saint-Malo 2015. She previously completed the 2007 Barcelona World Race, and she qualified for the 2008-’09 Vendee Globe.
Most of this racing has taken place on a shoestring budget. In fact, Escoffier told me she relied on a budget of less than 500,000 euros to finance her entire 2010 Route du Rhum campaign, and Saint-Malo 2015 needed a new mast and a lot of other major repair work. Still, she finished within a few days of winner Franck Cammas, who enjoys the backing of French insurance company Groupama.
Aboard Saint-Malo 2015, Escoffier couldn’t maintain the 15-knot average speeds of the winning boats in the Route du Rhum’s Ultimate class because she was hesitant to push the 27-year-old boat beyond its limits. “My goal was to finish,” she says. “I would’ve pushed another faster boat to the limit.” Still, she managed to beat Bruno Peyron’s time when he sailed the same boat to a second-place finish in the 1986 Route du Rhum.
The next race on Escoffier’s horizon is the 2016-’17 Vendee Globe. “The Vendee Globe is my dream,” she says. “I was qualified for the last one, but I couldn’t find the money.”
More than anything else, says Escoffier, the Vendee is about the challenge of sailing by yourself for weeks at a time. And while she won’t refuse a sponsor willing to help her acquire a cutting-edge boat, Escoffier is mainly concerned with the experience of the race itself—sleeping in 20-minute snatches for weeks on end, skirting low-pressure zones in the terrible forties, and withstanding anything else Mother Nature might throw her way. “The Vendee Globe is the course for adventure, and fortunately, you do not have to be a professional skipper to take part,” she says. “The sea remains one of the few wild places left in the world that lets you live your adventure and your dream. It takes discipline and dedication, but the barrier of entry remains accessible to both professionals and amateurs.”