To fully embrace European sailing I’ve had to accept—even appreciate—the French. It’s a difficult concept for me to swallow. Forget the language barrier, the stereotypes, or their inability to agree on a single constitution. The fact is that as far as I can tell, no nation appreciates or supports sailing as a professional sport so much as, you guessed, the French. Except, maybe the Kiwis.
From the Solitare du Figaro to the Vendee Globe, they dominate the singlehanded scene in the northern hemisphere and around the globe. And when it comes to multihulls, they’ve got that down, too.
On Wednesday I stepped aboard Baron Benjamin De Rothschild’s MOD 70 ocean trimaran, Edmond de Rothschild. Its skipper, Sébastien Josse, stood on the trampoline and took one look at my mess of equipment.
“Perhaps you can leave the bags onshore?” he asked.
Born in 1975, Josse rose to professional ranks in 1998 by finishing second in the French singlehanded rite of passage, the Solitaire. He goes by Seb.
“The Solitaire is the start of the sailing career in France,” he explained as we motored out of Valencia Harbor for an afternoon of sparring with another MOD70, Spindrift Racing. “If you win the Solitaire, or finish top three, you have a good value to do anything in any type of boat.”
After the Solitaire, Josse sailed onboard Bruno Peyron’s Orange, capturing the Jules Verne Trophy in 2002. He won the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2003 onboard the Open 60 VMI. He placed fifth in the Vendee Globe in 2005, and fourth in the 2005-’06 Volvo Ocean Race aboard the under-30 ABN AMRO Two program. By 2011 he’d racked up enough star power to take the helm of Baron Benjamin Du Rothschild’s Team Gitana, a 137-year family addiction with speed and the sea.
Amidst a volley of alien commands, Josse’s crew hoisted the main in 12 knots of breeze. Gitana XV roared—actually hummed—to life as soon as they unfurled the gennaker. As the boat created its own apparent breeze, the mast sang out in a metallic tone. We were sailing as fast as the wind.
The towering rig rotated to greet every shift, and as the wind gusted to 14 knots, our boatspeed rose to 18, accelerating with enough force to throw me on my side while sitting down. We were flying.
“In light air,” said Josse, “No problem. She’s easy.”
In heavy breeze, the boat can tear along at 45 knots.
After three practice races the crew furled the sails, and one of the teammembers passed a bag of fruit around the cockpit. Josse reached in for a banana.
“Aren’t those things bad luck?” I asked.
“Banana is not a problem,” he said, taking a bite. “For English people, I understand bananas onboard is a problem. But for us is the small animal, I can’t tell the word.”
“No, not monkeys. You don’t tell the word if you find it. It’s uh,” and with this Seb planted his hands above his head and puckered his teeth. “Playboy. You see playboy?”
“Oh! A rabbit!”
“Jahhh!” he cried, laughing. “Shut up!”
Four MOD70s, along with a cast of Multi 50s, are currently racing in the inaugural multi-leg Route des Prince Ocean Race, starting in Valencia, Spain, to Lisbon, then north to Ireland, Plymouth. The last leg finishes in the Bay of Morlaix. In-port racing has live tracking. Much more at www.routedesprinces.fr/en/