Been busy translating the article...
Here it is (quick and dirty).
Now you can carry on speculating on the accident. A lot of so called experts in this thread that know better. Personally I will wait the conclusions of the investigations.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : This 4th leg between Melbourne and HK appeared to be a hard one ?
Kevin Escoffier : It was, but more mentally than physically. The previous one on the Indian ocean was really difficult because of the strong winds and cold temperatures, and yet I love a good strong breeze! It may appear obvious, but it takes a lot of time to dress. As soon as you are on the deck, you have to clip on. Everything is so violent. Even if the weather was not easy (not sure how to translate “lourd” – maybe thundery?) during Leg 4 – and I am not a fan of high temperatures – you can wear shorts and manoeuvers are easier. But the 5 day long doldrums were not easy, very unstable and random.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : What are your feelings after this 2nd place ?
K.E. : I think we sailed well. We did a small mistake around one of the islands that allowed Vestas to get in front of us. There was nothing to do about Scallywag. They were last coming into the doldrums, cut the corner and thanks to better wind managed to escape. This is sailing, sometimes you can get in front of boats that did the right thing, which we did.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : What can you tell us about the collision between Vestas and a fishing boat 30 milles from the finish, which lead to one casualty ?
K.E. : It’s terrible and very sad. I know the fishing world well (journalist: his dad Franck-Yves is a fisherman in St-Malo). That man went fishing that morning and didn’t choose to get hit by another boat! We don’t have a lot of information on the type of boat or its size, just the fact that there were 10 crew onboard. The boats we saw well mostly quite big and wooden made…
Voilesetvoiliers.com : We read on social media that some people did blame Dongfeng for carrying on without diverting to assist in the rescue?
K.E. : What I can say is that I was helming when we arrived at night in the bay with land light everywhere, a lot of shallow waters, quite a few anchored cargos and a lot of fishing vessels, sometimes trawling a net between the two of them. Charles and Franck were at the chart table navigating and watching the AIS, one was on the deck watching the windward side, another one on the leeward side and a third one transmitting the information between inside and outside, because our intercom system was down since we left Melbourne. We were on starboard tack at 25 knots with the big gennaker and the three headsails, and this was quite intense with the wind being more left than predicted. When we heard on the VHF about the Vestas collision – we were able to understand as our Chinese crew Horace was able to translate to English – we immediately radioed in the Volvo race centre to offer our help. A 14.5 tonnes VOR65 sailing at more than 50 km/h is obviously going to make a lot of damage. We were still doing watches and the watch leader Daryl called for a gennaker furl to sail towards Vestas, but Charles then came out and told us the race committee told him we should carry on.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : Bit strange from the committee ?
K.E. : It is not for me to say. We wanted to go, we had a Chinese crew member that could translate. On the other hand, I can understand that more complications had to be avoided. There were fishing vessels everywhere, rescue boats… Adding a sailing monohull only equipped with flashlights was not necessarily a good idea. It is the race authorities’ job and we have to follow their decision. Some people say random stuff on social media like one boat was on starboard and the other one on port from one photo because they don’t have anything better to do, but they don’t know what happened. This sort of thing is not that simple. The Vestas people are pros.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : You had a fairly new crew for that leg?
K.E. : Yes! We changed 5 people over 9 on that leg, so just more than half. We lead the leg for a week. The crew know each other and have a lot of experience, but we need to do better and win a leg now. I am confident we will soon.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : Do you think the boats are better sailed than during the last edition?
K.E. : Absolutely! The level has gone up a knotch both in terms of speed and navigation. Everyone is sailing well. Mapfre is good all the time, Akzonobel has a small advantage under masthead gennaker. We feel better with the J0, a non-overlapping headsail which is similar to what’s done on IMOCAs and is new on the Volvo. Brunel had a top crew and is not doing very well this time. There is no mystery. During a 4 hours watch, sails are trimmed constantly.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : Do you feel that the VOR65 are dangerous boats ?
K.E. : Let ‘s say we are pushing then very hard. As a crew member, no mistakes are allowed. In a strong breeze, every time you move, you know you will get hit hard. But there is no choice, you have to do it, a wave can take you down… Sometimes it’s really hot! In the last Volvo, our top speed on Dongfeng was 30/31 knots, this time we have reached 33/34! The number of people that get hurt this time is showing something.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : It’s almost like a One-Design race in the bay?
K.E. : This part is awesome! We are really close, we can see each other on the AIS or by eye during 15 days… but this is offshore sailing. It’s crazy! As soon as your sail trimming or manoeuver is not perfect, you start loosing miles. We all have a software on board that averages what we see from the other boats on AIS, so we know how well we are doing. This means you have to be on the top of your game 24/7! You have to rim the main every other second, a bit like during Spi Ouest France or Tour de France a la voile. This is a really good training. In the meantime, for someone like me that loves offshore sailing, you see fantastic skies and landscapes, you see really weird boats, come into fantastic bays and all that when sailing round the world.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : This must be a really valuable experience then?
K.E. : Absolutely. After six to nine months doing this, you go back home and you know everything there is to know about the boats and their potential. On IMOCAS, we don’t sail that much and we don’t use them to their full potential, because they are very complicated and setting them up is very expensive.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : As the Banque Populaire design team manager, what is your feeling about crew protection in the future ?
K.E. : I often discuss this with naval architects. This topic has been really improved on IMOCAS and the Ultims trimarans. In the last Vendee Globe Armel Le Cleac’h was sometimes wearing a helmet inside.I also had a chat about this with Guillaume Verdier when he designed the ex-future foiling Volvo boat. Until now, the structure was optimised and the deck layout was designed to be practical. Now, we have to think about impacts and then the ergonomic aspect and the possible injuries. We will have to go through the same thing that happened in the racecars world, where at some point everything was about performance without thinking about safety, but now you can see that the pilots have got good protection. For example, we will have to limit the use of thin sharp carbon made parts and reduce sharp edges in the cockpit…
Voilesetvoiliers.com : Inside the VOR65, do you use lee cloths ?
K.E. : Yes, it allows use to reduce the impacts and avoid crashing into a bulkhead. At 25 knots on these boats, it is easy to hurt yourself badly. I think we will have more protected helm stations on the future, because it is too dangerous at the moment. Waves hit you and hurt you, and sometimes they take you down. You are going far as you are clipped on, but it is violent.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : We heard that lifejackets are getting off with the waves on deack?
K.E. : This is true ! We are changing the lifejackets because the Hammar pressure sensors are getting off under the waves pressure. This is not great for safety. We have to be aware of all these issues that require some changes on the boats. We have to think about protecting the helm station, in particular on foiling boats.
Voilesetvoiliers.com : Is this a worry for you ?
K.E. : No, you just have to be aware of this and anticipate. Foils are a good example of a big and quick technology jump, thanks mostly to the Americas Cup. I am going put my engineer hat on and say that energy equals to the square of speed, when you multiply speed by 2, this equals to 4 times the amount of energy. When you are reachin on flat water, it’s fine, but if you hit a wave at 35+ knots, it is a lot more violent!
Voilesetvoiliers.com : Are there some existing solutions?
K.E. : AIS allows us to anticipate crossing with other boats, but more thought needs to be given to this, for example why not look at fitting the boats with thermal cameras? The ergonomic aspect also needs to be looked at. Trimarans cockpits are more and more protected. If Volvo is considering foiling monohulls in the future and if they don’t improve the helm’s protections, they won’t survive very long at that sort of speed!