Interview with the team manager of one of my crushs so far, Isabelle Joschke.
Voiles et Voiliers: What is your analysis at the end of the two months of this ninth Vendée Globe?
Alain Gautier : It's an astonishing edition! (he laughs) With the Covid, there was this incredible start behind closed doors: it started very differently, even if we had once experienced a staggered start with fewer spectators on the water (in 2000, because of a violent gale, it was given on Thursday 9th November instead of Sunday 5th, editor's note). After that, we saw that none of the four intermediate passage times were improved. This is quite incredible because we know that the current boats are going faster than the previous ones. It's a big surprise linked to a complicated, unconventional weather. It seems that the season has shifted a bit. That's what the New Zealanders also say, with spring and summer taking a long time to settle in. Two surprising first thirds then. With so few retirements (6 to date, editor's note) - which is very positive - and different sailing styles between sailors who are close to 100% of the boat's speed polars and others who are much less. Today, we have a Bestaven, a Seguin, a Dutreux and a Burton who sail non-stop in their fleeces except when they have problems. And on board other boats you can see that some are more careful. Why is this? We know some reasons but we don't know everything. But clearly, not everyone is 100%.
You get the impression that, on these boats, they haven't tried to be as thorough as possible.
Voiles et Voiliers: During a previous interview Michel Desjoyeaux confided to us that he had the feeling that some foil skippers were less on the attack than expected. Is this also yours?
Alain Gautier: Yes, that's what I want to imply of course. In fact it is the boats that have large foils, the new boats naturally, but also those of Boris (Herrmann) and Isa (Joschke) who have 2020 generation foils. One has the impression that, on these boats, they didn't try to go all the way. Did they think that the Atlantic was going to be favourable to them? It's true that at the moment we can see that the weather between Cape Horn and the St. Helena anticyclone could be favourable for the foilers. Clearly, they didn't sail at the level of the polar regions. What would have happened with a Thomson that remained in the race - but with si... - an Arkéa-Paprec or a Corum that we felt was sailing fast in the Atlantic. Arkéa sailed fast and very high. Hugo Boss is a very fast downwind boat with a skipper who would have sailed "Bestaven version". Yannick sails without any hesitation. And we don't know for sure if Bestaven was not far from the correctional! On the other hand, we do know that he lost the use of his J2 for a while (the equivalent of a staysail, a headsail for strong breezes, a bit of a headsail to do everything on an Imoca, editor's note), which he had to repair. When you don't have this sail, either you put on your J3 (the equivalent of an ORC, headsail for very strong breeze, editor's note) or you put on your FR0 (Fractionnal Code 0, a new type of genoa whose halyard point is above the forestay of the J2, editor's note). If you carry it further than the J2, it goes very, very fast and we saw this with Yannick who went very fast at times in the Indian Ocean. His problem with the J2 may have helped him because he kept the FR0 longer and it pushed him hard. But it can also break!
Voiles et Voiliers: Few abandonments, you say, but among those who have abandoned there are many new boats or new boats - Charal, L'Occitane en Provence, Apivia, LinkedOut - still in the race but who have had big problems. How do you analyse it?
Alain Gautier: It's clearly due to a lack of time and even more so for Corum, Arkéa or L'Occitane. And also a lack of convincing and interesting races to validate a preparation for the Vendée Globe. In 2020, there was no outward or return transatlantic race. And to prepare for the conditions in the South, the return transatlantic race is always excellent with sailing from New York in strong downwind conditions. The Vendée-Arctic- Les Sables-d'Olonne has not compensated.
Voiles et Voiliers: One of the best prepared new boats was Charal and he was the first to have big technical problems .
Alain Gautier: We know that success is an important element in a victory, in sailing in general and even more so in the Vendée Globe. I don't know exactly the chronology of the incidents on Charal. What I note - and this is nothing new - is that it's incredible to see worries touching on points on which one has no state of mind. You see it on MACSF on details that we didn't ask ourselves any questions about. We've done some tough 35-knot workouts where you push the boat to break things. And we broke a lot of things. Then, during the race, something breaks and it's totally improbable. For example, we broke some gennaker pulley lashings on which we've never had any glitches before. And bam, it breaks! And it rips the balcony off and you lose time...
Voiles et Voiliers: Don't you think that these new very complex boats are going a little too far? And the more complex they are, the more preparation they require, which the health situation has not allowed.
Alain Gautier: I find these boats more complex, that's for sure. With their hydrofoil rake system, the new ones are still a little more complex than the 2016 generation, but that's not the problem. On the other hand, the fine-tuning is long. If the pilots today steer in an incredibly efficient way, the electronics have become a gas factory. You have to analyse things one by one. If you take the hook problems of Tripon or Amedeo at the start of the race, it doesn't surprise me because if you save 300 or 500 grams on a masthead hook you can take three times as much off the keel. For MACSF, we made conservative choices at the request of the skipper. It costs us a bit in weight, especially with hooks that are a bit heavier but a bit more reliable. Following the problems with the rudders, what surprises me is that some boats don't have a spare on board - I'm thinking of Hugo Boss even though we don't know everything about his abandonment. Corum: We have reports of the extreme mast rotation just before the breakage.
Voiles et Voiliers: What do you think of Yannick Bestaven, well known in the sailing world but not to the general public?
Alain Gautier: We've known him for a long time. He had very good results in Class40 and then a very fine 5th place in the Transat Jacques Vabre 2017 with Kito de Pavant on board his previous Imoca (the former Initiatives Coeur, launched in 2006 and whose first name was PRB, editor's note). Yannick is not unemployed. His boat has to hold: so he pushes it to 100 %! He pushes, he has talent, he has a very good boat with Maître CoQ IV (the former Safran 2016, editor's note) which has no new foils unlike his sister-ship (Seaexplorer Yacht-Club de Monaco, editor's note). And then the group of boats that he was part of had a great success when they passed the St. Helena high pressure as they descended the Atlantic. They were in an area with Jean Le Cam where you thought they would have a hard time going down. Then, for six or seven hours, they lined up incredible speeds whereas you couldn't see any wind on the files! They were able to get back down the road and pass in front of Louis Burton, whereas at that moment you could see Louis coming out far ahead. A bit of success, it takes a bit of success. Then did he come out better from his race when he rescued Kevin Escoffier from Boris Herrmann? We saw Boris suddenly much more conservative whereas he has a boat with a higher potential. And then, finally, Yannick had some success against Apivia and LinkedOut, blocked in the Indian Ocean by a depression. The gap between them and him was important and he could have been bigger. Yannick took advantage of it as he took advantage of the technical problems of these two boats.
Voiles et Voiliers: The road is still long. But don't you think that Bestaven has made the break?
Alain Gautier : No! I feel sorry for him because it would make me very happy if he wins. But we can't foresee anything at the moment with the weather forecast to come. Some routers even imagine that he could be caught up by the group of ten boats following him! He sails fast and well. If Yannick gets himself up by the equator - the most complicated zone being between now and the North-East tip of Brazil - the question will be to know who will be 100% and who won't be by sailing on starboard tack after the doldrums. With its port foil hold problem, Apivia will not be serene. LinkedOut and its broken port foil will not be serene either. Aboard his 2016 generation boat, Yannick is at least equal, if not better than them.
Voiles et Voiliers: You're probably not very objective, but how do you judge Isabelle Joschke's course, apart from the keel problem that she has known since Monday and is now slowing her down?
Alain Gautier : No, I am not objective! (he laughs). She has paid dearly for a hesitant beginning of the race. She didn't feel the front coming after the start and didn't sail well during the first two days. She should have followed Jean Le Cam's option: tighten the wind. She went west like the majority before coming back crossing behind the others. Then, she made a passage of Theta engaged, regaining a little. Then she came back, came back, helped also by the weather. The boat is fine; she is using it very well. Nothing to say. She has had some surprising problems at times and has not been spared from trouble. We also made mistakes in the preparation. I'm not looking for excuses because we left very early. I bought this boat (former Safran from 2007 which sailed the Vendée Globe 2016 under the colours of Quéguiner Leukemia Hope with Yann Eliès, editor's note) very early just after the Vendée 2016 but we didn't get where we wanted. The dismasting of the Route du Rhum after two days of racing was very penalizing. Then there was the Jacques Vabre with a withdrawal after six hours of racing! Personally, more than Isabelle, I was too ambitious in technical choices: we put a lot of money into the foils. The boat is a plane but isn't it too much? We'll see. Nevertheless, she leads a remarkable race, with her own method. I know that she sails very well and that, above all, she doesn't suffer the presence of others next to her. She is very intelligent, as she often is with women. No doubt thanks to a different sensibility.
Voiles et Voiliers: You also worked with Ellen MacArthur during the Vendée Globe, which she finished 2nd in 2001. How do you compare these two personalities?
Alain Gautier: They are very different but have points of comparison: the very high level of determination for example. This pugnacity: they don't give up even when they are exhausted. Secondly, their approaches are different. If we are lucky to work with a partner like MACSF - who gave us what we wanted - we didn't have the budget for a new boat like Ellen had with Kingfisher at the time. We built this boat in New Zealand, which Ellen then brought back by sailing halfway around the world to prepare for the Vendée Globe: it was exceptional. The personalities are also different. Isabelle is more of a restrained person. She doesn't let go of her emotions, unlike Ellen, who has been criticised by some for perhaps letting go too much. On the other hand, Isa is too much in control of her emotions because there are moments when you have to know how to let go. But she is authentic. The sponsor is very happy about that.
Voiles et voiliers: You were a reserve skipper and with the threat of the Covid, taking the start became a very serious option. How did you experience the fact that you could take the start... 28 years after your second Vendée Globe?
Alain Gautier : It's not an easy decision to make. But being able to take the start from one day to the next is not given to everyone, I think in particular of skippers in their thirties who have children and so on. They thought it could be me because I could have adapted to this uncomfortable situation. And we couldn't afford to pay a second skipper to train for six months. I sailed a lot on the boat, in races and during all the training sessions. I'm not saying that it would have helped me, but I would have left.
Voiles et Voiliers: Do you appreciate these recent boats by the way?
Alain Gautier : You know it: I am a fan of speed! I'm amazed to be at 35 knots on MACSF under pilot with the boat racing without being on the surf. But you have to admit that these boats are not adapted to these speeds and to "semi-flying". Their shapes make them incredibly uncomfortable because they are so hard to hit. As soon as you take off a little, it hits you permanently, unlike a trimaran where, at 35 knots, you have a feeling of lightness. Here, at 28, 30, 35 knots, it knocks, knocks, knocks non-stop. And I'm not talking about the latest boats with their big bows that make infernal buffet stops. These boats are great but hardly made for a Vendée Globe.
Voiles et Voiliers: After this Vendée Globe, what will Alain Gautier's activity be?
Alain Gautier : Always the same: MACSF team manager. The contract runs until the Transat Jacques Vabre 2021 with an option on the Route du Rhum 2022. Will the sponsor want to take it? Will we? Isabelle? Aren't we going to try to sell the boat and move on? I don't know. For the moment my future is the end of this Vendée Globe where I could take a breather. It seems a bit long because my position is complicated between that of team manager and boat owner. I wouldn't do it again in this formula!