Bernard Stamm: “Double-handed sailing is an enriching experience”

Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm is no stranger to the highs and lows of solo and short handed ocean racing. In 2012 he was devastated not to be given a finish to the Vendée Globe solo round the world race after he was inadvertently given outside assistance while making repairs in the south of New Zealand. After finishing fourth in the 2013 Transat Jacques Vabre his IMOCA 60 was lost at Christmas last year when he was on delivery back from Brazil, reporting later that ‘I swam for my life’ during an incredible rescue. He and Jeff Cuzon were rescued to the Azores from Cheminées Poujoulat during the 2011 Transat Jacques Vabre. 

Interviews NOV 5, 2014 16:28

But Stamm is universally acknowledged to be one of the fastest, hard driving and most talented skippers on the oceans. He has two solo round the world race wins to his credit, the 2003 Around Alone and the 2007 Velux Five Oceans.

For the upcoming Barcelona World Race Stamm is partnered by the redoubtable, vastly experienced Jean Le Cam, to form a duo which many observers feel is well capable of winning the race.

Stamm confirms that he wants to beat the hoodoo which seems to surround the Vendée Globe for him, but the appeal of the Barcelona World Race, competing two handed, has an unbeatable allure for him at this time:

What is the goal of your training at the moment?

We don’t really talk about training. It’s more a matter of sailing and getting things set up for the moment. It will progress when we see how things work out and we can see how hard we can push. We’re currently setting up all the systems as we need to ensure that when we do start pushing hard, we sail well rather than break the boat.

So, the second phase will be in November?

The closer we get to the start, the more we’ll treat her like a racing boat. For the moment, it’s just setting everything up, making adjustments, working on the details. Out on deck there are still some old bits of rope. So we start by getting things organised like that, and then we need to get new lines set up and that’s when we can start pushing the boat harder.

What are your strengths in comparison to your rivals?

I think that both Jean and I are technicians. That means we can set up this sort of project in a bit of a rush. It wouldn’t be possible otherwise. There are too many hurdles to overcome and too many things to correct... I think that it’s more or less certain that we won’t be able to sort everything out before the start. There are things we might not have seen that we’ll have to deal with while racing. So that’s the technical aspect. We’re also out there for the same reason as the other competitors. We’re both very experienced at this type of sailing. The handicap for us is the lack of time.

You’ve both had your share of disappointments. Do you have any doubts about your professional career? Or does it make you more determined than ever?

Everyone has their disappointing moments. For us it’s more a question of having had accidents.  Although that makes it disappointing of course. I never thought I’d have a career ahead of me anyway. It wasn’t planned and was down to things happening around me. So I never worried about a career that hadn’t been planned out in any case. If you work on this type of project, you are bound to be fully motivated. Otherwise, you wouldn’t do it. 

What are your goals in this race?

It’s always the same. If you’re in such a race, you have to be there aiming to win! Otherwise, it’s just a little outing for fun. That certainly isn’t Jean’s goal and I’m practically certain it’s not mine either. If I was going to go cruising for fun, I wouldn’t do it on a complicated boat like this. We’re out there to race. Not to win, but to attempt to win. 

Will Jean’s presence modify your way of sailing?

It’s bound to. When you’re with someone else, you are bound to do things differently. Obviously. To do things calmly, both people have to be calm. So both have to adapt to that. That means too that we both progress. Yes, I’ll be sailing differently with Jean aboard than if I was alone.

What differences are there between you?

Jean is dark-haired and has curls, while I’m fair-haired with wavy hair... There are a lot of differences. I think Jean calculates things much more. I work more on instinct. But we’ll see what happens. I think we have more in common than differences.

Why the Barcelona World Race?

Because double-handed sailing is an enriching experience. These boats are designed to sail around the world. Transatlantic races aren’t really enough for these boats. The Route du Rhum is a sprint and is more suited to multihulls. That’s where multihulls come into their own. It’s still an interesting race for the monohulls, but these boats are designed for the Southern ocean and I love that part of the world. That’s why it was in our programme. Three months of racing – it’s a complicated project, but such a fantastic experience.

How did you recover after the ‘accident’? 

There are several things. Firstly, you have to convince yourself that it wasn’t your fault. If you have the slightest doubt that you were partly to blame, it is no longer possible. After that, you get an expert view, you analyse everything in detail. The why, how and what happened. You also need support. I’m not doing this by myself. There is the support of the sponsor, my team, the Foundation, the owner of the boat who understood why the boat broke. After that, you reach the point when you tell yourself that you have the energy to set something else up, although it might be very different from what was initially planned.

Is the Vendée Globe still the Holy Grail?

Yes, because it’s the most complicated to achieve. There is no room for major mistakes. There are bound to be some like everywhere else, but the man and the machine have to make it all the way around without stopping, without any help. So that makes the preparation and the race itself that much more complicated. It might be easier, if you weren’t attempting to win. If you want to win, it’s so much more difficult. You have to push back the technology and yet ensure the boat remains reliable. Every time I have done it, it’s been a real race around the planet. We see that with each edition of the race there is more and more close contact sailing.