Yacht ready to go for Sébastien Destremau

The star of one of the most moving accounts of the last edition of the Vendée Globe is planning to take on the Barcelona World Race 2018/19 with the same boat. We had a chat with the French skipper not long after the launch of his book ‘Seul au monde’ in which he tells the story of those three months of racing alone across the world’s oceans.

Interviews NOV 2, 2017 09:57

Sébastien Destremau (Toulon, France, 1964) has written one of the most moving accounts ever of a Vendée Globe, where he completed the solo round the world race after being at sea for 124 days. Sébastien tells the story of moments of intense emotion and epic tales of overcoming adversity, which are now etched into the history of the round the world solo challenge. On board Technofirst-FaceOcean (launched in 1998) he spent four days of the regatta anchored off southern Tasmania carrying out repairs to the top part of his rig, using only the tools and materials he had on board, completely alone (the Vendée Globe rules specify that no external assistance of any kind can be received), which put Destremau in last place and meant that he reached Les Sables d’Olonne some 50 days after the winner, France’s Armel Le Cléac’h.

A journalist trained in Australia and a father of five children, Sébastien decided that he needed to do a Vendee Globe whilst he was covering the event in 2012 for a major TV channel. He was well-versed in top-flight sailing with a brilliant track record including four America’s Cups, a victory in the Sydney Hobart and having taken part in the Volvo Ocean Race.  He got his hands on the former Gartmore previously driven by Josh Hall, a Finot design from 1998, and he made it to the starting line with a low-budget project. His philosophy is based on the reliability of the basics and confidence in the power of planning and in good management: “What I don’t have, I’m can’t break” was his motto throughout the preparation of his Vendee project.

His experience of what he describes as “Vendee Globe hell” is painted vividly in his recent book, ‘Seul au monde’, written autobiographically. He details the challenges he faced and describes the introspective process he experienced during his 124 days alone at sea. We had a chat with Sébastien after hearing of his intention to take the starting line of the Barcelona World Race 2018/19.

Q: How is your project going?

A: We’ve got a schedule, based on the same boat I raced with in the Vendée Globe. The boat is practically ready to set off! We don’t have much to do at all and we have all of the equipment we need for the Barcelona World Race, a fantastic competition.


Q: Yours is a 1998 boat. What differences may there have been in the tone and spirit of your book had you been racing the Vendéeon a latest-generation model?

A: Ha, ha.. If I had done the Vendée on a latest-generation yacht, would I have written the same book? Of course not. It’s all connected; the fact that I took on the Vendée with a very old boat and a very modest budget, then the issues we had with preparation due to our lack of experience. On a latest-generation boat  everything would have been totally different, although I can’t say in what way. What I can say, is that with this boat we wrote a great piece of Vendée history.


Q: Transoceanic sailing began for you as a journalist. As someone who works in the sporting media, how do you feel about the new BWR format? 

A: I think the stopover in Australia is really interesting. My feeling is that for the Barcelona to evolve as a double-handed round the world regatta, it needs more stopovers, maybe two or three more, in Rio, for example and at another port. I think that this would put the regatta in a better position, but that’s just my opinion, of course. I also feel that the fact that it is two years before the Vendée Globe and so close to the Route du Rhum, might not be ideal for the competition. However, as I say, I’m no expert at these things. The Barcelona World Race is a serious, magnificent regatta which deserves great success and its position alongside the Vendée Globe in the sailing calendar; one being a solo race and the other double-handed.


Q: Before sailing in the VendéeGlobe, you said many times that you weren’t solo sailor. Now of course, you can definitely consider yourself to be one. Do you have any two-crew sailing experience?  How do you see yourself in a two-crew round the world race?

A: I sailed with another skipper for 45 days from Cape Town to Toulon when we were delivering the boat for the Vendée Globe, so, I’m familiar with both types of sailing, which are completely different. Yes, I’ve done the Vendée Globe, that’s true, but I can’t call myself a “solo sailor” because of that. It might not make sense but that’s the way I feel. If I was a “solo” sailor, I’d always sail by myself and it’s just not like that. I sail with smaller crews.


 Q: What do you think the ideal co-skipper needs for a double-handed round the world race? Have you been in touch with anyone about the Barcelona World Race?

A: Ha!  I would say that it is important to find somebody with the same objective and to define that objective as the key to the project. I think that is the most important thing, even more than a personality of the person. Well, that’s what I think… I haven’t done the Barcelona World Race yet …[laughs].  We are still getting organised. We can’t reveal the co-skipper yet. In the case of the BWR, it more about brotherhood than co-skippers; it’s a question of family… It’s a very tough race.  Sailing around the world with a crew of two may not be as difficult as doing it alone, but it is still an incredibly gruelling challenge.

Q: There is a huge difference between the impact of transoceanic sailing in the sporting press in France compared to that of Spain. Both as a journalist and a sailor, what do you think we can do here in Spain to improve that?

 A: In France, we have been lucky enough to have people who have written the history of transoceanic sailing, such as Éric Tabarly, who it started with really, and then many came after him. That is not something you can copy, it is specific to France. There are certain sports which become the national sport in some countries, for example Aussie Rules football only exists in Australia. In France we have a real culture of sailing the oceans, of getting out onto the water, both as sailors and enjoying that as an audience… and that history goes back almost 60 years. Spain’s interest in transoceanic sailing began with the start of the Volvo Ocean race in Alicante and then with the Barcelona world race, which is now well-rooted in the sailing calendar.

I think that for racing across the oceans to become popular in Spain, what is needed is for sailors like us to come and compete in regattas such as the Barcelona World Race.  Hopefully that will attract interest from Spanish companies, for example. If the FNOB could help those companies to get involved with the regatta, that would be great, raising the profile of the sport and making sailing more popular in Spain.


Q: How do you feel about the evolution of the IMOCA fleet?

A: Ha..! [laughs] it’s a very interesting evolution, but the boats are too expensive. The price for boats is sky-high! They shouldn’t be that expensive… they are inaccesible yachts.  It is interesting that things like rounded bows have been forbidden, as well as the number of sails that can be carried on board, to reduce costs… but the cost was too high then and continues to be so. A brand-new boat costs nearly €5 million and a second-hand boat between €3 million and €3.5 million. That’s too much! Boats should be cheaper and these prices need to come down.


Q: What about a project where boats are made using the same mould? Do you think that might help to lower costs?

A: Of course, the cost would go down. But they’re not inventing anything new here: identical boats such as the one-designs lower the costs by pooling resources. Sometimes it feels to me that these things are announced as revolutionary ideas when they have already been invented. To say “let’s make boats cheaper by using the same mould”…wow! It sounds great but that’s been happening for years… for many years! Anybody can build a boat from the Banque Populaire model or any other and it’s been done thousands of times, but that doesn’t stop a new boat from costing between €4 million and €5 million, although it may help to lower the cost in other areas for teams, of course.