For 19 of the IMOCA skippers, the Transat Jacques Vabre is a real rite of passage. Some may already have sailed on Class 40s but there’s no doubt in any of their minds – moving to IMOCA is a massive step. They’ve chosen different ways of facing up to this double-handed challenge: some have linked up with men of experience, while other rookies have joined forces together – with all the enthusiasm of youth.
Safran: more in common that it may seem
“When Nico (Lunven) and I arrived here in Le Havre, we just looked at each other like kids, wild with excitement. There we were in the middle of the IMOCA fleet and all these big names in ocean racing – it was amazing!” Safran’s young skipper, Morgan Lagravière, could have joined up with one of the old IMOCA sea-farers. But for this particular adventure he wanted someone of his own generation where the relationship would be simple. “It’s not because we’re the same age or have the same background that we’re identical. Morgan is much more intuitive, while I’m the rational one. We make a great team,” continues Nicolas Lunven.
This particular tandem won’t get the chance to see the test through to the end as a technical issue has prematurely forced Safran to turn back.
Le Souffle du Nord: the Mini Class as our common vector
Thomas Ruyant and Adrien Hardy have known each other since their Mini racing days. Then their paths split, Thomas moving to Class 40, and Adrien to the Figaro circuit, both of them succeeding admirably, before finding themselves back together again aboard an IMOCA 60. The choice of sailing partner was obvious for Thomas. “Adrien and I know each other well and I know things between us will go smoothly. If either of us has anything to say, it will be said frankly and we know that the other will be able to take it. Adrien sees himself in a supporting role on board, but also as a motivator. “Because of my merchant navy experience I am a real nit-picker and see things with a fresh eye. I bring a critical mind to Thomas’ technical preparation in light of the next Vendée Globe.” One thing’s for sure, these two are going to have fun together out there. “We’re also teaming up for the laughs.”
Newrest Matmut: fast-track training
Things are slightly different for Fabrice Amedeo. He knows he has a lot to learn about IMOCA sailing and that he’s going to have to quickly attain the skills to manoeuvre his IMOCA 60 alone. So he had to find a co-skipper who would help him grow while taking his expectations into account. Eric Peron – who just finished the Volvo Ocean Race alongside Charles Caudrelier – seemed to be the perfect fit. “Eric has a technical expertise that I don’t yet have. And at the same time he approaches IMOCA with a fresh eye. I didn’t want someone with fixed views, I needed someone open to discussion and exchanging experiences so I can get on top of this project completely.” This is a great opportunity for Eric: “I’ve just come out of the equivalent of a dozen transatlantic races with the Volvo Ocean Race, and I still haven’t given up my project of being at the start of the Vendée Globe in November 2016. Sailing with Fabrice is an opportunity to show that my place is on the Sables d’Olonne start line.”
Eric Bellion freely admits it: “I’m first and foremost an adventurer. My Vendée Globe project is based primarily on the fact that there are great stories to be told on a round the world race. On top of that I need to gain a certain amount of ocean-racing experience. And you don’t head off on a Vendée Globe without some sporting ambition or you might as well go on a cruise.” To accompany him, Eric has chosen Sam Goodchild, thanks to Michel Desjoyeaux’s recommendation. “Michel and the Mer Agitée team have been an amazing support to me here. They suggested I team up with Sam who is incredibly talented.” Sam seized the opportunity immediately. For the young British skipper, sailing on IMOCA is a chance not to be missed. “First of all, Eric has a powerful personality, and I have a great deal to learn from him on a human level. And who knows? One day I’d love to do the Vendée Globe and this is a great way to take my first steps on an IMOCA 60.”
O Canada: the path of discovery
Eric Holden and Morgen Watson’s only ambition on this Transat Jacques Vabre is to finish the adventure and discover the IMOCA world. They left Toronto for the Pacific coast, delivering their boat – ex Spirit of Canada – by sea through the Panama Canal. But they are very much aware that the gulf between double-handed leisure sailing and ocean racing is enormous. “Our main objective is to create a buzz around the project, create vocations in Canada, and to promote and communicate ocean sailing as a sport in its own right.” This duo are playing the friendship card. “Eric and I know each other well, “ says Morgen. “We’ve landed in a world we know nothing about, aboard a boat that we know is dated compared to the new-generation prototypes. We don’t have the same approach. There are big professionals out their with the means to support their project. We’re like very poor cousins, so our relationship must be watertight.”