One thing that can be said with certainty about François Guiffant is that he knows the IMOCA game and its boats as well as anyone.

That’s because this charming Frenchman from south Brittany finally got hold of an IMOCA himself two years ago after working as a preparateur in the Class over a period of 20 years. 

In that time he worked on no less than five Vendée Globe campaigns for skippers Bernard Stamm, Vincent Riou, Jérémie Beyou and Alexia Barrier.

Guiffant is now the proud skipper of Partage, one of the oldest IMOCAs sailing, but a boat that – true to his principles – is in excellent condition, as he prepares to take part in the Transat CIC from Lorient to New York.

Partage is a Marc Lombard daggerboard design that dates back to 2004 when it was launched under the Sill colours for Roland Jourdain. Since then it has been renamed a bewildering number of times and has been raced by sailors like Sam Davies, Boris Herrmann and Yoann Richomme.

“It’s in really good condition,”Guiffant told the Class, sitting in the cockpit of his boat at the Transat CIC race village at La Base marina in Lorient. “It was always well looked after and for me, because I have done a lot of work on boats, in my mind I can’t leave one in a bad state – it has to be good and I have finished all my races.”

Indeed Guiffant, aged 50, who hails from the small village of Le Guilvinec in the Pays Bigouden, made his debut in the Class in the 2022 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, finishing 29th. Then he took on last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre, alongside 2013 Mini Transat winner Aymeric Belloir, finishing 31,st before completing that season with a successful solo Retour à La Base, again in 31st position.

Now the sailor who has been a professional technician and navigator all his adult life – who has skippered everything from Minis to big classic yachts, and who credits Éric Tabarly and Francis Joyon as among his heroes – is ready for the north Atlantic alone.

“For me it is the hardest Transat, the most difficult one,”he said. “It’s the time of year, the course and the depressions. But it’s also the most beautiful of the Transats and the first one. It’s a shame it is not starting from England now – I  have set sail a few times from Plymouth. This race is also very early in the season – the boat has been back in the water for three-and-a-half weeks, so there hasn’t been much time to complete a good preparation.”

So Guiffant is ready, but that is not the full story for him this season because, like almost all his IMOCA rivals, his heart is set on this year’s Vendée Globe. But whether or not he can take part for the first time in the solo round-the-world classic remains to be seen because Partage does not qualify for the race because it is too old.

However, IMOCA has made an exception for Guiffant and his boat, so long as his participation will not mean that a qualifying skipper and boat that is newer than Partage is excluded. A final decision on his participation will not be made until June when the Class has completed the return transatlantic race from America – the New York Vendée-Les Sables d’Olonne race.

Guiffant is remarkably cheerful about his predicament, even if he is like an astronaut who still doesn’t not know if he has a ticket to the Moon. “Yeah, I am quite happy to be here actually and quite happy to have done the Route du Rhum and the Transat Jacques Vabre and now to be doing the old English Transat, the CIC. For me, it’s already a dream to be here with a boat. It will be a big disappointment if I don’t make the Vendée Globe, but there are some rules and I accept the rules. I have an exception, so the decision is not finished and a lot of things can happen, so we don’t know yet…”

Guiffant, who’s project has done great work with children, giving them the opportunity to spend precious time on the water, is delighted that his partners are standing by him ready to respond if he gets the go-ahead to join the fleet in Les Sables D’Olonne in November. If that does happen there could be more expenditure on top of his €600,000 budget that will include some new sails. 

Known to one all as “Fanch” – short for François – Guiffant says his appetite for the ocean and for sailing is still strong. “Everything changes with time,”he said, “But I still have the passion for racing and for being on the sea and I won’t have an opportunity like this again, so I am taking it and I am keeping it in my hands. I feel good on the sea and I love it.”

And his life on board? “It can be difficult, like everything in life, you are sometimes down, sometimes up,” he explained. “I don’t really get depressed but sometimes too happy,” he adds laughing. “What you have to do is concentrate on your race. I like to contemplate the sea – that’s what I love in sailing – but when you are in competition, you stay in that frame of mind the whole time.”

He said that while he would love to go faster – perhaps on one of the top foiling boats in the Class – he knows his ride on Partage can be a lot more comfortable at times than the newer, faster boats. Guiffant is not obsessed with foiling. In fact, when asked about his most exciting sailing experiences, he talks not about IMOCA racing, but skippering the 35-metre classic, Moonbeam IV. 

“Two years ago, we raced in Scotland and England and yeah, it was unbelievable. I love every kind of boat – that’s why sailing is so rich, you have a lot of choice,”he said.


Ed Gorman