This Transat Jacques Vabre-Normandie Le Havre is proving a great opportunity for some new young sailors to make their debut in the IMOCA Class, but it has also attracted a couple of veterans who have seen and done it all before.

Take a bow the British former Ecover and Gamesa skipper Mike Golding – aged 63 – and the French legend Roland “Bilou” Jourdain – aged 60. Golding is sailing with the young Chinese skipper Jingkun Xu on Singchain Team Haikou, while Jourdain has teamed up with the French adventurer and sailor Guirec Soudée on

Between them Golding and Jourdain have raced in seven Vendée Globes, five Route Rhums and at least 15 Transat Jacques Vabres, a race that Jourdain has won twice. Back in 2010 he also won the Route du Rhum on Soudee’s current IMOCA, then in the colours of Véolia Environnement.

Golding has stepped in to help Xu – who he refers to as Jackie – who wanted a reliable co-skipper on his 2007-vinatge Finot-Conq and someone who could also share the benefit of his long offshore experience. And the Briton, whose last race in the Class was the 2012-13 Vendée Globe when he finished sixth, is loving being back.


“Yes, I am enjoying being here,” he said on a day in the race village at Le Havre when he and Xu posed in traditional Chinese costume on the pontoon. “I am enjoying the fact that it is quite easy for me – I didn’t think that I knew as much as I know. Consequently, you get on the boat and you realise you have a lot to give. So I can make Jackie’s life much easier, but he’s got to trust me…”


Jourdain has known Soudée since the latter was a young explorer and adventurer – a remarkable personality who, Jourdain jokes “leaves by the door and comes back through the window.” Now Jourdain is back in his old boat in a sort of teacher-student relationship, but he says it is much more than that.

“You always learn a lot from the young people,”he told the Class. “So, for me, this is a good deal. It is transmission of ideas one way, but it is also the other. Guirec has the energy I once had for mounting projects like this – it’s easy for him to communicate and use social networks, something I don’t know.”

The Frenchman based in Concarneau, from where he runs his Explore foundation, has not lost his pure enjoyment of being out at sea. “I don’t know how to say no when somebody asks me,” he said laughing. “I still love it – it doesn’t change – it’s a hard drug eh?”he added, chuckling again. “What we really have together is the pleasure to be on the water and we love to see a sunset or a sunrise or a big fish or something happening – we are really close in that way and this is not the case with all young competitors.”

Golding has been impressed with Xu’s ability on board, a man who has learnt to do everything in life having lost the lower part of his right arm in a firework accident when he was a child. But even with one arm, the Chinese sailor, who had around 170 million followers on YouTube during last year’s Route du Rhum, can out-grind his British co-skipper.


During their qualification sail – the only time they have sailed together so far – they tackled a varied course, using the entire sail wardrobe. “We had one particular incident that sticks in my mind,” recalled Golding. “We had a furling drum break in half in the middle of a nasty night, with the sail up in the air waving the drum around, so it was quite dangerous. And Jackie and I sorted it out and we were up and sailing again an hour later.”

Golding says Xu has settled into a conservative sailing style, as he plots his course towards qualification for the Vendée Globe. But the Englishman is trying to push him a little more on the performance side. “I think this is where I can help him because at the moment it is a bit too conservative and we kind of need to get down the track a bit more – so we have to find a balance,”he said.

Back on, Jourdain, like Golding is hoping he can help Soudée get to the Vendée Globe. As far as the Transat Jacques Vabre is concerned, he admits he also has only sailed the 1,200-mile qualification with his young skipper and Jourdain has little idea who they could be racing against once they get out on the Atlantic.

“In fact, I will discover them during the race,”he said. “There are two big groups in IMOCA – the foilers and the daggerboard boats. If we can be in the good part of the daggerboard boats, it will be pleasure.”

Golding used to have a healthy media following during his heyday in Britain, but the reach and scale of Xu’s social media impact in China has been a revelation. “Imagine, just down the dock here, how many IMOCA skippers would long for just 10% of the following Jackie already has?”he said. “But that’s the game here – he is playing on a different field; he is doing something very unusual and, because of his life story, he is an inspirational figure back in China.”

Ed Gorman