François Gabart dreams of crossing the Southern Ocean

Francois Gabart (foreground)
Taking part in the Barcelona World Race alongside Michel Desjoyeaux, but unfortunately forced to retire following damage to the top of the mast, François Gabart is still focusing on sailing around the world.

At the age of 27, the young skipper-engineer from Charente in Western France is at the helm of a project flying the colours of MACIF, which will see him lining up at the start of the 2012 Vendée Globe. With a boat currently under construction based on the moulds of the Verdier-VPLP designed FONCIA, the youngest candidate in the solo round the world race is taking giant leaps forward learning about ocean racing. After a month of highly competitive sailing, he looks back at what has been going on…

What impressions are you left with after this double handed round the world race came to such an abrupt end?
François Gabart : 'Both Michel and I were extremely disappointed. This was a very sad moment and it was all very frustrating to find ourselves forced to retire after such an incredible battle at the front of the fleet. It was a magnificent race. We were giving it our all and then suddenly in a split second it was all over. Retiring after a month of racing out of the three we had planned really hurts. Without wishing to take the responsibility away from us, we really didn’t make any mistakes when sailing. We were going fast and pushing the boat hard, but that’s what you’d expect and what the race imposes. So you end up feeling that this sort of incident is beyond your control. But it is all part of the job of being a skipper to learn and move on…'

What positive lesson have you learnt from this month of racing?
F.G : 'During this month of racing, I discovered a lot of things. I passed through the Doldrums and sailed in the South Atlantic, where I’d never been before. In general, apart from the fatal damage, everything went as I imagined it would alongside Michel, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the standard of the competition as we did battle with Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron. They really made it tough for us, but showed us a lot of respect and sportsmanship. I’ll remember this race for a long time to come, as I’m pleased to have taken part and it has given me so much.'

From a human perspective, it was a great adventure…
F.G : This month of racing and then the damage really brought Michel and me together. We went through a lot, got to know each other better and understood each other. That is very promising for what lies ahead, as Michel’s team is in charge of the technical aspects of the construction of my boat for the next Vendée Globe.'

So how are things going with that boat?
F.G. : 'She is just coming out of the pots of resin! Work is just beginning on draping the hull on the Isle of Wight. The deck is being made in Cherbourg. Other parts such as the rudder housing is being developed at Mer Agitée in Port-La-Forêt in Brittany. Just down the road, the bulkheads are being made at CDK, where the boat will be assembled with her launch planned for next August. Since the race started, I’ve been in contact at least once a week with the Mer Agitée team and in particular with Paul-Edouard Henry, the project manager. During the trip under reduced sail to Cape Town, I jotted down a lot of notes about changes I would like to see and my notebook is full. There are always ways to improve a boat and work on her. In comparison to FONCIA, there won’t be any major modifications. But we will of course be trying to understand what exactly happened to fit her with a more reliable mast, even if we are still planning to use a wing mast with outriggers.'

This incident hasn’t affected your dream of sailing around the world?
F.G. : 'No. Quite the reverse! We were just about to pass the Cape of Good Hope. I’d just had my first experience of the Forties. We’d been seeing albatrosses for several days and I thought I’d see many more of them. But the boat decided she didn’t want to go any further. It’s just one of those things. I’ve been trying to get things into perspective. You don’t get to sail around the planet just by clicking your fingers. I knew that before and I saw it for myself. Maybe it was just too simple to do it all in one go alongside Michel. I’m still dreaming of crossing the southern ocean, but I know I’m still young and I’ve still got a lot of miles to sail. I know too that I’m lucky to be able to look forward to such a great project for the next Vendée Globe…'

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