During a press conference this Wednesday at the Paris headquarters of the Macif Group, François Gabart and his sponsor talked about his next competitive target: to try to beat the single-handed round the world record on a multihull (currently held by Thomas Coville since December 2016, of 49 days, 3 hours, 7 minutes and 38 seconds). This is a significant challenge, only ever achieved by three sailors to date (Francis Joyon, Ellen MacArthur, Thomas Coville), and the skipper of the MACIF trimaran is preparing accordingly. He will be on standby as of 22 October.
“My challenge, at the age of 34, is to sail round the world single-handed on a multihull”
The idea of attempting this single-handed round the world on a multihull emerged during the Vendée Globe, which François Gabart won (2012-2013), and has since gradually became concrete with the design and then the build of the MACIF trimaran, followed by its launch in August 2015.
Then came a period of two years during which the skipper and his team familiarised themselves with the boat. This was interspersed with important wins in the Transat Jacques-Vabre 2015, the Transat Bakerly 2016 and The Bridge last July. “François has always thrown all his energy and skills into his performance, reflecting our goal at Macif,” stressed the group’s Managing Director Jean-Marc Raby. “We and our 10,000 employees we would like to assure him of our full support in this considerable challenge and we hope that he is successful.”
It is now time to tackle this first round the world record attempt, which according to Jean-Marc Raby, comes at perfect time in his career.
“When I was 7, competing in my first Optimist regatta, I had to sail round a marker at 400 metres. This was a challenge that matched my abilities at the time. Today my challenge at the age of 34 is to sail round the world single-handed on a multihull. I think of this as having the same value and representing the same challenge.”
Of course, by lowering the record by over 8 days (from 57 to 49) last winter, Thomas Coville has made this challenge all the harder.
“On the one hand, it boils down to the same thing, the idea is to take this competitive approach as far as possible and to forget the clock a little. On the other, it changes things, since the record is harder to beat, but this only stimulates me all the more,” says François Gabart. “To succeed, I shall have to attempt something I have never succeeded in doing up until now. I shall have to push myself to the limit in terms of performance and probably discomfort, without ever compromising on my safety. This is the whole challenge of this round the world and it’s exciting.”
Do you feel any apprehension?
“You need it to be aware of danger and not underestimate the difficulty of such a task, but the desire is stronger than the apprehension. I’m dying to weigh anchor. I dream of long tacks alone on this boat, pulling out all the stops. Together with my team we have done everything possible to be able to pull off this challenge. It time to go!”
After a period of training single-handed in March and April, the gap of two months sailing with crew between May and July, which ended with the wonderful win of The Bridge, was a valuable learning experience for François Gabart.
“The record will require that I sail as fast single-handed as with a crew. Thanks to the experience of The Bridge, I now know how to go about this.”
Since the end of August, the skipper has continued to train physically and to sail on his M24, the MACIF team’s small test trimaran, has started the final stages of his preparation with a view to the round the world, mixing training at sea and technical preparation.
“The goal is to sail as much as possible single-handed in heavy air, so that I can get used to high speeds. The preparation on shore will be devoted to knowing the boat inside out from a technical point of view: I must run through all the items that could possibly break to be able to repair them alone at sea. I need to be as self-sufficient as possible on the boat.”
A safe, reliable, high-performance boat
Back from New York mid-July, the MACIF trimaran stayed in its home port of Port-la-Forêt, where it endured a comprehensive overhaul: dismantling, checking and reassembling of lots of parts, but also a few reinforcements here and there, in anticipation of any wear. Two years after it was first launched, François Gabart has a safe, reliable, high-performance boat with which to take on this round the world challenge.
“I now make good use of the boat’s potential: I understand and her well and have good sensations on board. I feel that I am ready to set off on a round the world.”
What are the MACIF trimaran’s strengths?
“Her ability to sail fast for a long time in lots of different weather conditions. She’s safe, sound and versatile. Even when I push her to the limits, I feel quietly confident,” continues the skipper, for whom safety is the basis of performance.
The calendar: on standby as of 22 October
The official standby period for the single-handed round the world record attempt will start on 22 October. This decision has been carefully thought through by François Gabart and the weather team, managed by Jean-Yves Bernot, with whom the skipper has been working closely for some years.
“The aim is to find the best compromise between having the best possible chance of beating this record, the need to leave sufficiently late to avoid severe and dangerous low-pressure systems in the South during the spring, but also not to leave the start till too late.”
And what next? “We are lucky to have ambitious goals, with the Route du Rhum in 2018 and the single-handed round the world in 2019, which will require substantial modifications to the boat next winter.”
The standby period will last roughly three months, during which François Gabart hopes to find the right weather window to cast off. Who will give the go ahead? “This will be a joint decision between Jean-Yves and myself. He will make a proposal and I will approve it.”