Interview: Sebastien Rogues – Team ENGIE
If he was a start-up business entrepreneur rather than a professional yacht racer, we would describe Sebastien Rogues’ abrupt switch two years ago from a successful solo ocean racing to skippering a five-man crew on an inshore foiling catamaran, as a strategic ‘pivot’.
From age six when he first took to the water near his family home in southwestern France Rogues seemed set on the familiar course towards a Vendee Globe campaign that so many of his fellow countrymen had already successfully navigated.
Rogues first offshore boat was a Pogo 2 Mini 6.50 in which he finished the 2009 Mini Transat Race in eighth place – a good result considering he missed the start due to damage.
He backed up this early promise with an impressive couple of seasons during which he won the 2010 Mini Barcelona, the Chrono 6.50 and the Pornichet Select races and the opening leg of the 2011 Mini Transat.
2012 saw Rogues trade up in waterline length to a production Class 40 in which he finished an impressive third in the Quebec to Saint Malo race. Hungry for more performance the young Frenchman commissioned his own Class 40 – a Sam Manuard designed Mach 40.
A string of victories immediately followed including class wins in the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race and Transat Jacques Vabre. Rogues’ winning spree continued in 2014 until damage to his wind instruments and his mainsail sustained in severely stormy conditions in the Atlantic during the early days of the Route du Rhum forced him into a reluctant retirement.
His disappointment was short lived however as his head had already been turned by the new breed of high performance foiling catamarans on the GC32 European circuit. The moment Rogues stepped aboard a GC32 for the first time he knew his career was about to make a paradigm shift.
Aided by his impressive offshore track record of success Rogues found sponsorship from French global energy company ENGIE to assemble a five-person crew to compete in the 2015 GC32 Racing Tour.
Although no stranger to multihulls – he had competed in F18s and Diam 24s previously – the move from solo offshore skipper to running a GC32 team was undeniably a gargantuan leap. Nevertheless, the new ENGIE crew gelled quickly and were soon holding their own among the more experienced teams on the circuit.
After a first season spent mastering their new boat and learning the peculiarities of racing in a fleet of super high speed foiling cats – not for the faint hearted – Rogues’ men took on the 2016 season with more confidence. Their goal at the start of the season was to finish in the top half of the 12 boat fleet.
Already tough, the level of completion in the fleet had notched up even more this year with sailors from three America’s Cup squads joining the tour to increase their foiling hours ahead of the 35th Cup in Bermuda next year. With one event to go in the tour Team Engie are on target in sixth place overall.
Rogues admits the learning curve remains steep for both him as a skipper and for the crew as a whole, but says they are growing in confidence with each event. At the most recent event in Sotogrande, Spain they finished third - their first ever podium result.
“We are really happy with our performance in Sotogrande. This first podium win for ENGIE really means a lot to us”, Rogues said afterwards. “We held it together mentally and the work we have done with our coach Bertrand Dumortier has improved us a lot; particularly our starts. The start is 70 per cent of the success in this class.
“We are keeping an eye on the standings and aim to finish in the top half of the fleet overall.”
Aside from his desire to compete with the best of the new breed of foiling racers, Rogues has a not so secret ulterior motive for mastering the art of fast foiling. Combining his offshore and foiling experience he hopes to design and build an offshore foiling multihull capable of mounting a Jules Verne Trophy challenge for the fastest nonstop lap of the world.
If switch from offshore monohull to inshore foiler was a pivot, then the concept of foiling around the world is a blindfold turnaround jump shot from the half court line.
As daunting as it may be round the world foiling is a concept that seems certain to come to fruition given the significant investments being made by big-budget French teams like Banque Populaire, MACIF, Gitana and Sodebo all of whom have 100-foot foilers in development.
Also this year, Italy’s Giovanni Soldini purchased Gitana’s test boat, a heavily modified MOD70 that now foils smoothly in the open ocean with the help of an innovative central dagger foil.
“Sailing is going through a huge transformation,” Rogues says. “The idea of boats flying over the oceans is very appealing to sponsors of yacht racing. The images, the technology and the race to master the art of ocean foiling makes a compelling package.
“I imagine a ten-person boat to take on a round the world attempt. The design is very clear in my head and on my computer although I think to get this sort of project right it will be necessary to collaborate with several designers.”
Remarkably, Rogues wants his future campaign to be as open as possible to accelerate as much as possible the development of ocean foiling.
“The reason there are foiling catamarans like the GC32 right now is because of the development that has been made to win the America’s Cup. The spirit of our project is where possible not to have secrets, but to share as much as we can.”
Rogues says he has a design in the computer ready to be built if he can find the backing to fund it. He is bullish about his ability to do that and hopes to be able to make an announcement about the project at the end of this year.
[Main image: Bruno Bouvry/ENGIE]