Sébastien Josse on life aboard his Vendee Globe foiler
Earlier this year Vendée Globe front-runner Sébastien Josse gave Sail Racing Magazine editor Justin Chisholm an exclusive look around his state of the art Gitana Sailing Team IMOCA 60 and shared some insight into what his life on board would be like in the 2016-17 Vendee Globe.
[Main Image: Thierry Martinez/Gitana]
SRM: Sitting here in the cockpit the most striking thing is the multitude of ropes strewn everywhere. It is easy to imagine it all turning into a rat’s nest. It must be very important to keep things tidy when you are racing?
Sébastien Josse: Yes. One of the golden rules in single handed racing is you have to tidy the boat all the time to be ready for the next manoeuvre. If you try to make a second manoeuvre without tidying the boat up, then for sure you will make a screw up.
But yes there are a lot of ropes in the cockpit. Because this is a singlehanded boat we try to have all the control lines in the same area. Everything is concentrated in the cockpit so if you look out on the deck there is nothing. That's better because you don't have to run everywhere on the boat, but you are right that I have to be really focused to keep sorting the lines all the time because it can turn into a mess really quickly.
SRM: The other thing that is very noticeable is how enclosed the cockpit is. The cockpit roof extends a long way back – almost to the transom. Presumably this is all about protecting you in fast sailing conditions?
Sébastien Josse: Actually there are two reasons it is like that. Firstly, it’s for the drag, to try to make the deck as flat as possible; and then yes it's to keep the skipper dry and protected. This boat can go at 24, 28, 30 knots – in fact we have gone at 34 knots with this boat already. So when you hit the waves if you don't have good protection you could destroy yourself.
We have seen some injuries to skippers in these boats previously – I’m talking about Yann Elies and Paul Meilhat – when they went to do some work on deck and the boat nosedived at 20-something knots. Yann had a broken leg and Paul had a bad hip injury.
In my opinion for a long term race like the Vendée Globe the best place for the skippers is in the protected area at the back of the boat. It wouldn’t be any good for a coastal race because you can't see so much, but when you are offshore – in other words two hours after the start - you are better off inside the cockpit.
SRM: You have been a strong advocate of the new foil daggerboards from the very beginning. The new foils are undeniably fast but they have not been without their problems. How much more development do you foresee?
Sébastien Josse: Foiling is the only way. There is no other way. We need to make the boats strong but I think there is no way the class will go back to normal daggerboards at any point.
There is plenty of development still to come. In many ways I think we are all just at the beginning with the foils.
You have less surface area when you are sailing upwind and as a result you have more sideways slide. After this Vendée Globe there will be people trying different angles with bigger shafts and bigger tips. For sure, eventually we will get to the same point as the normal daggerboard but you will also have the performance boost when you are reaching.
In the future the hull designs could look different too. This time we were all a little bit shy to go 100 per cent on foils and we always had the old IMOCA design in the back of our minds so if there was a problem we could go back to conventional foils. It's conservative thinking but you had to do that because the boat costs so much and if you go with the wrong design then you might as well put the boat in the garbage.
When the designer drew the boat he was thinking like that - with the non-foiling PRB [Vincent Riou] and SMA [Paul Meilhat] boats in mind as a backup in case the new foils were not a good enough compromise. But next time of course the ‘backup design’ will be this boat we are on now so you can expect the hull designs to advance.
SRM: Are the faster foiling designs more stressful to sail for the skippers?
Sébastien Josse: For me, not so much. I have been doing a great deal of sailing on a foiling multihull and when you come from multihull to monohull and you go 30 knots the risk from a capsize is not so serious so it's not such a big deal.
SRM: Are the new designs more uncomfortable then?
Sébastien Josse: Oh the new foiling boats are more uncomfortable for sure. On this boat it’s noisy and it's jumpy because the boat is skimming all the time, so compared to the old ones which were just planing it's completely different. It is also physically very hard because you have a lot of sails to manage to get the best performance.
SRM: How much difference do you expect to see between the top foiling and non-foiling boats in this Vendée Globe?
Sébastien Josse: I think the differences we will see will come mainly from the different approaches of the skippers. I say that because it is up to the skipper whether he pushes or not based on whether he feels comfortable with his boat.
Someone who wants to push can go two knots faster than the other ones; someone who wants to be conservative can go one knot slower. It all depends where we each as skippers want to put the cursor.