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Interview: Vendée Globe Rookie Fabrice Amadeo

Interview: Vendée Globe Rookie Fabrice Amadeo

The phrase ‘all-in’ is commonly used to describe people who commit themselves utterly and completely to their project. For these type of people there are no half measures and only 100 per cent dedication will do.

Rookie Vendée Globe competitor Fabrice Amedeo certainly falls into that category. Amedeo is just about as all-in as it comes, having last year walked away from a 12-year career in journalism in exchange for the challenge and adventure of what he refers to as his ‘Everest of Sailing’. 

Rookie is a legitimate description of the 37-year old Parisian in regard to his solo round-the-world racing experience. The first time he set foot on an IMOCA 60 yacht was last year and the boat he stepped on to was the one he had just purchased - sight unseen - for himself. 

That is not to say Amedeo is a stranger to shorthanded ocean sailing, however. Quite the contrary in fact; he is a veteran of the Figaro and Class 40 circuits and – as a result of wangling a gig as the yachting correspondent for Le Figaro newspaper – has written three books about the sport of ocean racing and its heroic protagonists.

Amedeo was three when he had his first sail and had just turned 12 when he began racing with his father at Spi Ouest and other IRC regattas in northern France. He and his dad sailed their first Fastnet Race together when Amedeo was just 17. 

“That race was my first experience on the wide open sea and I immediately loved it,” he recalled fondly. “My father and I sailed another seven Fastnet Races together after that.”

In 2008 - the year he turned 30 - Amedeo tried his hand at ocean racing for the first time when went on a six-month sabbatical to take part in two major Figaro Class regattas. 

He raced the doublehanded Transat AG2R from Concarneau to St Barths with co-skipper Jean Pierre Nicol and the singlehanded La Solitaire du Figaro – both in 33-foot one-design Figaro Bénéteau yachts.

It’s fair to say he finished much nearer the back of the fleet than the front in both these races, but Amedeo emerged undaunted from the experience and hungry for more solo ocean racing miles.

“In the Figaro, I finished in last place in the first two legs; but on the final leg we had more than 40 knots of wind and 10 competitors didn’t finish and another 10 were behind me. I came to the conclusion that, although I was not a good inshore sailor, I could perhaps become a good offshore sailor.” 

His first transatlantic solo race came in 2010 when he raced a Class 40 in the Route du Rhum. In 2012, along with pro-sailor Armel Tripon, he got his first ever transatlantic podium result with a third place in the doublehanded Class 40 fleet in the Solidaire du Chocolat race. In the same year he finished fourth in his Class 40 in the solo Quebec to St Malo Race. 

All this time Amedeo was still working full time as a journalist at the Le Figaro newspaper in Paris. 

“That was my first job; I began working there when I was 25,” Amedeo explains. “I started off writing about national economics in France and after six years of that I did some business investigative reporting before switching to reporting on the French yachting scene.

“For me, it was a way of meeting the world’s great sailors - heroes of mine like Seb Josse and others - and to learn more about the life of the professional sailor. Each time I reported on a transatlantic race my desire to be a competitor and to get out on the open ocean with my own campaign became a little bit stronger.

After finishing the 2014 Route du Rhum in ninth place in the 40-boat Class 40 fleet, Amedeo realised he had reached a major crossroads in his life. It didn’t take long for him to work out which road to take.

“I felt it was impossible to continue with my double life as a journalist and offshore racer, but if I was going to leave my career in journalism behind, it knew it had to be for a truly great challenge. I knew I had to make a choice, so I made the decision to become a full-time sailor and commit to competing in the 2016-17 Vendée Globe."

Amedeo left Le Figaro last June and is now the proud owner of an IMOCA 60. The boat was originally built for Loick Peyron to compete in the 2008-09 Vendée Globe and more recently was raced into fifth place in the last edition by Jean Le Cam.

“It’s true, the first time I set foot on an IMOCA it was on my own boat,” Amedeo says, smiling to himself. “I bought it during the last Barcelona World Race but I had never seen it other than on the Internet and on TV during the last Vendée Globe. 

“The moment I stepped aboard was a special moment, because I knew my dream was starting to become a reality.”

Amedeo attributes some of his motivation for making such a remarkable life change to the encouragement he received from legendary French skipper, Seb Josse. 

The pair met when they collaborated on a book about Josse’s 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race campaign as skipper of ABN AMRO TWO.

“Writing the book together was an amazing experience because Seb is an incredible guy,” Amedeo explained. “We got to know each other pretty well and when the project was finished he told me he believed that I had something special in me. He said, although it was cool to tell other people’s stories, why didn’t I go off and live my own adventure?”  

Amedeo says Josse’s comment had a huge affect on him and was what ultimately spurred him into action. 

“He convinced me I could do it if I wanted to enough. He pointed out that I was young enough, had good contacts through being a journalist and I had some solid racing experience; so why didn’t I give it a try?”

The pair have remained good friends. Josse smashed the champagne bottle to christen Amedeo’s Figaro boat and they have sailed together on a number of occasions on Amedeo’s Class 40 and on his new IMOCA 60.    

“He checks every now and then to see how I am progressing and to give me some advice,” Amedeo says. “His friendship is very important to me.” 

All things considered, Amedeo says he has no regrets about giving up his job and running away to sea. 

“Journalism has changed a lot over the last 10 years and I have been looking for a new adventure for some time. If I hadn’t been able to raise the money for the Vendée Globe, I think I would have taken on another challenge.”

Now very much a full time Vendée Globe campaigner, Amedeo says he feels proud to be considered part of that elite group.  

“The other skippers have been very friendly, but I think I puzzled them at first because I came out of nowhere – from Paris of all places and from a big newspaper company. 
“But I think they saw that I had come up the right way, step by step, through the Figaro and the Route du Rhum. Now, I feel that I might have earned their respect.”

That respect is as well deserved as it has been hard earned. Despite his newcomer status, Amedeo’s racing achievements have turned a few heads in the last 12 months.

He is the only Vendée Globe skipper to complete two transatlantic races last year. He finished eighth in the Transat Jacques Vabre with co-skipper Eric Peron and second in the Transat St-Barth/Port-la-Forêt – both races that saw brutally stormy conditions at times.
  
Amedeo’s IMOCA 60 will finish its refit and be back on the water by the end of March, ready for him to begin a rigorous final training schedule in the lead up to the Vendée Globe start in November.

“I will train hard during the month of April and then at the beginning of May I will go double handed across the Atlantic with my boat captain from La Trinité-sur-Mer for the New York to Vendée Race at the end of May,” he explained.
 
Once in Les Sables d’Olonne where the Vendée Globe start will take place in November, Amedeo will spend the remaining months on a combination of solo training runs and sponsor sailing commitments.

He is clearly very much looking forward to the adventure of racing singlehanded around the world and seems particularly keen to test himself in the storm-ridden wilds of the Southern Ocean. 

“I am very happy when I am alone at sea and I love it when the wind is strong,” he says. “Now I want to go in the deep south and experience for myself what the Southern Ocean is like.”

Unsurprisingly, the journalist-turned-ocean racer plans to capitalise on his background as a master storyteller to help share his round the world race experience with as many people as possible. He has big name media partners like Le Figaro and TV station Canal+ iTELE signed up to help him get the message out. 

However, Amedeo is not treating his Vendée Globe participation as a one-off, once in a lifetime, adventure. Far from it in fact; he harbours longer term aspirations and he knows all too well that his plans for future campaigns hinge on him not crashing out of the race on his first attempt.

“This time, the goal for me is to finish the race,” he says, adding pragmatically, “Statistically, 50 per cent of the competitors don’t make it to the finish, so if I finish I could end up with a good result.

“It’s very important to me to finish my first Vendée Globe so that I can come back four years later as a real competitor for the front of the fleet.”

A rookie he may be right now, but don’t bet against this driven and highly motivated individual one day joining the ranks of the Vendée Globe heroes he once used to write about.

[Main Image : Jean-Marie Liot/Newrest-Mamut]

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