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Return to the news 24 November 2016

ALONE OFFSHORE, THE WEEKLY #3 Clothing

Vendée Globe 2016-2017 Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild Sébastien Josse

In the Deep South, drastic measures! For the solo sailors in the Vendée Globe, entering the Southern Ocean meansplunging straight into winter. Whilst he was sailing in shorts and T-shirt along the length of Brazil, Sébastien Josse has now changed surroundings after hooking onto a low pressure system, which for nearly a week has been propelling them along towards the Roaring Forties. Initially the wind picked up then the blue sky turned white and the sea, flecked with white horses, darkened. Dropping further southwards naturally causes the temperature to drop and, right now, the sea temperature is no more than 10 degrees. The cold has really settled in aboard the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild. This will be further heightened as they round the Cape of Good Hope tonight or tomorrow, opening the door to the Indian Ocean. Having traversed the Atlantic by gradually peeling away the layers of clothing, it's time for Sébastien Josse to bring out the complete range. But what does one wear in these latitudes?

It's a bit like taking on the ascent of Everest a week after completing a trail run in the Sahara. The body has to adapt and it needs help with that. Having the right kit is essential. In this regard, Gitana Team and Sébastien Josse are relying on a vast experience of extreme sailing, notably on oceanic multihulls, aboard which it's absolutely imperative you retain great freedom of movement so as to ensure you're always ready to react. Since 2012, the race stable founded by Ariane and Benjamin de Rothschild has placed its trust in the British brand Henri Lloyd to kit out its sailors and technicians.

Gore-Tex, latex and merino  

Firstly, the fabrics used in 2016 are nothing like those from the early days of offshore racing back in the sixties. In photos from that period, it's not uncommon to see sailors in jeans and a thick Guernsey sweater, under yellow oilskins, which were certainly effective against the spray but were also stiff and very heavy to wear. However, from 1950, a certain Bill Gore was preparing for a revolution. At the time, he was working at Du Pont de Nemours, the chemical giant based in Delaware (USA), a pioneer in plastic materials with the discovery of Nylon notably, along with the development of Neoprene, Teflon, Kevlar and Lycra.

Bill suggested to his managers that they use Teflon to design hardwearing clothing, with the notable benefit that it is water-resistant. They were not convinced by the idea so the engineer decided to go it alone. Ultimately, it would be his son, Bob Gore, who in 1969 perfected a fabric that allows water vapour to pass through but repels liquid water. The famous Gore-Tex came into being. It really only took off in the eighties where the fabric kitted out firemen en masse, along with sailors and those who work outdoors. Today, the skipper of Gitana 16 wears Gore-Tex foulies, equipped with Latex collars and cuffs, thus enabling a very high waterproof rating.

In a bid to combat the cold, it's a case of going back to basics as nothing beats wool. Particularly that which comes from merino sheep, of Spanish origin, where time has no influence on the excellent reputation of their wool. Around the Antarctic, Sébastien has opted to take 100% merino fleeces and base layers (tops and leggings), the same as those used by mountaineering experts.

Wearing multiple layers

As the boat cuts through the southern latitudes, the skipper will have to add layers. “When it's five degrees in the Southern Ocean, we fear the cold and dampness, so we wear multiple layers of clothing. To that, we also add mittens, hats and balaclavas. In short, we try to protect every centimetre of skin, otherwise you're using up calories to effectively combat the cold, when in reality you need all your energy to get the boat making headway”, he explains.

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For the whole of the round the world, the sailor mainly uses two sets of foulies, each comprising salopettes and a long pea jacket. One is said to be ‘light' for medium wind and the other is referred to as ‘heavy' and is designed for more sustained sailing conditions. Next up, when it gets very wet, Sébastien can slip into his ‘drysuit' (so called because it's watertight), which covers him from head to toe. Finally, in the Deep South, he'll soon seek out another set of foulies, which are vacuum-packed awaiting the right moment to be donned. The latter are a size bigger than Sébastien's usual kit so he can retain reasonable freedom of movement despite the multiple layers of clothing underneath.

In total, the sailor can wear up to four layers at once: two base layers and one mid layer (thin jacket) made of merino, as well as a set of large foulies. “You really have to know how to adapt the way you dress according to what manoeuvres you're doing and which geographical zone you're in, because once you're restricted in all these clothes, you're bound to lose a degree of agility,” he explains.

New cockpit, new order

In anticipation of the increased discomfort aboard the latest generation IMOCAs, the teams have devised some very well protected cockpits. “This enables us to manœuvre without being soaked to the skin and to watch the boat, the sea and the sails without having to be behind a ski mask or the visor of a helmet covered in droplets, as you do in the Volvo Ocean Race for example,” explains Sébastien. “I'm well protected on the boat and that was one of the priorities in Gitana 16's spec. It enables you to go up top to manoeuvre without having to get too dressed up, or at least not as much as you need to if you're going up on deck. You can also leave everything that's wet outside, under the cuddy, and keep the inside of the boat just about dry, which is a massive benefit in terms of life aboard. And when you do your washing, which is essential given that there is only a certain number of garments, you can also use the cuddy to dry them. Obviously that element works better under the tropics than in the South Pacific!”


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