“All over in a matter of seconds”
For his third participation in this legendary event that is the Vendée Globe, Sébastien Josse was one of the firm favourites of the eighth edition. After all the work accomplished and the energy devoted to the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild project over the past three years and more, this retirement is a massive disappointment for the sailor, the owners of the boat and all the team: “My world for the past month has been about constantly questioning everything in order to perform well! As a result, inevitably the decision to retire has been very difficult to take on board, but it has been carefully thought out and accepted by everyone. Handling the disappointment is going to take weeks, months even… because it’s not just about stopping the race, it’s everything that comes with that: the passion, the energy and the commitment that we all put into such projects. In the Vendée Globe, we sail singlehanded, but here more than anywhere else they are group projects. I’m lucky to be able to rely on a very fine team, that is solid and dedicated, who I can never thank enough, and to have the trust of Ariane and Benjamin de Rothschild, as well as that of Edmond de Rothschild Group, who support us and are always alongside us in the good and the not so good times like today,” admitted Sébastien Josse.
“Though competition is the very essence of offshore racing and the driving force for the majority of the sailors and their teams, the absolute priority remains the safety of the men and their boats. Inevitably there’s an element of risk in setting sail on a singlehanded, non-stop, unassisted round the world race, but this is accepted to a certain degree. Indeed, offshore, the leap into the unknown and approximation cannot form part of the equation. It’s a very tough knock-back for our team. We’re all very disappointed but we’re quickly going to move on from this and onto the project that awaits us – that of the maxi-multihull – and with it a chance,” explained Cyril Dardashti, Director of Gitana Team.
A reminder of the facts and the hypothesis for repairs
On Monday morning at 09:30 GMT, Sébastien Josse alerted his team that he’d suffered serious damage to the port foil on Edmond de Rothschild after she buried into a wave: “I wasn’t really in any more of an attacking phase than usual when the incident occurred, but conditions were muscly in front of the low pressure system. There was 35 knots of breeze and the seas were beginning to get heavy with waves of around 4 metres. During a surf, the boat powered up to 30 knots and then stalled suddenly to 10 knots as she buried into a wave. It lasted a matter of seconds. I was under the cuddy between the two companionway doors. When the boat powered back up I felt that something was out of kilter and I quickly saw that there was an issue with the port foil. It was in the water whilst I was sailing with the foils raised. I went to open the foil casing hatch inside the boat and saw the breakage. The point where the line attaches to the head of the foil, which is a carbon part designed and proportioned to withstand high stresses, had yielded. I had to act fast as the foil was just hanging in there by two screws and had it come out of its housing that could have had much more serious consequences. It could have damaged the casing by skewing sideways, which could have led to water ingress… I very quickly gybed to secure the foil and prevent that happening, but unfortunately the timing of the weather was bad. To preserve the damaged gear, I would have needed to continue on starboard tack towards the NE, but the forecast deterioration in the weather meant that I had to dive back down to the SE, putting stress on the damaged foil in the poor conditions. I’ve already experienced worse conditions on this boat, particularly during the Transat St Barth – Port-la-Forêt where we had up to 50 knots, but here, in the Southern Ocean, everything takes on a whole new dimension due to your remoteness. The situation was complicated on Monday night through into Tuesday…”
As Sébastien hunkered down in the storm and endured the conditions under just three reefs, several solutions for repairs were devised and put forward by his shore crew so that he could select whichever one seemed the most viable. “When you’re racing the Vendée Globe, you know that you’ll have work to do on the boat on a daily basis. But that has to come to an end when it’s merely a question of dressing… I’m a nurse not a surgeon,” explains the solo sailor.
In this way, following numerous exchanges and several attempts at repairs, these options were rendered in part too difficult to implement in the open ocean by a single man and also more of a temporary fix than a lasting solution enabling the skipper to safely cover the remaining 15,000 miles of the race. And these miles notably include the negotiation of the Pacific Ocean, at between 40 and 50 degrees South, which is one of the most isolated zones on the planet. The objective shared by Gitana Team and Sébastien Josse does not involve circumnavigating the globe whatever the cost and taking additional risks in what is already a dangerous situation. Rather it’s about being competitive. Today, that philosophy is compromised. Neither the sailor, nor the team want to expose themselves again to the risk of the foil pulling out of its housing and the resulting water ingress in an emergency situation aboard Edmond de Rothschild according to its geographical position.
“Foiling monohulls are very different to the previous boats. With this Vendée Globe, the big teams have prepared the ground for everyone. There will need to be a debriefing before any real conclusions can be drawn as the goal really isn’t about calling anyone into question. We’re here to make progress, but I think we’ve not taken these technological advances as far as they can go and all treated this revolution as part of the usual changes from one generation to the next. Controlling the foils and their systems must be thought out differently as the loads they’re under are massive. We’ve missed the point on the concept because we thought about it as we did the classic daggerboard whilst now the boat is effectively supported on these appendages.”
Making headway at 41° South and 107° East, the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild is currently heading to Australia. The members of Gitana Team are working on the best possible option and will decide today on Sébastien Josse’s final destination. It could be Perth, to the South-West, or Adelaide, on the South coast, according to the different solutions for repatriation at these two Australian ports. After thirty-one days at sea in a race where he was always at the front of the fleet, Sébastien Josse is retiring from the competition and gives us his very first analysis: “It was tough and I make no secret of that fact as the boats are very demanding and uncomfortable. To go fast, you need to ‘foil’ and to ‘foil’ you need to be constantly on top of things! But I’m happy to be here. I’ve really put myself through it and I have no regrets about this race, the way I drove the boat and the way I sailed,” concludes the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild.