They went in for upgrading/repairs this winter at the imposing Saint- Philibert building, converted for the occasion “into a naval shipyard,” says Loïck Peyron, who joined the Gitana team as general manager at the start of this season. The latter's entry into the Gitana fold was a response “to the passion of one man, Benjamin de Rothschild,” and of a family “whose impact on the sailing world is immense, for the Gitanas are well and truly craftsmanship of the highest order.”
It is well known that Swedes, when not ice-skating, cut down forests to make pulp. As for Breton sailors, they lock themselves away for four months, but instead of snoring like bears, they have a taste for well polished interiors. So well polished, in fact, that they display the patience of Swiss watchmakers as they dismantle and reassemble 18.24-metre trimarans, which they then buff up to the point of exhaustion. To be honest, it's quite fascinating to see these worker bees in action, at the end of which the boat's floats look just like cuttlebones. At the height of this particular example of this arcane toil, forty persons were working on what is a painstaking project requiring indisputable expertise. But what do we really know about these artists specialising in composite materials, hydraulics, hardware and information technology?
Once the boats are on the water and entrusted to Frédéric Le Peutrec and Thierry Duprey du Vorsent respectively, the past masters who, according to the two skippers, have in some cases worked “non-stop for four months”, slip away quietly so as not to get in the way.
It all makes a marked contrast to the building trade, where it's almost inevitable that the plumber will end up strangling the painter & decorator, who himself will somehow contrive to electrocute the central heating engineer. For the world of boatbuilding depends on practised efficiency which is obsessive and relatively silent.
As usual, Loïck Peyron has shown flexibility and intelligence by delegating to Cyril Dardarshti, his second in command, or “operations director” as they say in the navy. “Cyril knows how to sail and he knows how to count,” says Mr. Peyron! Since joining the Gitana Team, he has also gained an insight into the scale of the ambitious winter work: “Hats off to them! The team has done incredible work on both boats. In such a situation, the expertise of someone like Jean-Jean, for example, is vital. He really knows his way around Gitana 11, which saves considerable time!”
Technical Director Jean Le Huérou, or Jean-Jean, hails originally from Perros-Guirec, and a more hands-on type of guy you'd be hard-pressed to meet. For this 46-year-old, the fact that these boats possess a mysterious beauty to the uninitiated is quite simply because “our job is to check if everything's been put together correctly. The key is not to cause any damage during the delicate phases when we strip the boat bare,” explains Jean-Jean, a genius when it comes to preparation.
There are no two ways about it: Jean-Jean is obsessed with perfection. First of all, he doesn't talk himself up, and it's invariably a good sign when artists don't comment on their work. That sums up these construction acrobats in a nutshell: they speak when they've got something to say, and the rest of the time it's work, work, work. They walk a technical tightrope and in their world, there is no place for talking claptrap. Hubert Corfmat, known as Bébert, is very much hewn from the same block. He's the type of man who lives, eats and breathes his work and, if things aren't going well, he's liable to wake up at night in a cold sweat: “At one point, I thought we wouldn't make it, that we'd miss the deadlines. I got really stressed out about it,” he says quietly, taking a drag on his cigarette. Bébert is the “composites manager” and spent 12 years working with Loïck during the Fuji adventure. Bébert is an ordinary man who produces exceptional work, a chap not given to waxing lyrical but who has borne the art of boatbuilding to new heights courtesy of pure talent. But to everyone here, he remains Bébert from Carnac, and that's where the beauty lies. While we can't mention everyone who has sweated blood night and day for four months, we will briefly touch on a certain Daniel Le Digabel, “responsible for structural surveying,” a gentle fair-haired fellow on a constant quest to combine practicality with efficiency. Daniel could be described as ‘economical with his words', which, at the end of the day, means he doesn't waste time with crises of conscience. Also worthy of a mention is Laurent, originally from Paimpol, a former multihuller who today takes care of logistics: for the Gitana Team consists of ten sailors per boat in the Grand Prix and six shore crew. There are also two boat captains, including Léopold Lucet, boat captain of Gitana 12, a young man with a sports management diploma who called in on the Gitana team one day and never left: “My job,” explains Léopold, “is to listen to the sailing team and then communicate the modifications that need to be made to the technical team.”
Gitana 11 and Gitana 12, whom we can describe as non-identical twins without fear of offending the parents, are two constructions of which the architecture could be equated to two French-style gardens insofar as their composition has required a great deal of hard work and intelligence.
To put it clearly, if one was looking to understand the basis of the seafaring splendour of these multihulls… One might simply say that we owe this fabulous spectacle to a handful of enthusiasts with generous natures and a tremendous work ethic!
So a big thank you and God speed to these non-identical twins 11 and 12 who, just like the swallows wheeling around the bell tower, will glide in a flock from London to Nice from Monday 8 May. After four months of hard work, we can confirm that in this case at least, it amounts to the perfect illustration of good old-fashioned hard work allied with scientific philosophy.
Jean-Louis Le Touzet