An audience with Michel Desjoyeaux

The Vendee Globe winner gives a press conference to a capacity crowd

Saturday February 10th 2001, Author: Mark Chisnell And Ed Gorman, Location: United Kingdom
Michel Desjoyeaux does the businessModern communications technology means that Vendee Globe racers are almost constantly in touch with the world, as they talk daily to their support teams and the race office via satellite phone. Regular interviews and media work are a part of the job, and so Michel Desjoyeaux will have been well aware of the impact of his arrival in Les Sables d'Olonne.

But the theoretical understanding and the reality are often different. And after 93 days at sea, nothing would really have prepared Michel Desjoyeaux for the reception he got when he faced the world's press in the flesh for the first time as the winner of the 2000 Vendee Globe. In the packed media centre in the main race village, 150 journalists greeted Desjoyeaux with no less than three standing ovations, and as the clapping went on and on, even the cool facade of Le Professeur appeared to crack a little, and he seemed close to tears.

Between the applause for the winner of what has unquestionably been the greatest single-handed race ever run, Desjoyeaux managed to get out a few words on the highlights of the last three months. In particular, the ferocious pace of the race, which has lead to Christophe Auguin's record being broken by over 12 days.

Desjoyeaux commented, "We knew that Christophe was really slow in the Southern Ocean last time, because he didn't have anyone near him. So no one was pushing him. For sure, the boats are not slower than the last generation boats and we are faster because there was more competition."

That competition defined one of the key moments in the race. It came when Yves Parlier, who had sailed himself out of the lead in a Southern Ocean high pressure system, poured it on in an effort to get back into contention. Parlier was hooked into a low and sailing at a phenomenal pace, almost two knots faster than Desjoyeaux over an extended period.

It seemed at the time that Desjoyeaux had decided not to try to match Parlier's charge, not to rise to the challenge, and asked if that was the case, he responded, "I decided not to follow him, to my mind I didn't believe it was possible to go so fast for so long. I decided to carry on with the same rhythm." Elsewhere he said, "Yves was impressive at the start but now I know why I held slightly back and didn't push as hard. I said to myself then, 'well, that's one less competitor' even though it's not sporting."

Desjoyeaux added that after Parlier dismasted in a terrifying wipe-out, losing control at speed, he had sent an email to his sponsors, explaining why he had been content to go slower, and justifying his decision. For Desjoyeaux, the fact that he is first at the finish, with the boat and the whole mast still in it, proves that he is right.

And of course, the 35 year old superstar of French solo sailing talked about his near nemesis, the 24 year old girl who had pushed him so hard for so long. "Ellen has shown a lot of talent, lots of determination, lots of courage, she's a mystery to me. I don't know what I've been doing for the last ten years. I think that youth and innocence are a useful quality for such a race because you go fast and because you are not afraid of anything."
Earlier at the podium, in front of the huge audience, Desjoyeaux had something very similar to say, "Ellen for me is a great mystery. She is ten years younger than me and she could have beaten me. She came so close to me in the Saint Helen anticyclone, and she came back on me in the Doldrums and the Azores High. She has displayed a great deal of courage and determination and has threatened me right until the end."

He went on, "You can't come back unchanged after three months at sea. I've learned a lot about myself and what I do. I was never afraid for myself, only for the boat! Fear of breaking the mast! I've become an 'earthling' again and will remain so until the next time I step on a boat!

"Thanks to my sponsor and Isabelle Autissier, who had the confidence in me to take the helm of PRB. An amazing team in competence and human character, 80% of this race was won before the start. I just had to finish off the other 20%, the boat was well prepared and the skipper had some fortune on his side too.

"I've spent 93 days knowing that I shall get off this boat and explain what I did out there. It's not hard for me to get off the boat as I'm used to racing. Professionally, it's a big moment in my career. The last turning point for me like this was the Mini Transat. If today 80% of the Open 60s have a swing keel it's because I won the second leg of the Mini with this system.

And in the true tradition of Vendee solidarity, Desjoyeaux added, "I want to thank all the guys who have come here to welcome me tonight and I hope you will do the same for all the other skippers right to the end as the last one deserves the most honour for being at sea the longest!"

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