Safran's secret weapon
After a three month long winter refit and a month of training, the Safran IMOCA 60 skippered by Marc Guillemot will be back out there racing on 5 May, when the Europa Race gets underway from Istanbul. This is a race with a rather unusual format: two crewed legs and one solo leg. For the crewed part, Marc Guillemot will be welcoming aboard some strong support in former Banque Populaire maxi trimaran skipper, Pascal Bidégorry.
The three legs of the Europa Race are: Istanbul-Barcelona (1500 miles) then Barcelona-Lisbon (900 miles) with a crew and then to finish there will be the solo leg from Lisbon-La Rochelle.
In terms of the number of miles to sail, there are in fact more in the solo part than crewed, so this will be an opportunity to prepare for the Vendée Globe. About ten IMOCA boats are expected to take part: Safran, but also Banque Populaire, MACIF, PRB, Groupe Bel, Cheminées Poujoulat, Virbac-Paprec and Acciona, or in other words some serious contenders for the podium in the next Vendée Globe.
Marc Guillemot walks the course: “The first leg is a long distance race, which could prove to be quite complicated, as the weather in the Mediterranean is far from easy to predict. The second between Barcelona and Lisbon is shorter, but is equally challenging in terms of the randomness of the weather, and in addition to that, there are all the crab pots and nets you find off the coast of Morocco and Spain.”
The trickiest phase will however be the final leg, sailed solo from Lisbon to La Rochelle via the Azores and the famous Irish lighthouse at the Fastnet. “That is going to be very long,” warns Guillemot, “2500 miles, which is practically the same as the transatlantic race from Britain. You have to understand that solo racing is very tiring, as you push the boat hard all the way. Finally, it will be important to remain fully alert between the Fastnet and La Rochelle, where you find a lot of shipping and fishermen.”
The crew of Safran will be the same as the one that won the Round Spain race in 2010, with one slight exception. Marc Guillemot, Loïc Lingois, César Dohy and Sébastien Audigane will be accompanied this time by Pascal Bidégorry. The former skipper of Banque Populaire (in the Figaro, then the ORMA 60 trimaran and finally at the helm of the Maxi Trimaran, when she smashed the Atlantic and 24-hour records) will be in charge of navigation and strategy. “I like him as a person and I know he has the talent,” commented Guillemot.
To get used to the Safran monohull, Bidégorry will be on board for the first part of the delivery trip, although it will be considered a solo voyage from La Trinité to Cadiz (starting in early April, just after the Spi Ouest-France). After that, Loïc Lingois, the boat captain, will take over until they reach Malta with members of the team. Then, Guillemot will return to the helm with a crew between Malta and Istanbul. This delivery trip is expected in all to take around three weeks.
Pascal Bidégorry is therefore the only surprise in this line-up, as the others are used to sailing together. “Loïc knows the boat like the back of his hand, César is our sailmaker, Seb Audigane and Pascal are excellent helmsmen,” explains Guillemot. The goal? “We’re not going all the way to Turkey without aiming to do well. We’ll be doing our utmost to win the Europa Race, but it is only natural too that we want to check everything over and prepare as best we can for the Vendée Globe.”