Gitana back in the IMOCA class
Over the last 14 years, Baron Benjamin de Rothschild's team has mainly focussed on multihull racing, although they competed in the 2008 Vendee Globe with a monohull skippered by Loick Peyron. The decision to return to IMOCA and the Vendee Globe follows the uncertainty of the future of the MOD70.
Cyril Dardashti, Managing Director of the Gitana Team, explains: “Some will see our Vendée Globe choice as a change of direction, but more accurately it’s a necessary transition. Today, the MOD70 isn’t offering a perennial circuit – no race is scheduled before 2016 – and to our mind the recent announcements by the Ultime Association still lack guarantees, both in terms of the structure that this ‘class’ will offer and the events that might be organised for these giant multihulls. This latter project is of interest to us and we will be keeping a close eye on how it develops.
Ariane and Benjamin de Rothschild have always been concerned about the Gitana Team and sailing and the part their family plays in it. The human element is also at the very core of their involvement. The Gitana Team is about a sailor of course, but it’s also about a team working in the background to enable this one man to set sail with every chance of success. Preparing a prototype yacht for an adventure like the Vendée Globe is a fine challenge for our team and everyone is passionate about it. This event is an extraordinary competition!”
The dilemma at present is whether to build a new boat or optimise an existing one. Though the option of a brand new monohull is ultimately preferable, what improvements can be made over a boat from the current generation? All these questions are currently being studied by Sébastien Josse and the Gitana team as a whole to ensure that Josse can join the IMOCA circuit in 2015 culminating in his sailing the Vendée Globe in 2016.
While it is the second Vendée Globe experience for the team, it will be the third for Josse who competed in the 2004 and 2008 editions. He recalls: “My history with the Vendée Globe began some 12 years ago, in 2002, when I was entrusted with the helm of my first IMOCA project. That Vendée proved to be a journey of discovery. I set out on an old boat, which wasn't really competitive. However, those three months of sailing and my fifth place taught me a great many other things. The race helped me to my feet…
"In 2008, I returned at the helm of a latest generation monohull. Unfortunately my race was cut short off New Zealand due to structural damage. That retirement has been a great frustration to me and until today it has left me with the sense that my story with the Vendée Globe remains unfinished.
"I’m very happy with the Gitana Team’s choices and I’m all too aware of the incredible opportunity Ariane and Benjamin de Rothschild are giving me by enabling us to get involved in such an adventure. For a sailor, the Vendée Globe is much more than a mere race.”
In the meantime this autumn, the Gitana team has its MOD70 entered in the Route du Rhum, where the team holds the race record of 7 days 17 hours 19 minutes and 6 seconds following Lionel Lemonchois’ victory at the helm of Gitana 11 in 2006.
Despite his breadth of experience, surprisingly this year's race will be Seb Josse's first Route du Rhum. Unfortunately he will be racing in the Ultime class, against substantially larger and faster boats - his 21m MOD70 Gitana XV will line up against Francis Joyon's 30m IDEC2, the 31.5m Banque Populaire VII, the new 34m Sodebo plus possibly the 40m Spindrift 2, which has yet to confirm its participation.
“The experience appeals to me and it may well prove instructive for the next stage of the programme," explains Josse. "Not everyone can cross the Atlantic singlehanded at the helm of a trimaran like Edmond de Rothschild and pulling it off would be great satisfaction.
"That said, we perfectly understand the polars of our boat and those of our rivals and that we won’t be able to compete with the large craft in all the different conditions. So on paper, we don't have the winning horse, but as is always this is a mechanical sport and the weather conditions we encounter will be the decisive factor. The history of the Route du Rhum has shown that it can throw up a few surprises. I’ll be setting sail in a relaxed manner free of pressure."
Gitana XV is to undergo a refit in Lorient imminently. Josse explains: “We’ll mainly be working on the ergonomics, to adapt the MOD70's deck layout to solo sailing: increased protection at the helming station and the pit, installation of a outside watch station to minimise the time spent down below… The work carried out on the automatic pilot will also be essential if I’m to stand a chance of driving the boat at her full potential. The rest of the work will be done on the water, with a series of sea trials and training sessions, shorthanded and then singlehanded."