Shirley Robertson’s guest on the latest episode of her podcast is the remarkable French around-the-world record-setting skipper, Francois Gabart.
Gabart is one of the stars of the offshore sailing world – the youngest ever winner of the solo offshore marathon the Vendee Globe, Francois also holds the title for the fastest ever solo lap of the planet, achievements that have made him a household name in his native France..
Gabart set a remarkable world record in 2017 when he took just 42 days 16hours 40minutes and 35seconds to sail alone, non stop around the world, coming within just 2 days of the overall crewed world record. The landmark achievement was set sailing the giant 100ft trimaran ‘Macif’, a foiling trimaran capable of sustained periods of high speed out in the world’s toughest sailing conditions.
“I love speed. I’m not afraid of speed and I have to say that sometimes I even think that speed is not dangerous, that it’s sometimes safer to go fast.”
As a six year old child Gabart spent a year at sea with his parents, as on a whim they decided to take off to see the world. He attributes a degree of his success to these formative days spent enjoying the experience of being out at sea. His sailing career started well, he was national champion in the competitive Optimist class. Several national titles followed as Gabart set his sights on Olympic success, but admits to Shirley that even then, his horizons were slightly wider…:
“There was something missing when I would just sail around the buoys, and then go back to shore at night. I was thinking ‘why can’t we just try to go further, sail into the night and just go’”
And so began a search for something more. Gabart discusses the unique French pathway to becoming an offshore professional, and how he tentatively set off around the world on his one and only Vendee Globe race, aged just 29.
“I was so proud to be a winner. I had been dreaming about doing the Vendee Globe, but i never thought I’d be a winner….The day I arrived, I was just thinking I did something incredible but I didn’t know exactly what I had done, I was so focused on what I was doing I didn’t realise the consequences of that….It didn’t so much change the way I was living, but it changed the way the world was looking at myself.”
Looking to the future, Gabart is pushing the boundaries of the sport wherever he can – he’s an advocate of collaboration between the different areas of sailing, keen to learn from the technological advancements of the the America’s Cup as he searches for speed out in the world’s toughest oceans – he’s a man revelling in his time, an articulate and intelligent athlete delighted to be involved in the sport of sailing while it undergoes a radical and exciting revolution.