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Taking care of the beast

Yacht Racing Podcast

Charles Caudrelier’s solo performance aboard the 100-foot Ultim Maxi Edmond de Rothschild has been nothing short of mind blowing over the three and a half weeks since the Arkea Ultim Challenge fleet left the French port of Brest on a high speed lap of the planet. 

The French skipper is the only one not to have suffered any major technical issues or sustain damage to his foiling enormous trimaran and has led the fleet since the approach to South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.

Tonight at 1900 UTC he had opened his lead to 3,000 miles on his nearest rival, Thomas Coville on Sodebo Ultim 3, who has had to make a repair stop in Hobart, Tasmania. That stop will hand second place to Armel Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire, but he is having to route the long way north of Tasmania to avoid the worst of a potent storm in his path.

Meanwhile, Caudrelier is well past New Zealand and closing in on Point Nemo – the inhospitable piece of ocean that is the furthest place on earth from land. Despite his huge lead, aboard Edmond de Rothschild Caudrelier is in no way taking anything for granted as he battles to complete his first solo circumnavigation.

In this interview he gives a feel for his state of mind and paints a graphic picture of life on board the monster French trimaran.

We get the impression that you are doing great miles and all the lights are green!

Yes, there are a lot of green lights but there is always a warning above my head. I know that what happened to Tom (Laperche) could happen to me at any moment, that I could break a part and suffer damage. The boat is tired from a trip half way around the world. On this boat we have never gone this far. But I do feel in good shape, I have good sequences, I get an energy from being first, there is a great thing in not being stressed by a ranking. Yes, this is an ideal situation but this is a mechanical sport, there will be always aspects that cannot be controlled.

Is being able to take care of yourself a luxury?

Well, put it this way, I’m not looking for a record, I’m on the brakes all the time. When I exceed 40 knots, I get yelled at by my routers. I could go 4 knots faster but it’s a passage around the world, it’s long and hard. I have to pay attention to the phenomenon that is cavitation under the water which can cause micro-cracks on the appendages. And the faster you go the more monstrous the effort.

I must not take any risks and know how to take care of the beast.

You have broken several records, do these numbers interest you?

No, I don’t even look at the times. I don’t want to get into that game. It is dangerous. And after all, I won’t have a crossing of the Pacific, not as good as the one that François made on his record and his return up the Atlantic was really, really great! But we shouldn’t get locked into the wrong objective: it would be stupid to push the boat and break it. I’m not racing against the clock, even if that gets people excited and talking and even if it might make me a little happy in the end.

Over the next few days what are the trends?

Now I still have 24 hours of calmer weather with flat seas before returning to rougher seas for 12 to 24 hours. Maybe I’ll go north to avoid it. Then, the end of the Pacific it is a little complicated with a system to get around and I don’t know where to go yet. Arriving at Cape Horn should not be bad even if it can get violent quickly. Until I’m north of the Falkland Islands, it’s hard to be sure of things.

Listening to you, you seem in pretty good shape.

Yes I am. Even when Tom [Laperche, skipper of SVR Lazartigue] pushed me at the start of the race, I managed to find the right balance between sleep and performance. Now I’m more in management, it’s relaxing and sometimes a little boring. But fortune smiles on me, I still have a lucky star for the moment.

We knew we had to fight to get down to the Indian first because we could “start from the front”. The team also did a very good job because I never had to slow down to make any kind of repairs. I did a little DIY here and there, and I too have had one problem a day. These are small annoyances usually but at 35 knots, they are not easy to resolve.

And when you’re bored, what do you do?

For three or four days that I’ve been sleeping pretty well, cleaning my boat. I tried watching films, I started reading a little on my tablet but I’m having a little trouble. When I relax I start to worry more.

My bunk is slightly tilted and that distorts my sensations, I always have the impression of heeling, I have difficulty feeling my boat. And then I had my little problems, I have a sensor on the daggerboard that doesn’t work and I have to adjust it by feel. These things are a bit annoying but that doesn’t stop me from going fast forward.

What moments do you really enjoy?

I’m not a person given to contemplation. Sometimes there are some beautiful lights in the sky but overall it’s gray, there’s fog, wet, damp, mist and I don’t really go outside. What I like more is looking at the charts and data to optimise my trajectory, to choose the right sails.

I also really enjoy anticipating, being one step ahead. What excites me is more the process than the outcome, the result. I really enjoy steering my boat. I know where I have come from on this odyssey, the desire I had to do this exercise, to have been too afraid of it too, and now to do it by myself too. And I enjoy that the boat is well managed and to be here, more than halfway through, is very satisfying in itself.

Main mage © Yann Riou – polaRYSE – GITANA SA