Exclusively for Yacht Racing Life our editor Justin Chisholm catches up with French solo sailor Jérémie Beyou – one of the expected frontrunners in the upcoming Vendee Globe non-stop, singlehanded, around-the-world race, which is scheduled to start on November 8.
Jérémie Beyou is clearly not fazed by being one of the hot favourites to win the ninth edition of ocean racing’s toughest monohull challenge.
Beyou’s status as a likely winner is hard to argue with. His remarkable latest generation foiling IMOCA 60 Charal has been making headlines since it was launched in the summer of 2018 and has been constantly refined since then to put Beyou in his strongest position ever to challenge for the overall trophy on his fourth attempt.
“I think it’s quite cool to be thought of as one of the favourites” Beyou told me – his smile easy to spot, despite the obligatory anti-Covid face mask.
“It’s the first time for me that this is the case. The other three editions I did I was not in a position to be challenging for a victory, because I didn’t have the right boat, I didn’t have the right training time, and so on.
“Now with Charal, we the have the time, we have the boat, we have the team, I have much more experience with the previous Vendees and the Volvo I won with Dongfeng.”
Beyou was quick to highlight how much his experience sailing fully-crewed on the 2016-17 Volvo Ocean Race had added to his latest Vendee Globe campaign.
“I learned a lot from that experience,” he said. “On the Volvo you push really hard all the time. In particular we pushed really hard on the Southern Ocean leg from Auckland to Itajaí.
“Racing around the world solo sailing you have to be quick, but you have to manage a lot of things on board, as everything is never 100 per cent OK. That means the boat is never sailing at 100 per cent of its potential speed.
“On the Volvo everything is OK on board and the guys on the other boats are pushing really hard, so you have to really push yourself physically and mentally – it’s a real commitment. Every time you are on deck and you are driving the boat you have to be at your top level, and you can’t afford to be scared of going really quick. That is what I will take with me into this Vendee Globe.”
Despite his obvious confidence in his boat, in himself and in the team he has assembled to support him, there is no hint of over-confidence. Beyou very much knows that getting to this stage in good shape is just the first of many hurdles that stand between him and the Vendee Globe trophy.
“Being in this position is good for the team and it’s good for the sponsor,” he said. “But for me, I know the job is still to be done and although it is nice I know until the end it does not mean anything.”
Like all the Vendee Globe teams the Charal campaign has been impacted by the Covid 19 pandemic. Lockdowns in France meant lost development time and kept Beyou landlocked when he should have been afloat racking up crucial training hours. Nevertheless he feels the programme is where it needs to be at this stage.
“We are very close to being ready,” he said. “The boat is ready, but we are still sailing – still trying sails – but we are really close to the end of the final set up. We are trying a third version of the foils just to see if there is something a bit better to catch. After that final week of sailing we will slow down and concentrate on loading the boat and trying to rest a bit for me.”
Arguably the differences between the design of the foils across the top eight to 10 teams could be what decides the podium places on this latest non-stop lap of the globe. With so much at stake, information sharing between the teams has been understandably few and far between up until now. According to Beyou, with no time left to make any major changes there has been some flow of information.
“We are today just starting to talk to each other because the final choices are done,” he said. “So now we can talk about it a bit. We tried a few really different things ourselves, Alex [Thomson – Hugo Boss] has done something different again, and the foils on L’Occitane [Armel Tripon] are quite different again too.
“Because we don’t have active rudders on the boats I think it is quite difficult to find a setup that is fast upwind, reaching, broad-reaching, downwind, strong winds, light winds,” Beyou commented.
“The balance is quite difficult to find and so who has it right will very much depend on the weather conditions that we encounter during the race. That will make the racing very interesting and I think the race will not be decided until the fleet gets back close to Les Sables in January.”
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic Beyou will go into self-quarantine for 15 days prior to the race start day – effectively increasing the time the solo sailor will spend away from his family in solitary confinement by an additional two weeks.
“As a team we have implemented a strict protocol,” he said. “Now it is in my mind and I know that I will have to be in quarantine 15 days before the start. That means I will have to cut contact with my family. This is something new to deal with, but it’s something I recognise and I have accepted as necessary – so no problem.”
“It’s a bit hard for the family for sure but now my kids are old enough to understand that it is important. They support me a lot and they want me to be OK and to win the race. They know they are part my campaign and if I am able to start and able to win, then their effort will be rewarded. So it is a bit hard on all of us, but it’s OK.”
Beyou is unlikely to be following the pandemic while he is out at sea racing, preferring to concentrate on the race and his own survival. It would be nice he, he admitted, if the whole problem had gone away by the time he arrives back in Les Sables D’Olonne in January.
“I hope that is the case,” he said with a sigh. “We would all be glad to come back and find everyone not wearing masks. It’s a strange situation in that we will really be isolated while we are racing and sometimes you prefer not to have any news. If we can come back in and be able to give everyone big hugs when we get back that would be fantastic.”