Denis Horeau

Cecilia Carreri between Bruno Retailleau, left, and Denis Horeau, right, director of the Vendée Globe race.

Interview taken from the website ©

Denis Horeau, how would you describe this Vendée Globe in terms of performances?

When looking back on this Vendée Globe, the first things that come to mind are the sports performances and the records. 78 days and 545 miles in 24 hours are just so impressive! Another thing is how many boats actually finished the race. More than 50%, which hadn’t happened since 2004. In 2008, 70% of the starting boats had pulled out of the race. Let’s not forget that the gap between the winner and the last skipper had never been that small either. And then there’s the concept of athletic adventure, which has always been around and a strong element in the identity of the race. It has helped putting the sports aspect of the Vendée Globe back in the spotlight. In this edition, obviously, François Gabart and Armel Le Cléac'h were extremely fast, but so were skippers like Tanguy de Lamotte and Alessandro Di Benedetto, with their own means. This year, unlike what had happened in previous editions, we didn’t have three very separate groups keeping the regatta specialists and the adventurers separate. All the Vendée Globe monohulls were in actual race mode. Another thing to remember from the 2012-2013 edition is how happy sailors were. Except, of course, for those who had to pull out of the race. But Alessandro, Tanguy, and all the other sailors were so happy to be at sea. They kept saying: « OK, it’s not easy, we’ve had to face tough issues but it feels so great! ». I remember some skippers tended to complain more in previous Vendée globe editions.

Why is that?
I can think of two reasons. The first one is that we had a 20-boat fleet this year, which seems to me like the perfect number because it provided a good balance when it comes to competitors, organisers and the media. With 20 boats in the race instead of 30, each of them is given a much better visibility. The other reason is that there were no sudden violent weather conditions in this race and none of the skipper had to switch to survival mode at any point. Also, I have to say most of the boats were extremely well-prepared and even the rookies had a solid experience. Tanguy or Alessandro are experienced skippers and they were therefore well-prepared too. Tanguy trained with Michel Desjoyeaux and received advice from Catherine Chabaud so even the sailors who seemed to be sea adventurers turned out to have anticipated the race’s difficulties. When it comes to performances, I think this race has been a very evenly-balanced and mature one, too. Of course it is very unfortunate that nine boats ended up not finishing the race but 11 finishers out of 20 is better than what we had four years ago. As far as the sport spirit is concerned, you just can’t ignore the determination of skippers like Jean-Pierre Dick or Tanguy de Lamotte, who did not give up even when facing serious difficulties. And what about Armel Le Cléac'h and François Gabart, who just didn’t take a single break in their effort… I liked the positive extremism displayed by many of them, I was impressed. The Bay of Biscay was tough on Jean Le Cam, Mike Golding and Dominique Wavre, it was the hardest part of their round-the-world race, which goes to show how lenient the Souithern Ocean was.

« 76 days sounded great »

Before the start, you used a race time of 76 days as a reference time, which was quite stupefying. But in the end, Gabart and Le Cléac'h finished the race in a little but more than 78 days, showing you were not that far away from the truth eventually…

Those 76 days were not an estimation coming from me. I asked Evrard (editor’s note: a member of the Race Management team) to come up with a map featuring the boats’ progression timing so people could picture where the boats would be on different dates. Our estimation was based on Michel Desjoyeaux’s 84 days in 2008 and we took into account the 40 hours he spent in the port when he came back, so it was actually more like 82 days. We know the winner’s race time is usually two to three days shorter in every new edition so when Guillaume suggested 76 days, I told him it was very ambitious but we should go with it. I thought it sounded so great, it was a bold initiative not to go with a safer estimation of 78 days and to dare mention 76 days, which shocked a lot of people. That was not a prediction, it was more of a way to show the public where the frontrunners would be on such and such day if the race was really fast. We wanted the public to be able to picture things, to know when the three main capes would be rounded. I’m not saying I predicted what would happen, I’m just saying I dared consider it wasn’t impossible. Guillaume and I agreed on that and we added some optimism to the global picture in the end.

How do you think this Vendée Globe compares to the previous editions?
At the start, I had said this would be the edition of reason and maturity. And it has been quite reasonable, given how many boats there were, and how well they and their skippers were prepared and given the changes in the ice gates positions, which weren’t as drastic as some may think. The actual 2012 route was shorter than the 2008 one because four years ago, the ice gates in the Pacific had been moved a lot more, making the final route longer. I think it’s been a homogenous edition and a very successful one, with many competitors, great boat preparation, new records and an amazing response from the public. It feels a little bit like solving a Rubik's Cube, it’s difficult but eventually, all the pieces fall into place. Everything went pretty well in this edition. The only regrets we can have are the three collisions, which are not the skippers’ fault or problems with the boats, and the three lost keels. There isn’t much we can say about that, except now we need to work so it doesn’t happen again. And then there’s the disqualification of Bernard Stamm, even though it happened in a very specific context, with very precise rules and regulations.

©Christophe Favreau

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