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offshore racing questions its future

It’s a record, one more. 95 pairs of sailors were registered at the start of the 2023 edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre, a bit disrupted by a terrible storm on the Atlantic, forcing half the fleet to take a break in Lorient, and the monohulls of the class Imoca chomping at the bit in Le Havre before heading to Martinique. Regardless of this capricious weather, the Normandy port has never experienced such a large crowd, with 16 more boats entered than during the previous edition in 2021.

It’s the same thing on all the platforms. Last year, in Saint-Malo, there was also a record with 138 solo sailors ready to take on the Route du Rhum. For next year in Les Sables d’Olonne, the Vendée Globe organization has just announced 44 candidates (for 40 places) for the start of the famous non-stop circumnavigation scheduled for November 10, something never seen before. Ocean racing is carried by the wind of success.

No real collective mobilization

So much the better. It is precisely when everything is going well that it is better to ask yourself the right questions. And the sailing community has been working on it for two or three years, forced to note the hiatus that is taking place on the environmental issue. “We practice a sport which conveys a very clean image because we move thanks to the wind, but the carbon impact of our events and the use of very polluting materials for the construction of boats reveal very different behind the scenessummarizes Fabrice Amedeo, five Transat Jacques Vabres on the clock and 11th in his first Vendée Globe in 2017. We often talk about ecology, but we don’t do much about it. »

When, in 2009, skipper Roland Jourdain, winner of his first Route du Rhum in 2006 (the second in 2010), decided to take a carbon assessment of his activity, not many followed him. “Bilou” then created his company, Kairos, in 2012 to develop biomaterials, and an endowment fund, Explore, the following year to finance projects useful to the planet. But ten years later, he certainly observes “an awareness that results in a few individual words or actions, but not really collective mobilization. Construction is thus twice as impactful, which is annoying because more and more boats are being produced. »

Fourteen ships have been launched for the next Vendée Globe. An “always more” harmful thing? Antoine Mermod disagrees. The engineer is the president of the Imoca class, which brings together the monohull skippers and defines the rules to which they submit. “We have great resources, pilots and technicians and a considerable media aurahe emphasizes. We could build less, but it wouldn’t change the world. Whereas as a testing and research laboratory, we can develop new solutions for the future and influence the industry in the right direction. »

Focus on sobriety

The class ensures that it devotes 15% of its annual budget to sustainable development actions and has recruited two specialists in corporate social responsibility (CSR). “Since 2021, we have been working on the life cycle analysis of our new boats, to better understand their impact and target areas for improvementsupports Antoine Mermod. The rules that we will decide for the period 2025-2029 should allow us a gain of 10 to 30% on our environmental impact. »

The approach hardly convinces the skipper Erwan Le Roux, president of the Ocean Fifty class, multihulls of around fifteen meters. “The environment is light years away from what it should be to meet the environmental challengehe asserts. On the last Route du Rhum, there was a workshop on carbon footprint, but barely twenty people attended. Every time we build a boat, we bury two containers of waste. Are we acting as if nothing happened? »

The Ocean Fifty class therefore focuses on sobriety. A numerus clausus has been decided, limiting the class to 10 boats, the last two having been launched in the summer of 2023. The lifespan of the racing sails has also been extended from two to three years. “It’s a start, but that doesn’t stop us from thinking more broadly about the type of ocean racing we all want in the future”adds the three-time winner of the Transat Jacques Vabre (in 2009, 2013 and 2015).

Returning from the last Route du Rhum, skipper Stan Thuret preferred to stay at the dock “for ecological reasons” rather than continuing in this world of outrageous competition in which he no longer recognized himself. A radical choice that shook the pontoons. But what does Roland Jourdain understand, who questions the quest for performance which increasingly dominates the industry. “With foils, these appendages on boats that allow them to “fly”, a new horizon seems to open up so everyone is in this dreamhe regrets. But what meaning does acceleration at all costs have for the third millennium? »

Adventure more than performance

The debate continues to agitate the community. “Speed ​​and performance at all costs is obviously ridiculousanalyzes François Gabart, a man of innovation if ever there was one, winner of all the major races and holder of the solo round the world record on his Ultim at the end of 2017 (42 days and 16 hours). But I also do this sport with a certain fascination for these two elements. Which are not only negative. Trying to continue to move as quickly and efficiently as possible thanks to the wind remains an interesting question because we will always need mobility and also to transport goods. »

The world of sailing is thus torn between the race for innovation and the desire to slow down. “I don’t believe in technical solutions alone, and conveying a message of slowdown seems interesting to me, without talking about decline, but rather post-growthexplains Roland Jourdain. We must engage people with great stories, but in line with the environment in which we operate, otherwise, we are making a mistake. » And Bilou will sail on this Transat with the adventurer Guirec Soudée, 31 years old, already the author of a five-year world tour, a double rowing across the Atlantic and who is aiming for the Vendée Globe next year. next, on this same 2007 boat masterfully piloted by Roland Jourdain on the 2010 Route du Rhum.

An old boat that still does the job, that’s also what Fabrice Amedeo chose, with a 2008 Imoca bought last January, and which is not equipped with foils. The skipper recognizes a choice dictated above all by budgetary constraints, his previous vessel having foundered on the last Route du Rhum. “But along the way, my boat finds itself more in tune with current issueshe judges. I will undoubtedly be in the 10 slowest boats in this Transat. But in a Vendée Globe, there will be something to play for, on a world tour where the adventure dimension is more significant. » Stories of men and the sea, more than of crazy machines, the essentials in short.

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