Categories: Sports News

“It’s like going from Formula 3 to Formula 1”

Fourteenth in the last Vendée Globe, Romain Attanasio (44) will set off on Sunday in the Transat Jacques Vabre alongside Sébastien Marsset, on his new foiling boat, Fortinet-Best Western, acquired in the spring. A monohull that the skipper had to learn to master, and which could still hold some surprises for him. The fifteenth of the last edition spoke to our site.

Romain Attanasio, how are you approaching this Transat Jacques Vabre 2021 on your new foil boat?
We’re pretty ready. We have sailed as much as we can since we got this boat at the end of May. Sébastien (Marsset), who will be my teammate on the Transat, has been with me since the boat was launched. But it is true that there was such a “file” to take this boat in hand … We tried to navigate as much as possible to get to know it as well as possible. There are lots of subtleties, lots of new features with this foiler. And we still have work to do, we don’t have all the cards in our hands. Sometimes we are still a little surprised by the boat, by the settings.

Is there such a difference between a drift and a foil boat?
I would say that we are going from Formula 3 to Formula 1. There is a big difference. My previous Imoca was already a good boat, but this is yet another world. Now I understand why the guys were leaving for training so quickly, when I see the speeds that we manage to achieve at times. There really is a difference in speed when the boat is flying. With the other boat, when there was 17-18 knots of wind, I was sailing at 18-19 knots, a little faster than the wind. There, we are at 28-30 knots (1 knot = 1.852km / h, editor’s note). When the boat flies, it goes like a ball.

How easy is it to find the balance between speed and safety?
This is what is difficult, this is where we struggle a bit with Sébastien. We found that we did not attack enough in the first training sessions, and in the Rolex Fastnet (a race in August that they finished in sixth place, note). We often found ourselves well placed, but we lost places because we were a little too restrained. Suddenly, on the Défi Azimut (a race in September where they also finished sixth, editor’s note), we said to ourselves “we’re going all out” and we broke three sails. So we have to find a compromise.

Attanasio: “Fortinet came because I had a foiler”

How did you manage to buy this boat, which belonged to Boris Herrmann, fifth in the last Vendée Globe?
It was a dream that seemed really unattainable, because I had small partners. Even though Best Western is a big company, they have suffered a lot from covid, there are still hotels that are still closed. I said to myself: “now is not the time to ask them for so much money”. I looked a little at the drift boats, especially the one Clarisse had (Crémer, 12th at the finish, editor’s note) during the Vendée, a boat from 2012. I said to myself: “it will be cheaper and I may be able to the foiler after ”. Alongside Clarisse’s boat, I dreamed a little of Boris’s boat. For me, it was the best, it was a 2016 boat that had been refurbished, very well optimized by her team. I called him a year and a half ago, long before the Vendée, to find out if he was selling his boat. He had me yes, but the price was not what I could afford. And I called him back anyway during the Vendée, because the sponsorship contracts ended after the Vendée. It’s a bit stressful, when you come from Vendée, not knowing what will happen next. He told me that Damien Seguin was going to buy it. A month after our discussion at sea, I called him back and he told me that the boat was still not available. In the meantime, I had asked my sponsor if he did not want to buy a boat with me, he had just sold his company. He thought about it. Three days later, Boris called me back, the boat was available. It was awesome. But I had just arrived from the Vendée, everything was going well, and we had to get back a loan …

Finally, your boat will be called Fortinet-Best Western, how did it go with Fortinet?
With Fortinet, we spent a month and a half talking, we made dozens of files to explain our project to them. They told me OK, so we ended up with the budget, the boat and it all went like that. Finally, there was no downtime, I only took a vacation at the end of August… You had to strike the iron while it was hot. Fortinet came because I had a foiler, they wouldn’t have come otherwise. It’s a leading security company, they want technology. Even though it’s not a new boat, they liked the challenge, and so did my story. It’s an American box. They like the stories of the one who enters by the back door and who progresses with the strength of the wrist. And today I find myself with a great project, a great team, a great boat, and ready, as much as I can, for the Transat Jacques Vabre.

Do you need better physical condition to sail on a foil boat?
It’s wetter, so you need better oilskins (laughs). It’s more exhausting, in fact. It vibrates a lot, it makes a lot of noise, it hisses. Inside the boat, we always have a helmet, which we didn’t have before. The noise is between the hissing and the vibration, it is quite unpleasant. And we spend a lot of time on our knees, because the boat is flying, we can’t stand. It’s stressful. At the beginning, we were impressed all the time, now we are impressed from time to time, we progress. When the boat goes up on its foils, then on the rudder, sometimes it stalls and it falls, but it’s not just the front that goes up and down, it’s the whole boat that goes down. In the dark, it makes you gag, a bit like an elevator that leaves quickly, it’s quite astonishing sensation. It’s quite exhilarating, but very impressive. We’ve scared each other a lot of times. It’s not panicked fear, but there are plenty of times when it’s awesome. We look at it with wide eyes.

You suffered some damage during your training races …
At Fastnet, we made a huge hole in the mainsail on the first tack. I said to myself: “it’s not possible, we are not going to give up”. So I think back to what a former partner told me: “Better to die in glory than to live in shame”, so I would rather blow the mainsail in half than go back like that. Finally, we managed to continue, we lost places, but we finished, it was great. Then, on the Azimut, we attacked hard and blew a big spinnaker, made a hole in the mainsail. But these are also races that are used for that, to test the limits of the boat. And we did not hesitate to test. On the Transat, we know that every mistake is expensive. We didn’t know this boat, we had a lot of room for improvement. In any case, at sea, the one who wins is not the one who does everything well, he is the one who does the least amount of stupidity. We are going to do stupid things, we just have to try not to redo the ones we have already done.

Attanasio: “Francis Cabrel has accepted to be the godfather of my boat”

You are going to compete in this Transat with Sébastien Marsset, as in 2019 (15th at the finish), was it an obvious choice?
The Transat we did two years ago went very well and I told him on arrival that I would take it again this year if he was available. And for this boat, I really wanted someone to take the boat in hand with me. I had a lot of very good skippers who called me to race with me, but I didn’t want someone who came just for the races, a bit rock star, even if it wasn’t not pejorative. I really wanted someone who would be with me the whole time I was in charge of the boat, who would be there every day. Sébastien was available for that. I chose him and I made the right choice because we both worked a lot, and we weren’t too two (smiles).

What does the route of this 2021 edition inspire you, with this loop to be done in the northeast of Brazil and this double passage of Ecuador?
It’s worrying, because I had such a horrible Doldrums, the worst of my life, when I came back up the Vendée Globe that I told myself that it was not that simple. It’s so random. We know the route well, even if we don’t know the part between the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha and Martinique (I have already done it once on a ferry). It is not easy, along the coast, with a lot of sargassum (decomposing brown algae, editor’s note) which gets stuck in the keel. It’s a little longer than usual. There is the exit of the Channel which is never easy, the exit of the Bay of Biscay too, with headwinds, storms, as often. The descent of the Atlantic, we will see, and these two Pots au Noir, even if, the more we take it towards the West, the better, and after Fernando we will really be in the West. The Doldrums are often very active in November.

What is your goal?
It’s super difficult. There are beautiful people. I would already like to match with the best, not to be behind.

Did Francis Cabrel agree to be the godfather of the boat?
Yes, he accepted! It’s a funny story. It is thanks to Marie Tabarly (sailor and daughter of Eric, editor’s note). His agent knows Philippe well, Francis Cabrel’s lifelong friend. She knew that I liked her very much, and in mid-October, she said to me: “Come on, we are going to Brest together, I have organized a meeting for you with Cabrel. He was very cool, his whole team too for that matter. He doesn’t know anything about sailing, he told me: “I live 300km from the sea, it’s not my area at all, I have never done a sailing boat, but it does. ‘interested. He wanted to sail, but in two knots of wind, I told him no, it still has to sail, we will find nice conditions, without it being scary either. Afterwards, he’s a discreet guy, we’ll do that without everyone knowing.

Photo credit: André Carmo

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