Thursday, 21 March 2013

Vendée Globe : Bernard Stamm, Cheminées Poujoulat – Winner of the Environmental Race

Bernard Stamm, Cheminées Poujoulat. Image copyright Thierry Martinez/Sea&Co

Interview by Anne Hinton, March 2013, after presentation of the film “Rivages : une autre vision de la course au large” at the Savanturiers de la Mer gathering at the Cité de la Voile Eric Tabarly, Lorient, France

One of the assets of sailing for sponsorship is the environmental or “green” nature of the sport. In recent years that has been increased promotion of concern for the ocean environment alongside sailboat, and especially ocean, racing.

Bernard Stamm aboard Cheminées Poujoulat. Image copyright Thierry Martinez/Sea&Co

In the Vendée Globe 2012-13, Bernard Stamm, aboard Cheminées Poujoulat, had scientific equipment installed by the Centre d'Océanopolis at Brest to measure phytoplankton as he moved across the world’s oceans. The collection of these data enable satellite measurements over large areas to be checked against actual sample collections made directly from the ocean. 

The scientific experiment was completed when Stamm sailed back into Les Sables d’Olonne, despite a lack of classification in the race itself due to outside assistance received while undertaking repairs half way around the world.

Cheminées Poujoulat enters the water for the first time. Image copyright Thierry Martinez/Sea&Co

Background to the Cheminées Poujoulat Vendée Globe project

AH:     How did you choose the designer of your boat?

BS:      I chose Juan Kouyoumdjian. We could talk about the boat completely by ourselves. If I had chosen someone also working on another Vendée Globe boat I am sure that the resulting design will be very similar. 

            It’s not because I like to make something else than everybody, but it’s important to make the entire job; from thinking, conception, building and until the race.

Cheminées Poujoulat. Image copyright Thierry Martinez/Sea&Co

AH:     Are you pleased with the boat?

BS:      Yes. The boat is very different. The design is very precise. There is a way how to use the boat and if you use the boat differently it doesn’t work. It’s efficient, it’s a good boat.

AH:     Why the decision for Décision in Switzerland to build the boat?

BS:      First it’s a chance. Bertrand Cardis is a friend of mine. I know him since a long time before he started building boats… The whole project to build the boat is a friend project. [Décision have built boats from lake catamarans to round the world racers and Ernesto Bertarelli’s America’s Cup boats, so their credentials are very well assured.]

The Race

Cheminées Poujoulat. Image copyright Thierry Martinez/Sea&Co

AH:     You are the most unfortunate of all the competitors in the last Vendée Globe with hitting the container in the Transat Jacques Vabre beforehand as well as the issues in the Vendée Globe itself.

BS:      When we built the boat it left time for training. Then after in the Transat Jacques Vabre we hit the container the repair [several metres of one side of the hull and internal structures had to be replaced; Stamm was fortunate to able to prevent the boat from sinking after so much damage had occurred] took a very long time and it was very bad luck. All the rest of the problems that we faced in the race [the Vendée Globe] was work that we had no time to do. If you try to win you push everything to the limit – a limit that maybe you reach sometimes.

 Cheminées Poujoulat is damaged by a container during the Transat Jacques Vabre. Image copyright DR

AH:     Can you describe what happened during the Vendée Globe?

BS:      What happened was that we broke the boat in the Transat Jacques Vabre and then the two races that we tried to use as test races I didn’t have and then all the time that we repaired the boat after that we didn’t use to train.

 Bernard Stamm repairs the hydrogenerator on board during the Vendée Globe. Image copyright Globe Surfer

            It’s a lot of small things that we didn’t resolve, and some big things like the hydrogenerator. Then I had a problem with the energy and with the autopilot also: two very big problems on the Vendée Globe.

            Next time…!

Sail Wardrobe

AH:     François Gabart, winner of this edition of the Vendée Globe on board Macif, used the MDTK sail in establishing his 24 hour speed record and much has been made of that sail in this regard. What was your sail wardrobe?

BS:      The MDTK is a choice that François made for his boat. Everybody has a different choice and I had this sail for the Vendée Globe in 2008, but not this time.

            There is no miracle – there is only work!

            This sail is part of the work that François did on his boat. You cannot just take it like this and put it on another boat. If I start again in the Vendée Globe I will not choose this sail; it doesn’t fit my boat.

Cheminées Poujoulat. Image copyright Thierry Martinez/Sea&Co

AH:     What were your ten sails on board for the Vendée Globe this time?

BS:      I had A2, A6, mainsail, genoa, Solent, normal jib, storm jib, an A5 and a big and a small gennaker.

Future Plans

AH:     Are you going to do the Route du Rhum?

BS:      I don’t know. Now I have to reassess my project. I know that I will race the Transat Jacques Vabre, but for the future I have to build the project and the team. I don’t know whether my sponsor, Cheminées Poujoulat, wants to continue. If they continue the collaboration it’s ok, but I have to be sure that we have all that is needed to be able to win. For the moment it’s like every project -  it’s at the building stage.

New IMOCA Class Rules

Cheminées Poujoulat. Image copyright Thierry Martinez/Sea&Co

AH:     What do you think of the ideas for the next boat for the Vendée Globe? What is your favoured option?

BS:      For me, mono-type is not good. It’s not a good solution for me. Prototypes are interesting for the sponsors. If there is mono-type, it must be a real mono-type, and not just IMOCA class. For so long time, I don’t know how they will control and make things as smooth. To make exactly the same boat for everyone – I think it’s not possible.

            Mono-type is a good idea, but you have to make sure that they will be a real monotype. It’s very complicated.

            You talk about the sail of François Gabart. They will try to find somewhere to improve the boat – and this is not mono-type, and this will kill the class, I am sure.

Cheminées Poujoulat. Image copyright Thierry Martinez/Sea&Co

AH:     The first two boats on the podium of the latest edition of the Vendée Globe came out of the same mould, but François Gabart did something different from Armel Le Cléac'h with the interior layout.

BS:      In this way it is ok and it is possible, but if now the class will be only on mono-type, I think the experience of preparing the boat will not disappear and they will apply it to the mono-type. I think if you do this, you will kill the class.

Environmental Experiment

AH:     About the laboratory that you had on board to measure phytoplankton… Environmental concerns are becoming of increasing interest with ocean racing. The Barcelona World Race had a conference on the oceans and the future of the planet just before the race started, the Volvo Ocean Race boats have collected samples of water on a daily basis on each boat, and now you are making environmental measurements in the oceans during the Vendée Globe. Do you see this as something to continue in the future?

BS:      Sure. I think we are already too late to do this. It’s time to be different in our way to use the planet, it’s just logical.

AH:     There is a limit to what any one boat can do at any time.

BS:      Yes, but if everybody does a little bit it will be better. For us, at first, it was difficult. It was expensive and took a long time to put on the boat. With a prototype you cannot oblige everyone to have such constraints.

AH:     It was quite automatic? It didn’t take much of your time?

BS:      No.

AH:     What about the weight on the boat and the electronics?

BS:      We worked to implant this machine during 2 or 3 years. It was huge work before the race. I am sure that not everybody will do this, or be able to do this. We were lucky because it was friends – so it didn’t cost for us. We were lucky that we reached a result just before the race. It was not automatic [to install the equipment on board].

Bernard Stamm returns to Les Sables d'Olonne at the end of the Vendée Globe on board Cheminées Poujoulat. Image copyright DR.

AH:     There were unfortunate problems with the boat, such that the Vendée Globe race could not be completed, but you did complete the ocean experiment?

BS:      Yes, we won that race!


Bernard Stamm's co-presentation with Eric Hussenot, Director of Océanopolis at Brest, was by far the most popular of the presentations at the Savanturiers de la Mer gathering, and the organisers had to find another location for the many autograph/photo hunters, well-wishers and armchair or would-be around the world sailors to meet with Stamm afterwards.

In addition to the Rivages  presentation, other highlights  from the Savanturiers de la Mer were:

* Pakaihi i te moana, a film about the mission to uncover the amazing biodiversity of the Marquesas islands in the Pacific, where several new species of fish, etc, have been discovered by French researchers
* Film and direct talk by Skype with those locked in the ice on the yacht Vagabond in Grise Fiord, Nunavut, eastern Canada, concerning their long-standing programme monitoring polar bears in the Arctic
* Preparation of the vessel Tara, the former Seamaster of Sir Peter Blake, for an expedition to the Arctic. They leave Lorient 15th May to examine plankton in Arctic waters. Following this, the next expedition will be to warmer climes to assess coral growth in the Pacific
* The glaciers of Spitsbergen (Svalbard), which involved the voyage of a 10 metre yacht from southern Brittany, through the Irish Sea and Caledonian Canal, up the Norwegian coast and across to Svalbard, where she was joined by French scientists, who were able to use her to carry out assessments of sediments offshore in front of the Midre Lovenbreen and Austre Lovenbreen glaciers by side-scan sonar. The return trip saw the yacht used as a base for a winter skiing holiday in northern Norway, after the snow had been cleared off the decks
* Oceans of plastic - A film and discussion concerning the tonnes of plastic and other waste that humans leave, completely unnecessarily and to the detriment of the environment for sea creatures, in the sea each year. The Japanese tsunami has also contributed a very large additional quantity of debris