A happy guy with an infectious laugh, Guirec Soudée is one of the brightest new characters in the IMOCA fleet and a young man who has no qualms about admitting he still has a lot to learn.
For the 30-year-old adventurer, who famously sailed around the world with a chicken named Monique on a 35ft steel yacht, and has rowed the Atlantic twice on his own, the Route Du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe is his first transatlantic race in the IMOCA class.
But that is not to forget his remarkable debut appearance in this year’s Vendée Arctique race when a bold strategy saw him finish in sixth place on one of the oldest boats in the fleet, a Bruce Farr daggerboard design first launched in 2007.
In St Malo this week Soudée laughs off that performance. “I was lucky because I had good conditions at the right moment,” he said, speaking on the crowded IMOCA pontoon next to Freelance.com which has some new sails for the Route du Rhum. “I still have a lot to learn on the boat. But I’ve got a lot of motivation and I’ve got some very nice people who are helping me on this project.”
“I am still practising and practising and making a lot of mistakes too,”he added. “The goal is to be ready for the Vendée Globe in 2024 and this race will be interesting for sure. For me, the most important thing is to finish and to learn as much as I can.”
Soudée remarked that he was amazed to be in the same fleet as some of the most famous names in French sailing and when we asked him who he wants to beat in the Rhum he joked that Jérémie Beyou will be on his target list.
“It is great,” he said, “I am not sure I deserve my place here, but I am very happy and very lucky for sure. When I look around and see all the big skippers and the big names, I am so impressed.”
He added that several people in the French grand prix sailing world have been helpful with advice, among them, François Guiffant, Aymeric Le Chappellier and the previous skipper of his boat, Benjamin Dutreux. Of the latter he says: “Benjamin always takes the time when we have a question on technique or sailing.”
So how did this extraordinary young man – who is also the youngest sailor ever to conquer the Northwest Passage – end up in the ranks of the IMOCA fleet? It turns out that during his travels with Monique he met the two-time Vendée Globe veteran Éric Dumont in the Caribbean and they got talking about the solo round the world race.
“We spent some time together,”recalled Soudée. “He told me all about the Vendée Globe and he told me he thought it would be right for me. I was like: ‘oh yeah? You think I can do it?’ He said: ‘for sure.’ I kept that in my mind while I was still travelling with my boat and with Monique and, when I came back to France, I said ‘OK, now I want to do the Vendée Globe for sure.’”
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Soudée says he is still learning the different speed modes of his boat and which sails to use and when. He loves the sheer speed of his IMOCA Class boat, compared to his own yacht that was averaging around 4-5 knots. He says his meteorological knowledge is just “the basics” at present and adds that he loves to spend as much time on deck as possible and not spend hours glued to his on-board computer.
As far as the Route du Rhum is concerned, Soudée jokes that the rougher the better in the early stages. “Yeah, minimum 30-40 knots would be interesting,”he said with that infectious laugh. He also quipped that at just 12-14 days the race is too short for him and maybe he will keep going and head off down south. But really, his goal is to get the race done and log miles for the Vendée Globe.
“I will try to push the boat, but I will also try to be careful because the most important thing is to finish the race and make sure I can be on the Vendée Globe startline. I am still learning; I don’t have all the tools, so I am watching the other boats a lot as well,” said Soudée.
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