Hero Worship on the Docks in France Copyright Peter Marsh
In March 2012, I was sufficiently curious about Port La Foret in Brittany, the training center for the top Open 60 sailors, to interrupt my train ride from Spain back to the Channel and the ferry to England. It was foggy and cold, and I had to cycle for a couple of hours from the nearest station. When I arrived, there was only one Open 60 and one MOD 70 trimaran to be seen, with no one on board. But it was enough to whet my appetite to see more.
In October 2013, eighteen months later, I was touring Brittany after the postponed start of the Mini Transat in Douarnenez. I was in search of performance yachts bigger than 6.5 meters, so followed the south coast of Brittany east towards Port La Foret again. This time, there were three Open 60s docked there, all with 90′ carbon wing masts, and all entered in the Transat Jacques Vabre race to start from northern France on Nov 3.
MACIF was the winner of the Vendee Globe, and reckoned to be the fastest 60 ever built. (It’s sponsored by a pretty conservative home insurance company). The bright orange PRB (France’s Home Depot) had its mast extremely far aft and a cabin top that is just a thin slice projecting out of the vast orange deck
But best of all, the third yacht was Votre Nom Autour du Monde–the Vendee Globe entry that had carried the signatures of over 4,000 small donors around the world non-stop. (92 days 17 hours/9th) Now the hull had been cleaned of all the name stickers, and looked very smart. And just coming on deck was the skipper himself–Monsieur Bertrand de Broc.
The sun was setting and there was no time to waste. I rushed back to my touring bike, pulled out the copy of NW Yachting for June 2013 from the pannier and strolled up to him as nonchalantly as possible. In my best French, I told him I had a small present, opened the magazine to the right page, and passed it to him. I think he was pleasantly surprised to see his boat in an American magazine with him on deck in the big title photo of the story on the Vendee Globe–”The World’s Greatest Race” as I called it.
He called to someone on the dock to come and take a look, and I immediately recognized another Vendee Globe skipper, Arnaud Boissieres (91 days 2 hours/8th) who explained that he was Bertrand’s crew for the double-handed TJV race. So that’s how I got to meet two of my sailing heroes, not when thousands were cheering them from quay side, but alone on a quiet dock in Brittany. I said I would see them again in Le Havre in two weeks, if I still had the energy to keep pedaling…..
After two weeks of pedalling, visiting the D-Day beaches, and surviving an 80-mph wind storm, I arrived in Le Havre, Normandy, for the start of the TJV. There I saw Bertrand and Arnaud meeting the press and was invited on his boat to take a look around. I also ran into Tanguy de Lamotte, who I had watched finish the Vendee Globe in February 2013 in Les Sables d’Olonne in 10th place (behind Bertrand and Arnaud) and presented him with another copy of NW Yachting I was carrying. I explained htat he was actually the focus of the story, though Bertrand had the best picture.
Then it was off to the ferry terminal, less than a mile from the race HQ, and onto a ship back to England, the last rain to Waterloo Station, and another late-night ride along the Thames path and home to Greenwich.