When François Gabart won the 2012-13 Vendée Globe he was not only the fastest ever winner in the history of the race, but also the youngest. Aged just 29, the French racer completed the circuit in 78 days, 2 hours, 16 minutes, knocking six days off the previous record set in 2009. Held every four years, the 24,000 nautical-mile solo race around the world is considered among the very toughest there is, combining elite technical skill with almost superhuman endurance. There can be no outside assistance, including weather or routing information and no mechanised assistance in the operation of the sails.
“It is necessary to spend a lot of time at the grind column,” Gabart says, adding that a competitor will turn the cranks of the column over a 100,000 times throughout a global navigation.
The demands of the Southern Ocean in particular take competitors far beyond the range of any emergency response. The threats are both real and imminent and the psychological challenges immense, especially given the total lack of sleep: “We’re telling ourselves that we’re going to be fine! We’re taking micro-naps, which can only last a few seconds. On average, they last about twenty minutes but never more than an hour.”
The racer’s record-breaking feats didn’t end with the Vendée Globe. In 2017 – sailing the 30-metre trimaran MACIF – Gabart became the fastest man to navigate single-handed around the globe, in a time of 42 days, 16 hours and 40 minutes.
To understand what drives Gabart to such extremes is to know that there is much more he aims to achieve: “My philosophy is ‘always push the limit’. Sailing is currently living a big revolution with the fly [hydrofoil sailboats that fly above waves]. I want to be part of this and bring it to the whole maritime industry.”
Wind in his sails
Back on dry land Gabart is the brand ambassador for Click & Boat. Founded in 2013 by French entrepreneurs Edouard Gorioux and Jérémy Bismuth, the company enables owners from around the world to rent out their boats. From French Polynesia to the Norwegian fjords, Click & Boat provides a unique sharing platform that opens up the world of sailing as never before. Gabart originally became involved by registering his own boat on the platform. Gorioux and Bismuth couldn’t believe it was the real François Gabart and reached out, and a successful relationship has blossomed ever since.
“I am convinced by the economy of sharing and passionate about boats and sailing. It makes me sad to see some boats staying in port all year round and people on the pontoons who want to live a unique experience on the water. Click & Boat can therefore enable more boats to sail and more people to get out on the water,” Gabart says.
“The advantage of Click & Boat is that you can rent a boat at any location without being dependent on the position of your own boat. This is fantastic!”
True to the speed that has made its brand ambassador a household name in France, Click & Boat has also made a pretty fast start. The company already counts over 100 employees across four offices, Paris, Marseille, Lorient, and Hamburg. Since its launch, it has seen over 400,000 registered users take to the seas.
The process is simple: owners create a free listing for their boat by adding pictures, a description, a price, and some advice about the sailing area. Those looking to rent can then contact them directly through the Click & Boat messaging service to ask any questions. Boat owners can access the sailing credentials and experience of the renter so they are 100% confident in the person taking charge of their vessel. You can choose from several hundred boats within a sailing area, benefiting from the feedback of those who have previously rented. The formula is tried, tested and currently riding the crest of a wave.
“I hooked directly into the human story of Edouard and Jérémy. I really admire their work. They have created the most efficient boat sharing service,” says Gabart.
Yet, the business world is by no means uncharted water to Gabart. Ever since he was a student in 2006 he has led his own offshore racing company, MerConcept, which acts as an elite technical performance partner, building boats, and designing cutting-edge technology and training programmes for sailing teams around the world. Those looking to gain a competitive edge get it from MerConcept. It was through a MerConcept partnership with MACIF that Gabart developed the 30-metre trimaran on which he beat the solo around-the-world record
Gabart is a yachtsman always looking for new challenges and solutions, which includes having an eye on the environmental aspects of his sport: “We have to think about our impact on the world, on the environmental and societal sides. Offshore racing uses an infinite energy – the wind. We have to find solutions to improve our boats construction. I don’t think we should reduce our speed but rather our impact. For me, speed is synonymous with progress!”
In a sport where age and experience so often holds the keys to success, François Gabart is a true trailblazer. It can only be that “infinite energy” he speaks of constantly pushing him to new horizons.