Series "Awakening the senses" #3 Hearing
The tranquility of being at sea is not something I even think about! Aboard these boats, which are the fastest monohulls in the world for solo sailing, the noise is omnipresent, to the extent that it becomes an important parameter in a Vendée Globe preparation. To get a better understanding of this aspect, this week we have the third chapter in our immersion into Sébastien Josse’s five senses: hearing.


Indeed, for the skippers, the idea is not to isolate oneself from the ambient decibels but rather to get into a position where they can select the useful sounds for performance. Aboard the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild, Sébastien Josse notably carries with him a so-called active noise reduction helmet, which does the job nicely. This will help him get off to sleep, whilst enabling him to stay connected to his environment. The skipper of the five-arrow racing stable has chosen to take with him earpieces used in hunting that are lighter and easy to use, even when manœuvring, which give him relief and also help to reduce the nervous fatigue associated with this sonorous universe.


This sense has long been a great aid to the sailor, given how well the latter could understand his boat through the way it sounded, even when it was impossible to see anything from down below. “Indeed, sounds were a reference in the past. Now, you’re primarily striving to cut yourself off from the noises that cause inference,” explains the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild, who is certainly not the only skipper to witness this phenomenon. “There’s the whistling of the appendages (rudders, foils) but you can adjust the trailing edges to alleviate it. The problem essentially stems from the shape of the hull, which no longer cuts through the water but bounces on top of it. It’s an endless drumming sound. Add to that the noise of the torrent that sweeps across the deck above your head and you need nerves of steel to keep going! Noise-cancelling headphones and earplugs are not enough. At the start, I found it unbearable and then, as you take in the fact that you don’t have a choice in the matter, you get used to it.”


Sébastien has always listened to music, both on land and at sea. “All the different styles, rap, pop, metal even from time to time, and cooler things, French popular music, Jacques Brel... but not classical music,” states the 41-year old sailor. “Aboard the boat, music takes you away from your routine. You often select it according to the sailing conditions and your state of mind too. Sometimes, it can even make you cry,” he explains, his sensitivity subtly rising to the surface, without ever overwhelming. “I prefer to have speakers rather than listening through headphones, which cut you off too much from your environment. Here too though, given the noise of the boat, you have to pump up the volume! I have everything in my phone, including audio books. It’s really great as a paper book doesn’t last a day with all the moisture aboard. However, I’m not really into films or series, as that’s too out of step with what I’m experiencing.”


With Internet, email and a satellite telephone, the solo skippers have all the latest communication technologies. The link with those on shore is very personal to the sailors. “Race organisation calls up, the media too, and the radio and video link-ups enable us to share our adventures with the public. It’s hard to retranscribe exactly what we’re going through but technology has evolved a great deal, particularly the video images, which have an increasingly important role and all that is very positive for our sport,” he explains. “Otherwise, privately, I’m not a big talker but naturally I do call land. When it’s a bit calmer aboard, I like to talk with my nearest and dearest who are living a ‘normal’ life. I don’t like talking about what I’m doing; I’m more into rekindling my ties with something everyday back on land, which I inevitably miss and is a source of comfort to me. In the same vein, it’s important to get news of what’s happening in France and around the world. All that also helps you to hang on in there and not feel totally alone and on the world’s fringes.”

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