Where these two are concerned, it seems churlish to talk facts and figures. Suffice to say that they have known each other for in excess of 25 years, have clocked up countless nautical miles sailing together and are joining forces for this 8th Transat Jacques Vabre that is Loïck Peyron's 40th transat and Jean-Baptiste Le Vaillant's first double-handed crossing. But although he's on board Gitana Eighty, this sparkling new monohull owned by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, Loïck Peyron is not neglecting his role as Gitana Team general manager and will also be keeping a watchful eye on the progress of the team's second crew in the race: Lionel Lemonchois and Yann Guichard aboard Gitana 11. After all, both of the team's skippers are defending their title after each winning the event in their respective categories last time around in 2005.
Can you tell us a bit about your boat, Gitana Eighty?
Loïck Peyron: “She's a racy, sophisticated and powerful vessel, who still needs to be broken in! Jean-Baptiste and I have tried to sail her regularly in different configurations and found that she handles well even in light air, which we weren't particularly expecting! I'm relying on this race to fine-tune all Gitana Eighty's settings and make her more reliable. She was given her name in honour of Baron Edmond, Baron Benjamin de Rothschild's father, who would have been eighty this year.”
Jean-Baptiste Le Vaillant: “Her strong point is that she's a brand-new boat and so should be very quick… and her weak point is that she a brand-new boat whose foibles we're not yet fully familiar with!”
What's your secret weapon, so to speak?
Loïck: “There are lots of them but I'm afraid they're secret, of course! Obviously, we've pooled our experience to develop a certain number of innovations on board. We'll talk about them, er… later! For the moment, I'll just say that we've of course been working on speed and the optimisation of manoeuvres, but also on comfort on board! Without wanting to sound like an old dinosaur, after 39 transats, I've learnt that a little bit of luxury doesn't go amiss.”
Jean-Baptiste: “That's right. And we can even let you in on our first secret weapon: two pairs of slippers!”
What's it like sailing double-handed?
Loïck: “Because of the amount of time, it's like being an old couple. We know each other's reflexes off by heart, which is a real boon. The main problem with sailing double-handed is, because you know you're not on your own, you tend to think you're part of a crew! It's exhausting, as the pace can be truly hellish.”
Jean-Baptiste: “It's a first for me, but Loïck and I complement each other well. He knows my strengths and weaknesses and I know his too. I'm not worried, as during the training runs, we slipped into our respective roles without any problems. Our method of operation is simple and fluid.”
Given the level of competition, there should be quite a scrap out there, don't you think?
Loïck: “Definitely! We know we're all going to meet again at the start of the Vendée Globe next year, so it's highly likely that no one will throw in the towel. So even though the Jacques Vabre offers a chance for us to test out and confirm the technical choices made on the boat, it's first and foremost a real race and we're not going to miss the chance to get stuck in and try to win it!”
Jean-Baptiste: “What's more, you have to remember that there are a lot of new boats taking part, with everything that involves! It's a race that's sure to be fun to watch, whatever happens!”
Loïck, you're the only person who's taken part in every edition of this transat. Do you have any particular memories to share with us?
"Yes. I've won it twice, in 1999 with Franck Proffit, then in 2005 alongside Jean-Pierre Dick; I've also made it onto the podium another 4 times and come fourth once, in 1995, also with Franck Proffit. We had to make a stop for technical reasons, but I think what sticks in my mind most is the 1999 victory, as that was also the year we lost Paul Vatine. It's hard to celebrate victory when you know someone won't be coming home."
A brief word about your partner?
Loïck: “The choice of Jean-Baptiste made itself. He was the only person on my list, for three good reasons. The first is that he's an excellent sailor, a unique crewman with vital experience; secondly, he's a good companion, by which I mean he's easy to live with and we get along famously. Finally, Jean-Baptiste is also an unrivalled sailmaker (editor's note: from Incidences sailmakers in La Rochelle) and with Gitana Eighty, we've decided to go the whole hog with the development of the sails, as they're the boat's engine!”
Jean-Baptiste: “I certainly didn't need long to think about it! I'm well used to sailing in a crew and was tempted by the idea of sailing double-handed, especially with Loïck and even more so on account of the challenge in terms sail development. I've been in this line for a long time, but every time a new project comes up, I'm like a little kid, excited at the prospect of going even further. Loïck is the ideal partner in that respect, as he has a unique culture of boats in all their forms!”
Follow the race live from Saturday 3 November at 13:02, courtesy of regular updates and a detailed cartography on this site.