Desjoyeaux: “I just hope we don't hit a whale...”

Sailor and #Explorer Michel Desjoyeaux on avoiding big fish and hauling ass in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Preparing for the race © ©Maria Muiña/ MAPFRE
By Joshua Sampiero

What is legendary solo circumnavigator Michel Desjoyeaux most worried about in the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race? Running into a whale with the 65 foot monohull MAPFRE – the boat that's going to take him and his crew around the world – as fast they can possibly sail it. Want to follow the race? Check it out on Redbull.tv.

You're a man who lives on the edge. Have you been like that your whole life?
Well. My parents were people who lived on the fringes of normality – they were free thinkers before free thinking was cool. They taught me to do what I wanted without worrying what people thought about it. They taught me to do whatever I wanted – as long as I did it with full commitment.

Michel, you're known for your circumnavigations – but this isn't your first race on a crewed boat.
I'm most known for that because that always makes the best media stories – but while I've sailed about 30 days of solo ocean crossing, I've logged well over 400 as the member of a crew. So this kind of race is nothing new to me!

Michel Desjoyeaux sailing at the Vendee Globe yacht race.
The final approach after his 2009 circumnavigation © MARCEL MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images

What makes this Volvo Ocean Race different from previous races?
This is the first time it's a true 'one-design' race, meaning all the boats have to follow very precise rules about what you can and can't do. We will all have the same tools in hand. My sailing has always implemented technological advancement – which never would have occurred if we only did one-design racing. If we only had one-design, we would never be going as fast as we do today! Some friends of mine and I, we wanted to create a website – the name, translated, would have been 'It will never work'. We wanted to document all the things someone once said would never work – and turned out to revolutionise an industry. It's not about just discovering a method – it's often how you implement it.

Michel Desjoyeaux celebrating at the Vendee Globe yacht race.
Desjoyeaux enjoying the 2009 Vendee Globe win © MARCEL MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images

The VOR is known for hitting some hairy weather – something you're familiar with.
I've seen a few storms! But with the new course, we'll only be in the roaring 40's for a short bit between India and Brazil.

Any memorably rough moments from previous Volvo Ocean Races?
I've done it three times before and we had a couple of problems each time. The first was in 1985, when we came out of the doldrums in the South Atlantic. Heading upwind, strong wind, big waves. We knew we had few leaks and we were bailing water out of the boat every few hours. During bailing, we heard a big noise - not a bang, but a crunch. We knew the hull was cracked. We fixed the problem with part of a watertight barricade, some life jackets, and parts of the rigging.

Michel Desjoyeaux sailing at the Route du Rhum.
At the start of the Rhoute du Rhum © Getty Images

How do you prepare for longer legs of the VOR?
The two longest legs are about 25 days each. Even though it's a small area we share for our office, kitchen and bedroom – 40 square meters for nine people – the competition is more important than personal disagreements. For the long legs, we bring more supplies, and more back-up parts. Everything is made to be strong enough – and even if we push it hard, if used correctly, it should be fine. The boat isn't just made to be fast – it's made to be strong and reliable, too. But we're not robots, we're humans – and humans make mistakes! So we have to bring spare parts for the engine, sails and lines. Those are the main things to cover.

Michel Desjoyeaux posing for a portrait.
Yes, Michel Desjoyeaux is THE sailor man © Pauce

What are the biggest risks for the upcoming race?
Hitting something at full speed – a shipping container, or a whale, at 30kph. The whale is softer, for sure – but that's still a lot of meat in the water! Really, the worst possible thing is a man-overboard. When it happens, it's not easy conditions – we're going fast, it's often dark. You never want that to happen.

Michel Desjoyeaux posing for a portrait.
Desjoyaux has truly been around the world © Pauce

What's your favourite kind of sailing?
Every kind. Imagine that you love to play with a ball – you can play with your feet, your hands, with nets, goals. Sailing is the same way – there's a lot of different ways to do it. But in the end, I simply prefer sailing – it doesn't matter whether it's one-design or open class.

How do you deal with problems?
The advantage of being an old guy is that you've seen a lot of problems. So when a new one comes along, you know it's just another problem, and you'll find a solution.

Get more information on the race at volvooceanrace.com.

This is part of our #Explorer series. Get more in-depth profiles on world-renowned adventurers below.

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