But let’s come to the choice of the boat: how, when and why I chose a 6.50-meter long boat, a Mini Transat prototype.
The main reference for embarking on sailing around the world was the Golden Globe, the first solo race organized between 1968 and 1969 by the British Sunday Times magazine. The rules were simple: the winner would be the one who, sailing solo and unassisted aboard a sailboat, could complete the circumnavigation in the shortest possible time, leaving the three mythical capes to the left: Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn. Another source of inspiration is the Vendée Globe, born 20 years later. is a regatta always for soloists to be held every four years, but on boats now 18 meters long.
My choice to use a Mini 6.50 to undertake such long sailing is related to the fact that these are reliable boats that have been tried and tested for more than 30 years on various Atlantic voyages. The initial idea was to have a design made for a new boat, a design that would be molded to my needs, particularly hull strength, inaffon- dability, and volumes for stowage of provisions and equipment. And it was on this basis that a friend/navigator, Sébastien Roubinet (Seb), began to draw the lines of what was to become my world for several months of sailing.
A boatyard eventually accepted my proposal to build the boat. Everything seems to be going well in early 2008 when, suddenly, the shipyard that was to build the boat sends me new arrangements, completely different from those previously established… I am disheartened, discouraged. I inform Seb what happened, the project to build a boat from scratch goes up in smoke. I am not losing heart; I am determined to carry out my project. Now what is lacking is a financial sponsor who believes in me and who will give me the financial readiness to buy a prototype Mini 6.50 used, but in fair condition and to use as a base on which to work to get as close as possible to my idea of a boat.
The economic crisis raging in the world at that time did not take… The responses I get, when I get them, are all negative. Moving on. I appreciate those who respond to me, even if it is in a negative way, and among the responses I am pleased to receive a letter with golden and elegant lettering from His Majesty the Sheikh of the UAE thanking me and telling me that he is, however, already im- pacted with the America’s Cup project…
The warmth of spring finally brings good news. Findomestic has the office in charge of its im- magine contact me to explore the terms of a possible sponsorship. I fly to Milan for a meeting and shortly afterwards the contract is signed! Findomestic officially becomes my main sponsor and will name the boat.
Now I have the money to buy a shell to transform and much of the equipment. I begin in earnest to sort through the bargain ads that are closest to the boat I have in mind and ask Seb, who has sailed a lot on the Mini 6.50, to give me his opinion. Eventually, after a few months of research I decide to go and see a prototype in Lorient, an “old” design from 1997 with a canting keel. The construction is amateur, angled, marine plywood and epoxy resin. The boat has a fiery red bow that fades to yellow at the stern and bears a name that is a whole program: Hakuna Matata, “no problem” in the Swahili language. The transom is less wide than the maximum beam. This detail is one of the features I like for the kind of navigation I plan to do. I think of the huge breakers that will hit the stern boat and the behavior it might have if the stern represented the widest part, if the shell had the modern shapes very close to a triangle. I think in this case the boat, hit by the breaker would have an easier time getting sideways and then capsizing than in the hypothetical case of having the maximum beam positioned at about half the hull length. I also appreciate the marine plywood and epoxy construction, materials that, if major structural work is needed, make it easier to juggle than a carbon sandwich construction.
So I get in touch with Fabrice Lucat, the owner of Hakuna who raced the minitransat race from La Rochelle to Bahia in 2007 and is currently in China on business. The boat convinces me, the deal is done and Hakuna thus becomes Findomestic Bank! In Lorient I arrange transportation to Italy. Before Findomestic can get its hands on the resin with the help of some workers, it must be stripped bare, stripped of all equipment, and sanded completely. In late July the first structural work on the hull. The structure of the living work is completely changed: one must be ready for anything, the disasters that sometimes accompany the various editions of the Vendée Globe must be a warning, and I must treasure the experiences of others, even if carried on with much larger boats than mine. I must make sure that my vehicle, the hull in particular, emerges unscathed from the fury of the Southern Oceans, the success of the enterprise and my life depend on it.
I start the work inside the boat. The entire structure proves to be undersized. All it takes is a well-settled punch to make some of the ordinates come unglued. I open the bow and stern guards that enclose the bulk of the buoyancy reserves and have a nasty sor- taken: at the stern, two to three millimeters of the marine plywood bottom are rotted away, while at the bow the biggest problem is the presence of two long cracks at the abutments. In addition to this, all the main ordinates are split in the area of the bottom of the boat exactly in the middle, and there are no longitudinal hull in the bow area.
At the end of July, I start hardening the area where the keel is attached to the hull. Over an area of several square centimeters, marine com- thought is removed to a thickness of five millimeters and replaced by carbon fibers impregnated with epoxy resin. Initial surveys are conducted at the keel blade to check its condition. The boat at that moment is just a cape-faced, dusty shell, something that doesn’t at all give the idea of a vehicle that can take on the open sea and everything I dreamed of. The work goes on. The structure of the living work is completely modified and part of the surface coated with a layer of unidirectional carbon fiber, two layers of glass-Kevlar fabric and epoxy resin. The next day the hull is turned over and placed with the deck upward. I then remove the end of the sump for a length of one meter.