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Read "Alone Against the Sea" (preview available online) in the November/December 2000 ADVENTURE.



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*Catherine Chabaud
Francophones can get the latest news and photos from the cottage industry that is Catherine Chabaud—plus overviews of her team and her boat.

*Photos: Sailing the "Liquid Himalaya"
A National Geographic photographer hitches a harrowing ride through the Southern Ocean during the Whitbread Round the World Race.

*Vendée Globe
Get the official line in Frenchified English.


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Catherine Chabaud
 
Captain Courageous
Home Brittany, France
Age 38
Favorite Place Brittany, France
Heroes Ernest Shackleton
Horatio Hornblower
Favorite Place to Sail Brittany, France
 
    "We Vendée Globe racers get old faster."
 
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In the 2000–01 Vendée Globe round-the-world race, up to two dozen of the best blue-water sailors will again challenge themselves, their competitors, and the boat-bashing Southern Ocean—solo, without stopping. They shove off from Les Sables-d'Olonne, France, in November 2000 and won't be back for at least another 105 days, barring any broken records. At least one competitor won't be back at all, if past races are any indication.

Among the survivors of the last Vendée, in 1996-97, Catherine Chabaud completed the course in 140 days, becoming the first female sailor to circle the world alone nonstop. This year she returns with a blazing new boat, Whirlpool, and a heightened will to win.

For more on Chabaud, see our excerpt of "Alone Against the Sea," from the November/December issue.
 

  What's your personal philosophy?
 

Each person is responsible for his or her own life. We are the creators of our own happiness. We mustn't be led by life, we have to guide our life. We're incredibly lucky to be on Earth.

 
  Do you remember your first sailing trip?
 

I was 17 and I went for a trip around Brittany. It was a revelation for me.

 
  What was your most frightening moment?
 

During the Vendée Globe '96, when I half-capsized and my mast was in the water. Also, when I saw other sailors using their distress beacons.

 
  What was your biggest thrill of the last year?
 

In a positive way, it was my victory in the Fastnet race, and in a negative way, it was during the Jacques Vabre [transatlantic race] when [technical manager] Luc [Bartissol] and I were caught in the middle of a big storm.

 
  How would you explain the tremendous success of French sailors in international races?
 

French sailors take risks and live by their wits in these lonesome races.

 
  Do the French approach sailing with a different mentality from that of, say, the British?
 

Yes, the British are always very well prepared, and they sail very safely. The French tend to sail with more of an accent on adventure and winning than on security.

 
  How do you manage to sleep while sailing nonstop for over a hundred days?
 

I have no choice in the matter. The forecast tells me when I can sleep. When I do sleep, it's for as short as ten minutes or as long as three hours. Even then, I wake up every 20 minutes to check if everything is OK.

Before going to sleep, I check everything: the radar, the alarm, etc.

 
  Can you communicate with family and friends while racing?
 

I communicate every day with my managers, Anne Combier and Frédéric Léonard, once in a while with my family, and sometimes with sponsors. I also write e-mails every day, and there is a press release every two days.

 
  What are you most looking forward to in the 2000–01 Vendée Globe?
 

Sailing Whirlpool, being in harmony, and doing a good performance.

 
  What are you dreading in the race?
 

No comment. [Chabaud says she prefers not to dwell on the negative before a race.]

 
  On winning the 1996–97 Vendée Globe, Christophe Auguin said, "We don't come back intact from a race like this." Did that Vendée Globe profoundly change you too?
 

I wouldn't say profoundly, but it does age you. We Vendée Globe racers get old faster. We want to live our life fully. We want to get to the point.

 
  So many sailors are happy just to survive the Véndee. What makes you want to attempt it a second time?
 

The first time it was more an initiatory trip, and my boat was too old for me to expect a good result. This year I'm coming back with a powerful boat. These are really two different Vendée Globes for me: In the first one I was more interested in discovery, whereas in the second one I want to compete.

 
  What will you bring on board to remind you of home?
 

Some photos of people I love, some copies of painted pictures, and a paper sunflower.

 
  What kind of food do you pack for a hundred days at sea?
 

I take a variety of foods. About three-fifths of my food is freeze-dried. The other two-fifths is fresh. The fresh foods last for only about the first two weeks of the race, but they help me build up strength for the weeks that follow.

 
  What do you do when you're not sailing?
 

Generally I read, I do some sports, take advantage of life, meet some people, spend some time with my family.

But this year, since I didn't sail much, I worked a lot and practiced a lot. For example, I worked on my weather forecasting and first aid skills, I worked with my office in Paris (giving interviews, meeting with sponsors, etc.), and I wrote my second book [Entre Deux Mondes, Entre Deux Mers—Between Two Worlds, Between Two Seas, not available in English].

 
  What is the first thing you do when you set foot on land after a big race?
 

Kiss and hug everyone I care about.

 
  Is there another adventure you're hungry to accomplish?
 

To explore the Arctic by boat.

 
  What would you be doing if you weren't a sailor?
 

I'd enjoy being a journalist, a florist—or just being a mom.

 
  What do you do to relax?
 

Yoga and sophrology [a practice involving yoga, relaxation therapy, and meditation].

 
  What is the most important quality for a sailor in the Vendée Globe to have?
 

Optimism.

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