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Serial Keeler

Vendee

Serial Keeler

"You don’t really know what to believe in, what’s rational, what’s good what’s bad… What to do… Oh well…" Almost sounding like a sailor version of Patrick Modiano, French author famous for never finishing a sentence while being interviewed, Roland Jourdain was stuck for words when he set foot ashore in the Azores and was greeted by his team. A quick joke here about life on the high seas being so healthy it could be endorsed by the government healthcare program, a little smile for the camera, and reality sunk back in. Understandably so, the ever-cheerful Bilou, one of the most likeable characters of the French offshore sailing scene, didn’t have the heart to crack jokes.  "Going back up the Atlantic, mentally it was draining. At each wave you’re just wondering ‘Will it hold up? Will it?’, so you play it cool during the official calls but at some moments you’re just (makes awkward face and evocative gulping noise)" Even though he tries to end on a wise note – "it’s all part of the game" – he later adds "I don’t know what’s pursuing me", and to be fair we don’t either, but we sure know it’s nasty and very undeserved.

"In 35 – 40 knots, I wasn’t showing off much… I had my survival suit on, waiting. ‘Will it be the next one? Nope, not yet.’ It sails rather well, but then the boat is so heavy (ed note:with all the ballasts full) her motion is completely different, you don’t feel her the same way, it’s like handling a trawler. And with the waves hitting hard, there’s a f… huge amount of efforts." The skipper’s on the pontoon, telling his story when the camera moves downwards and reveals a guy, in full scuba diving apparatus, who emerges from beneath the hull. "Nothing left", he says, confirming thanks to the first visual assessment that the bulb was not the only part of the keel to have taken an early retirement without any sort of notice. "I replayed the whole thing, I think it probably broke in two phases, otherwise I would have capsized on the spot. The first bang I heard, I thought it was the bulb, and I get the impression that the keel got warped, remained attached to the hull, which prevented the capsize… I took a reef in, heard some cracking noises, and eventually it snapped off."

Four years after having had to pull out in Hobart after his previous keel suffered terminal damage, Bilou once again hit land earlier than expected and it sure is a crying shame – but if that can be of any kind of consolation, he’s been the only one to give Michel Desjoyeaux a good run for his money by the time most of the fleet of race favourites had been decimated.

Jocelyn Blériot

Keel pic Veolia/Vendee Globe
Bilou portrait V.Curutchet/DPPI/Vendee Globe

As part of our agreement to donate to various charities with Jocelyn for his great contributions to SA, we are donating today to Care.