Harken: After your fifth-place finish in the ArtemisTransat, you sailed back to Europe with some of your team. How did this help you prepare for the Vendée?Samantha Davies:
I wanted to sail back - firstly to get more experience, secondly because I love being out in the ocean, and thirdly because I’m scared of aeroplanes! It was great to sail with some of my team. Knowing they were there if anything went wrong, it gave me more confidence in the strong stuff to “send it”. We saw 60 knots of wind and got our speed record of 29.3 knots. I’m braver now and can’t wait to get into the Southern Ocean! The guys saw how Roxy and I sail offshore, and this has helped them understand the priorities on the job list. They’ve added their own ideas too.How do you train for solo offshore racing, do you work with other sailors or alone? SD:
In 2004 when I was in the Figaro class, I applied to be part of the “Elite Squad” Finistere Course au Large based in Port La Foret.. I was lucky to be accepted, and since then I have participated in the training that they organize. I jumped from the Figaro squad straight to the IMOCA 60 squad. That is great because we do training sessions with up to 8 boats on the water together. Really productive! I also train alone with my coach Tanguy Leglatin, and we work together on boat-speed, sail choices and manouvers. Roxy is one of the fastest old generation Open 60s, but you have admitted that it is extremely hard to beat the new boats. What goals have you set for yourself and the boat? SD:
I think the Vendée is a very special race. It’s not just about boat-speed and power like the other races, but about endurance. To win, you have to finish! I hope that I will beat some of the new boats! At the same time, I have set myself the goal of beating my boat’s “record” time from the 2004 race – 87 days 10 hours 47 minutes and 55 seconds! However, accomplishing this will probably depend on the position of the ice gates which could significantly lengthen the race.What do you feel gives you an edge when competing against men in a class where raw physical strength is a necessity?SD:
Since I became skipper of Roxy, I have worked hard to make everything easier for me! I spent some of my budget on new primary and pit winches. I have put an overdrive box under my pedestal, and foot chocks to get my height right when I’m grinding. This has changed my approach to the manouvers and I am no longer afraid of shaking out a reef or furling the gennaker! Do you think your approach to sailing and offshore solo racing is much different from your male counterparts?SD:
The IMOCA 60s are so powerful and the sails so heavy that the difference in strength doesn’t really change the approach to maneuvering – male or female. It is really important to think ahead and not get caught with too much sail up. In my experience, I have always gained places in strong conditions by sailing “sensibly”. I don’t really think there is much difference in how we sail – girls or boys – but maybe the bigger difference is between those with lots of miles of experience and those of us who are new in the class! You’ve grown up on boats and your parents live aboard a classic yacht. What are the most important things you’ve learned from them?SD:
Seamanship, and the love of the sea.What is your favorite thing to eat when you are racing across oceans and around the world?SD:
Chocolate, Ryvita (Wasa), porridge and freeze-dried food (I’m not joking!), Earl Grey tea! Not all together of course!We hear you wear red socks, just like Sir Peter Blake, what kind of influence has he had on your sailing career? SD:
I wear them when I need some luck! Peter Blake achieved so many amazing things in sailing—from the America’s Cup, the Whitbread, and the Jules Verne Trophy, to discovering some beautiful places in the world by sea. He really inspired me, as I loved both inshore racing (America’s Cup) and I dreamed about one day taking part in the Whitbread Round the World Race. In the end I sailed around the World on one of Peter’s old boats— Royal and SunAlliance was the old Enza. I couldn’t believe my luck!How are you preparing for the Vendée?SD:
I think a lot about the race—how I’ll feel at the start (how to deal with the emotions of that day), what the highs and lows will be, how to deal with the stress of racing non-stop for three months, how to divide the race into sections, how to cope with a technical problem, how to deal with the loneliness (not that I’ve ever felt lonely on Roxy).What is your favorite part of a race?
SD: All of it, from beginning to end!You hit what you thought was a whale during the Artemis Transat. How did this affect your approach to the rest of the race?SD:
After the impact, which damaged my daggerboard quite seriously, I kept thinking about what would have happened if I had hit something bigger and more solid like a container, or a growler (a small chunck of ice that lurks below the surface).. That scared me quite a lot. When we are hooning along at average speeds of 20 knots, I always shut out the “what if” thoughts because they are beyond my control! But this time I couldn’t stop thinking about it. That night was particularly dark, windy, fast and wild. I got scared. The next day, I was SO cross with myself because I’d sailed badly all night! What I learnt is that there are things that happen when racing that are beyond my control. I must simply deal with them and not let these upsets perturb me! Also, I have done some good thinking on how to fix my daggerboards and how to reverse them if one is totally un-useable.Can you tell us a bit about Lucky the Duck? He seems to be one of the best-travelled ducks out there!SD:
He was a good-luck present from Kate, the secretary at Finistere Course au Large (our training squad), for the St Nazaire – Cuba race. Lucky has now completed 8 Transatlantic's, 1 Round Britain and 2 Solitaire du Figaros! He spends his winters in my bathroom because he likes being damp!
What other kind of sailing do you do? SD:
For our holiday last year, my boyfriend Romain and I chartered a cruising boat (Beneteau 31.7) and went cruising in Southern Brittany! It was such fun, exploring the anchorages of Ile de Houat, Belle Ile and Hoedic!What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not sailing? SD:
Chilling out in my house in Brittany!You are an English woman sailing in France. What is the difference between these two cultures and what did you learn from the French sailors ?
My impression is that the Anglo-Saxon approach is very technical, calculated and efficient. The French approach involves more feeling and passion for the sea. I wouldn’t say that one culture is better than another, but I think that they are very complementary when the “Entente Cordial” is in place!!! I love the Anglo-Saxon part, as I have an Engineering degree, but my love of the sea makes me really appreciate the French culture!