If there is one unsung heroine among the roster of skippers on the Barcelona World Race it is Michèle Paret. The French sailor is on the cusp of starting her third circumnavigation after finishing third in the first edition of the race.
Paret has raced before on the Whitbread round the world race.
All her life she has been a competitor, previously a long jumper, then windsurfing and now still an accomplished mountain biker. Together with the Dominique Wavre they are back and together they are determined to at least match that result again is what is a bigger and more competitive fleet
Three years ago you completed your second racing circumnavigation, why a third?
“Simply because this is a really excellent race. It is the best thing that it is possible to race together under sail, and you can’t pass up an opportunity to do it again. Every time I go I like it more, because I have more experience and I feel more comfortable.”
Which are your favorite memories of your first Barcelona World Race?
“There are so many things, so many moments that you can’t reel them off briefly. There are event times that would just not be explained in words. There is a unique feeling of being fulfilled, of complete freedom and the consuming edge of competition which is always there, the constant, ever present adrenalin and the surfacing of great emotions, that just cannot and are not experienced elsewhere, and of course the bad moments too.
In fact the bad moments you forget soon. Your passion exceeds them, you take them in your stride in the end and move on, and when you finish, you want to relive them and do it again. The bad moments for us last time were certainly stopping in Wellington and knowing we would have to repair the keel. That was a stressful, bad time as we realized how the others escaped when we were stopped.”
What are the differences in the boat and in the crew of Mirabuad compared with 2007?
“We have optimized the boat. We have more power and the boat is faster. And also after drawing conclusions from the first time, we are much better prepared.”
People seem to know Dominique Wavre better than Michèle Paret…why is that?
“By honours. Dominique will start his eighth round the world. And I don’t believe there is anybody in this Barcelona World RACE with the same level of experience. On board there is a skipper of the boat and that is Dominique, he is head of the project. He is the one who has found the sponsor, and as his partner I am so privileged to sail with him. Every day I am learning things.”
You have often said that on board you are not a couple, but two professionals? How does that line occur, how do you stop being a couple and become two sailing professionals?
“In fact that is very easy. It is our passion and our job. I believe that not only that, we are good professionals. When we are on board we combine to work together to achieve that extra hundredth of a knot, to advance by any small degree on our immediate rivals, and that is what motivates us individually and together. I would say that is almost incidental that we are a couple over these three months at sea. In fact it is almost like leaving aside that we are a couple because we have the advantage of the strength of our relationship, everything is easier. There are no frustrations with each other, no egos, those are reasons it is better as a couple, but without it being an issue, or part of the equation. During the race our focus is the race, that is focusing on going fast and the boat ahead.”
If you say that on board Dominique is the skipper and you are the co-skipper, how do you split the work?
“I have specialized in the rig, the equipment, the engine and the deck gear.”
How do you work through maneuvers?
“We are very complementary and have tried to compensate for or strengthen our weak points. Dominique does not have my agility, I do not have his strength. But together we are an ideal crew.”
What are strong and weak points?
“My strongpoints are my durability, my stamina, my resistance but my weak points are that from time to time I lose my nerve. I know it and Dominique knows it and we accept it, and sometimes it takes a little joke, sometimes I explode. I am Mediterranean but sometimes that deserts me. My weaknesses are small and they are never a handicap. I am Mediterranean but have lived most of my life on the Atlantic coast, but have moved around a lot. I have lived on the Atlantic and in Africa, and also on the Mediterranean. My heart continues to be Mediterranean.”
What about the preparation with regards to the food, nutrition and strength and fitness?
“We have a nutritionist who calculates all of our calorific requirements we have across the different climate zones, because we need less in the warmer weather than we do in the south. We have tried different freeze dried options and do have different options to choose between because we do like to have a choice and that is important. You have to be able to like that food rather than just have it as means of giving you energy, it has a psychological role too. When you eat something you like it makes you feel better and that is good for boat speed, for racing.”
As far as physically I formulated a plan with Dominique to prepare us for this Barcelona World RACE, based on the strength and power we need, because these are very physical boats. And at 55 years of age we don’t have the strength and agility of 30 or 40 year olds.”
How can you compensate for this with respect to younger, stronger Barcelona World RACE rivals?
“You are less physical for the sake of it. It makes you think more about making a maneuver. And experience always is more valuable than physical strength.”
What do you think when you look at the level of this fleet?
“Nothing really….I see the level that girls have reached, Samantha Davies finishing fourth in the Vendée Globe, Ellen MacArthur who finished second, and of course Florence Arthaud who won the Route du Rhum outright. There are women who have won ahead of men, demonstrating that this is not about physical strength. But it is important to think ahead and work out how to get round the physical disadvantage.”
You have always lead an athletic, active life, first as an athlete (long jump) then as a windsurfer, then mountain biking and sailing. Is there a time when you think you might stop?
“My body will say when I should stop. And at the moment I have no intention of stopping. It is my passion, my life. I feel good, alive doing these things, they make me passionate and there is no reason to consider stopping.”
Would you consider doing a Vendée Globe or, say, a solo transat race yourself?
“Just at the moment I am not looking beyond this Barcelona World RACE. It is the type of race which changes a person. That is been my objective for the last two years, and I cant even think beyond that. As far as the possibility of sailing without Dominique, then I know that I would not enjoy it as much. I have already raced with Catherine Chabaud, but it would disappoint me not to race with Dominique, and at the moment it does not seem like a possibility.”