What does Romain Attanasio see in the race? Feelings and fear...

© Thomas Brégardis

Sailing racing is about performance, track records, strategy, technology, of course. But also singular sensations for the skippers! Romain Attanasio gives himself up

Although he was born in the Hautes-Alpes by his father and in the Oise by his mother, it was all around the world that he spent his early childhood: with his parents, he sailed around the world for the first seven years of his life... A good introduction to the world of sailing! In 2016, he reached a peak in sailing racing: he completed the Vendée Globe. In 2019, he finished 15th in the Transat Jacques Vabre. Sensory memories..

© Magne
Magne © Magne

The view

That was during the 2016-2017 Vendée Globe. I had been at sea, far from land, for nearly two months. And as I approached Cape Horn, the snowy peaks of the Andes appeared before me. All white, and so high, thousands of meters above the ocean, from me. I was still far away... but I could see them clearly. A bit like when you go to a ski resort and as you go forward, you can see the mountains at the bottom more and more clearly. Above this luminous white expanse, a milky sky. And underneath, a dark strip first: these were the slopes of the Andes, wooded perhaps, rocky no doubt. Then the sea, quite blue. This contrast of colours, in these dimensions, I found it incredible. And this impressive mountain range was the first piece of land I saw after weeks of seeing nothing but water! The closer I got to it, the more these shades turned grey... A thick fog enveloped me. So much so that I passed within a few hundred yards, only seeing Cape Horn. What a contrast with the clear vision I'd had a little earlier of these peaks, which were so far away from me!

© Magne
Magne © Magne

The touch

It's not a precise memory that I'm giving you here, but a recurring sensation, and not really pleasant, I must say! When it's very cold, when the humidity is very high, I dress accordingly, and caulk as best as possible in my clothes. My face stays out in the open of course, but I protect it as much as I can. So I feel like I'm in an almost closed clothing cocoon. Almost, only, because there is something left of me that is not preserved: it is my hands... And it is the water that reminds me of this. Frozen water projected on my fingers by a wave a little more violent than the others. Or because I wanted to take something, and having put my hand a little further on the anti-skid, I offered my fingers to a passing spray! It's the contrast, again, that makes me remember these moments: my body protected from the cold and humidity, and my hands that are subjected to them, to the extreme. When I can, I quickly shake my fingers and curl them up in my fleece-lined pockets. I can feel the warmth and softness coming immediately...

© Magne
Magne © Magne

Hearing

It goes back to 2016 during the Vendée Globe. As I was passing the Cape of Good Hope, a UFO hit me. Both my rudders are broken. No assistance is possible for this race: I have no choice but to stop over and try to repair them myself. I get confused and end up, just before nightfall, finding a small creek in South Africa where I can find shelter. I drop anchor and go down, happy to have made it this far without any further breakage, and to be able to start repairs the next day. And, at that moment, with a certain surprise, I realise that I'm in a situation I haven't experienced for a month and a half: I'm arrested! And the loud and incessant noise associated with sailing has also stopped. Silence, all of a sudden. I'm so unaccustomed to it that I start whispering. For, yes, I am speaking to myself... In short, I dare not speak openly. Only a little lapping can be heard. This calmness made me appreciate even more the relief I felt to have gotten out, rather well, of this delicate situation..

© Eric Gachet
Eric Gachet

Taste

Without hesitation, I'm talking about fresh water. When I've pulled off a big manoeuvre which required a lot of effort, it's been long and hard, and I've even been in the deep red... well, the best reward I can offer myself then is a good sip of fresh water! I grab a bottle or a gourd, in the big yawns, right under the piano, where all the bits come back. I sit down under my cap, and enjoy it. Really, at those times, I find it much more pleasant to have fresh water in my mouth than wine or beer! Which is not the case when I'm on the ground..

© Eric Gachet
Eric Gachet

The sense of smell

In regattas, very often, the big game during the night is to take advantage of the night's thermals, the wind that comes from the land, to move forward. We're going to look for it near the coast. But it often doesn't start until around midnight. It's a long time coming. Nevertheless, we can guess when it's going to go off, because it's going to be preceded by an earthy smell! And these olfactory clues are all the clearer for us, skippers, as offshore, apart from the smell of fish and iodine, we don't smell much. In short, these smells are pleasant, but above all they confirm that we're finally going to be able to set off again! I remember precisely a small flower with a very specific scent, the sea lily, which grows on the dunes and which, for me, represents Brittany. In the Mediterranean, it's spicier, it smells like the scrubland: thyme, laurel, wild and sandy herbs... And in Spain, it smells like French fries to me: a sensation certainly nourished by memories of past sailing along the big seaside towns of this country!

© Eric Gachet
Eric Gachet

What about fear?

It's a latent, diffuse fear that I felt after taking up the Vendée Globe again, once my two rudders had been repaired. It was a physical fear as much as a mental one: regaining control of a UFO and breaking the boat, falling over and hurting myself... In fact, I was afraid of having to give up! So I couldn't help but hold on all the time, hanging on everywhere, when I was on deck. It's a behaviour which isn't really adapted to the race! I confided my difficulties to a competitor, who was close to me at the time. And he replied that there was no point in thinking like that, because if I had to fix it, then I'd fix it again... That I didn't have control over this kind of risk! That helped me. I took it upon myself, I got violent, I took care of my head - which in the end is quite easy on board during this kind of race! - and it passed.

More articles on channels: