Vendee Globe: One-handed to the world’s toughest sailing regatta

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Crazy what this man does with just one hand

Vendee Globe: One-handed to the world's toughest sailing regatta-one-handed

Fearless loner: Here Damien Seguin crosses Guadeloupe as part of the “Route du Rhum”

Source: ier EAN MARIE LIOT

Paralympics winner Damien Seguin starts a daring project. As the first soloist with a disability, he wants to manage the toughest regatta in the world – against storms, drift ice and monster waves.

A.He doesn’t see himself as an idol, says the man who has won three world championships and Olympic gold. He talks about his two sons who go to elementary school and the children he trains as PE teachers himself.

Everyone, says Damien Seguin, needs a role model. “If I can be that for the children, it would be better than any gold medal!” As modest as the French are, their goals are ambitious. The 37-year-old is heading for the toughest regatta in the world: the Vendee Globe.

The merciless race leads solo sailors around the world non-stop and without any outside help – the ultimate test for man and material, especially for Seguin, because he cannot do justice to the nautical principle of “one hand for the man, one for the ship”. He was born without a left hand.

In 2004 Damien Seguin won gold at the Paralympics

Seguin is currently one of the most successful Paralympic sailors in the small 2.4mR keelboat class. The strange name is due to a calculation formula in which various factors must always add up to the value 2.4.

In his 4.18 meter long and 80 centimeter wide boat, Seguin raced off Athens to gold at the Paralympics in 2004. The slim mini-yachts are steered by foot pedal or by hand control – depending on preference and handicap.

They are held upright by lead keels weighing 181 kilograms. Thanks to their floating bodies in the bow and stern, they are capsize-proof and equally popular with top sailors with and without disabilities.

After the Paralympics in Rio, Seguin wants to swap this safe piece of sports equipment for a monster from a boat: a so-called "Open 60" of the IMOCA class, an 18-meter-long, almost nine-meter-wide projectile on which powerful forces act. Seguin wants to keep these forces in check with one hand.

With a handicap in the toughest regatta in the world

The Knight of the French Legion of Honor and officer of the National Order of Merit does not shy away from the risk. He wants to achieve what no one has dared to do before: A Paralympic career should be followed by a successful participation in the Vendee Globe.

The route leads from France down the Atlantic. Before returning to the port of departure, the three southernmost corners of the world are passed: South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, Australia’s Cape Leuwin and Chile’s Cape Horn, in whose restless territory the largest ship cemetery in the world has accumulated for centuries.

Seguin wants to start at the eighth edition of the Vendee Globe in 2020 and 2021. “I want to be the first person with a handicap to survive the Vendee,” he says. “I just love sailing close to the coast as well as long distances. It’s like Usain Bolt is running a marathon in addition to the 100 meters. "

When asked that he corresponds to the description of a “single-handed sailor” much better than the competition, Seguin laughs and explains: “That’s how it is! The German term ‘Einhandsegler’ or the English expression ‘single-handed’ describes me much more precisely than the other skippers who have two hands available on their solo trip. "He adds:" In France the term is’ en solitaire ‘(Eng .: lonely, alone). That describes us all. "

Three sailors did not survive the Vendee Globe

The fact that three of his predecessors, who sailed without disabilities, paid with their lives to participate in the Vendee does not scare Seguin any more than the many accidents, broken masts and dramatic rescue operations that contributed to the legendary reputation of the race. He knows that the exam will demand almost superhuman abilities.

138 sailors have faced the challenge since the first Vendee Globe in 1989. Only 71 of them were able to reach the destination port of Les Sables D’Olonne more or less unscathed.

The course goes through Biscay storms, grueling equatorial lulls, towering wave peaks and sometimes dangerous ice in the roaring forties and fifties latitudes of the Southern Ocean. Seguin’s compatriot François Gabart holds the previous record with 78 days, 2 hours, 16 minutes and 40 seconds.

The French championship at the age of 14

The competitor Seguin, born of all places in Europe’s highest municipality Briançon in the Cottian Alps, has been drawn to the sea since childhood, when he spent in Guadeloupe. The sportsman remembers a “beautiful and carefree youth” in which he learned to master lasers and sporty Hobie 16 and Tornado catamarans.

He knew how to use the missing hand in his favor early on. "If you asked me if I could count all the fingers on my hands, I only had to count to five," the athlete remembers and grins.

Today Seguin lives with his wife Tifann and two sons in the Breton community of Guerande. When he’s not sailing, he shows high school students that sport is fun and that personal boundaries can be shifted through willpower.

As a 14-year-old, Seguin won the French championship in the optimist class. In a country that loves sailing loves and in which many youngsters are fighting for titles, it was a terrific achievement.

Heiko Kroger trusts the arch-rival to sail around the world

Like his German rival Heiko Kroger, who won Paralympic gold in 2000 and bronze in 2012, Seguin also decided to switch to the 2.4mR keelboat class before the turn of the millennium.

He rose to become one of the most successful Paralympic sailors and, after his triumph in Athens in 2008, shone again with silver. In 2012, Seguin was not satisfied with fourth place ahead of Weymouth in England, but had already started offshore sailing parallel to his Paralympic activities and trained accordingly less. Next September Seguin wants to fight for a medal one last time at the Paralympics.

Heiko Kroger, Germany’s Sailor of the Year, believes that the French arch-rival will not only be successful in Rio, but also that he will sail around the world as a soloist with five fingers.

“You don’t need two hands all the time. And that’s how we live from birth. However, if I think of having to go into the mast under difficult conditions, then a second hand would be really nice. "

Permission to take off refused on the first attempt

For Seguin, the start of the Vendee would come full circle in three years. As a ten-year-old he saw the fleet of the transatlantic classic “Route du Rhum” arrive in Guadeloupe.

Then he began to dream: “I also wanted to be like these great sailors.” Seguin persuaded his parents to enroll him in an optimistic course – the starting signal for his sailing career.

In the course of its development, however, it also suffered setbacks. At the first attempt to take part in the famous French one-hand race “La Solitaire du Figaro”, he was denied permission to start with a little discreet reference to his physical handicap. “That was tough,” he recalls. "The rejection came by registered mail and without further explanation."

Seguin countered the no with perseverance and determination, but ultimately convinced the organizers. Today, he says, he no longer has any starting problems because admission to extreme regattas is now linked to clearly formulated qualification conditions and no longer to the discretion of those responsible.

"I was born with a handicap and I love it"

Seguin has now completed eight Atlantic crossings. At its premiere in 2011 it sailed in second place, in 2013 it reached seventh place out of 27 boats of class 40. “That was an additional incentive for me,” he explains.

Seguin also takes part in the Vendee Globe as an ambassador for the integration organization “Des pieds et des mains”, in English: feet and hands. Many people with disabilities, he explains, see sailing as a dangerous sport, but that is nonsense. His sport has "an infinite amount to offer" to everyone.

That is why he runs the company solo circumnavigation all the more intensively, handicap or not. “I don’t know what sailing with two hands is like,” says Damien Seguin. "I was born with a handicap and I love it."

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