Sailing in the interest of science with Fabrice Amedeo
Setting out on his second Vendée Globe race, the French skipper embarks on his boat, Newrest - Art & Fenêtres, a scientific piece of equipment made to advance research, in partnership with the University of Bordeaux. Interview with a sportsman committed to preserving the oceans.
What motivated you to get involved in this scientific project?
It was a combination of several things. On the one hand, the desire to give meaning to my career as a sailor. On the other hand, an awareness of the global threat to our planet after years of racing on the oceans. Finally, in my role as father of 3 young daughters, and for all children who are very attentive to everyday actions and the protection of our oceans. I therefore wanted to navigate in a way that would be useful for the scientific community, and after some research, I installed the first sensor in September 2019 to collect oceanographic data. I completed some races with the sensor and we gathered a scientific team* together to work on the project. The next step was to install a sensor that samples microplastics. This is where the scientific partnership with the University of Bordeaux was developed. TheCBMN** and EPOC*** laboratory teams will study the microplastics I will collect throughout this Vendée Globe 2020, along with their colleagues from Ifremer. So welcome aboard!
What are the advantages of leading this kind of project as a sailor in the Vendée Globe?
In terms of oceanographic data, my sailing boat has the advantage of not creating thermal pollution. This data will also be correlated with very precise information about the boat, particularly wind and atmospheric pressure, seeing as this is the heart of our job as skippers. In addition, the Vendée Globe route is quite atypical as we go all the way around Antarctica. Unlike scientific expeditions that go to very localized areas every few years, my racing boat will travel quickly through three oceans, during the winter of 2020-2021. We will thus obtain a sort of snapshot of the condition of our oceans at a given period, which is of special interest to scientists. Finally, beyond the exciting collaboration with researchers and the ability to feel useful, this project provides me with support and credibility to speak up and promote a message.
What are the impacts on sporting performance of taking this kind of device on board?
Everything is done on these boats to keep weight down, and it does have a real impact because the two sensors weigh 30kg and all the filters 25kg. They are very energy consuming, so they also increase my energy consumption by about 20%, which is why we installed a small wind turbine at the back of the boat. As for the daily filter changes, I organize to do it in the morning after taking the weather information. It takes me 15 minutes, which is both a little and a lot because we are in a high state of mental weariness while on board... We are sometimes overwhelmed by events and this extra task can be difficult.
Are the experiments easy to carry out?
The experiments are very easy! The most difficult is to be meticulous in properly noting the filter number, the position of the boat, and the time of the filter change, so that scientists have an accurate picture of the measurement segment. Real precaution must be taken in practical work to avoid any contamination. Last July, the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables allowed us to test the equipment during the 10 days of racing, as well as make adjustments to be ready for the Vendée Globe. For example, I redesigned the onboard filter storage, by having a custom bag made to prevent the boxes from rolling or opening.
How do you combine your sporting ambitions with the importance of the scientific project?
There are 33 boats at the start, 12 of which are faster than mine. My aim is to be in the top 10. Compared to other sailors who are much more experienced than me, it's another performance with the same ambition, to get a good result. Just like during my first Vendée Globe, the editorial part is very important to me: I have just published a book, I'm taking equipment on board to shoot photos and videos... Still keeping with the idea of sharing and taking people aboard in this adventure. Beyond my sports projects, the oceanographic project remains central and I would even say that in moments when you feel like giving up - when in the South Seas, at 0°C, it's snowing on deck, and there are 40 knots of wind... - having this project with a community that is counting on me will give me extra strength.
Are there other skippers leading similar projects?
German skipper Boris Herrmann has the same oceanographic sensor as me, but as for the microplastics part, I am the only one. This is the first time that a single-handed racing skipper will have this sensor and will carry out a sampling campaign. So together with the University of Bordeaux, we are the first ones to do this!
*The scientific partners involved in the study of the collected data are: UNESCO, Ifremer, Geomar, JCOMMOPS and the Max Planck Institute.
**CBMN: Chemistry and Biology of Membranes and Nano-objects (CNRS, Bordeaux INP and the University of Bordeaux)
***EPOC: Oceanic and Continental Environments and Paleo-Environments laboratory (CNRS, École Pratique des Hautes Études and the University of Bordeaux).
An unexpected start to the Vendée Globe
Note: this interview was carried out before the start of the race. During the first hours of the race, the boat suffered damage, forcing Fabrice Amedeo to return to Les Sables d'Olonne and leave two and a half days late. Once the boat had been repaired and moral restored, the skipper declared online: “It's a restart but it's the start of my round-the-world trip so I'm very happy and I'm leaving with a lot of enthusiasm [. . .] I'm motivated to try and catch up with the competitors before the South Seas. Whatever happens, I have the added motivation of having my two oceanographic sensors working 24 hours a day. In any case, I have a responsibility to make this round-the-world trip for the scientific community that is behind me and expecting a lot from the data that I am going to collect in the South Seas.”
CNRS research director, expert in vibrational spectroscopy
Professor of aquatic ecotoxicology, EPOC laboratory
Scientific communication officer