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25 February 2005, 10:18 am
The Great Olivier DE KERSAUSON (FRA)
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Oryx Quest 2005
Freemantle, Australia

It was a still, summer morning in Fremantle, Western Australia when the massive trimaran Geronimo was towed out of the harbor to resume racing the Oryx Quest 2005. The water was flat calm, the towering mast reflecting on the glassy surface, and a thin line of bubbles the only wake as a Fremantle Yacht Club launch and a couple of RIB's maneuvered the boat out to open water.
The Cuben Fiber mainsail was raised, a large headsail hoisted, the tow lines dropped, and the boat heeled slightly to a new breeze as DE KERSAUSON pointed the bows south. After 54 hours in port Geronimo was repaired and ready for the tough sailing ahead. 'It is going to be hard to catch up,' DE KERSAUSON said as they left the dock. 'We are almost 3,000 miles behind the leaders.' Then he smiled, his eyes sparkling with anticipation. 'But this is a yacht race and anything can happen.'

Olivier DE KERSAUSON is one of those rare, larger-than-life characters. He is not an easy man to get to know, but like many great people, he is loyal beyond measure. Those who have sailed with him will attest that he prides himself on the fact that his crew come back year after year to race around the world with him. He was born on the 20th July, 1944, the seventh child in a family of eight. At an early age Olivier broke away from his family. While not inattentive, he was a pupil who did not settle in well to school life, especially with the fathers at the catholic boarding school where he was sent. In the end he attended eleven schools before finally graduating and taking up studying economics.

He was in his early twenties before he found his true calling. He met the great Eric TABARLY (FRA) in St. Malo on the north coast of France, and TABARLY invited him on board his yacht, Pen Duick. This chance meeting led to eight years of sailing together during which he was TABARLY's mate, and his love of the sea grew as the two sailors covered thousands of open ocean miles.

DE KERSAUSON quickly developed a passion for multihulls and became a pioneer building the first multihull out of composite materials. He built an innovative trimaran by the name of Poulain and sailed it around the world in 1989-1990 setting the single-handed round the world speed record in the process. From 1992 onwards he spent his time working towards the Trophee Jules Verne, a coveted trophy awarded to the yacht that sails the fastest around the world. In 1994 he sailed around the world on Lyonnaise des Eaux at the same time as the late Peter BLAKE (NZL) and Robin KNOX-JOHNSTON (GBR) were aboard ENZA (now Daedalus). BLAKE and company managed to go around the world in 74 days and 22 hours, while DE KERSAUSON and his crew took 77 days and 5 hours.

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It was a disappointment to the French sailor, but DE KERSAUSON is not a person to give up easily. He remained steadfast in his determination to win the trophy and with some improvements to his boat and a new sponsor, Sport Elec, he took off again to race around the world. They returned triumphant 71 days, 14 hours, 22 minutes and 8 seconds later. In 2001 he launched Geronimo and it was at the helm of this exceptional yacht that Olivier DE KERSAUSON took the Jules Verne Trophy for the second time in 2004 in a time of 63 days, 13 hours and 59 minutes.

This race around the world marks his 9th circumnavigation. He has become part of ocean racing history and a legend in France. He attributes his success to his astute understanding of the elements. 'At sea, I watch what is going on all the time. I learn to interpret the elements, to understand what each cloud and each swell means, why the sea looks different. I remain focused on that. I don't talk and don't like people talking around me. For example, I can't stand a helmsman talking, because concentration is very important. You can't do two things at once.' Building Geronimo has been a dream come true for him. 'Today, I am not able to build a better boat than this one. If she had been built for someone else, I'd have been really annoyed. It's rather like the simple joy you find when you are a child. I'm living a fabulous part of my life.'

DE KERSAUSON and his crew now embark on one of their toughest challenges. They trail the other yachts in the race by a large margin which means that they will be playing catch-up until the finish in Qatar. For a team accustomed to being at the front of the pack setting new records, it's going to be a little different to be trailing the fleet. They will soon lose sight of land and plummet south into the Roaring Forties where the giant trimaran will come alive again and DE KERSAUSON will be back in his true element.

Brian Hancock (As Amended by ISAF), Images: © Event Media
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