Belgian sailor Jonas Gerckens, who is taking part in the2nd edition of the Globe40, looks back on his race and talks about his dream of sailing around the world…

Originally from Liège in Belgium, how did you discover sailing and your passion for ocean racing?

When I was two, my parents took us to live on a boat for almost 4 years. My father had built a boat as an enlightened amateur on Monsin Island near Liège. The boat was launched in Liège and then we sailed down the canals to the Mediterranean, where we finished preparing the boat before setting off for 3 and a half years on a tour of Europe, mainly in the Mediterranean and Portugal. I don’t have many memories of that period, but indirectly it must have taught me to live well at sea and appreciate that environment. After those 3 and a half years, we landed in Saint-Malo and my parents had set themselves the goal of building a boat via a professional yard and then setting off around the world with my family. Unfortunately, the hull was botched by the yard, which led to a lawsuit and so instead of staying in Saint Malo for a year, we stayed much longer than that, only to never set off around the world for financial reasons.

As complicated as it was for my parents, it was paradise for me. I really discovered sailing at that time, when I was practising optimist at primary school and also at the sailing school. The playground was 50m from the beach.

It was also at that time that I discovered the start of the Route du Rhum and that really made me dream and made me say at my young age that one day I’d like to do that race… that’s how it started!

Along with Denis Van Weynberg (Belgian skipper in the Vendée Globe), you are one of the leading lights in Belgian sailing. How important is ocean racing in Belgium?

Ocean racing in Belgium is starting to take off, and there have always been some Belgians who have done well in Mini 6.50s in any case. There’s always been a fairly strong Mini tradition, whether in the Series or in the Proto, in every edition since almost the beginning. After that, it’s true that on bigger projects, it’s always been a bit more complicated because culturally it’s not as deeply rooted as football or cycling might be in Belgium. In any case, you have to remember that French-speaking Belgium has access to the French media, so we still hear about events like the Vendée Globe or the Route du Rhum. It’s like any other sport I think, you need good results at the top level for people to take an interest. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for a number of years, whether in the Mini or now in Class40.

Your withdrawal from the Route du Rhum 2022 due to health problems was a real blow for you and your team. How are you coping with this difficult period?

It’s true that it’s been a very complicated period, given that a Route du Rhum takes place every 4 years. It’s always the same thing, if you tell a footballer or an athlete that they’re going to miss the World Cup or the Olympic Games, it’s always a blow. It’s not an annual event and it requires a lot of investment on my part, but also on the part of all my team who are behind me and who prepare these projects so intensely. When the race stops after 3 days, it’s been very difficult to take in and bounce back from. I had a big period of vagueness, but then the passion returned quickly and so did the project. You try to learn from your failures, even if zero risk never exists. My team and I are trying to bounce back with this project and with partners who are also developing in Belgium.

Your 2024 season will be marked by the Mixed Ocean Racing World Championship in September with the Red Dolphins. How are you preparing for this major event?

There’s a dual project. The main project remains Class40 with the two Atlantic Cup races and Québec Saint Malo with the aim of preparing the boat and crew for the Globe40 in 2025. This will enable us to do a complete check-up of the boat, make her more reliable and see what improvements we can make to her.

The Red Dolphins project was added afterwards because World Sailing was keen to promote this double-handed ocean racing event as a potential Olympic discipline in the future. That really motivated me, on the one hand to represent Belgium because the patriotic spirit is still there and then this championship will also allow me to sail double-handed with Djamila Tassin who is a young up-and-comer in the Mini Class and who will be one of the co-skippers on the Globe40. So we’ll be able to train together in a format that I’m less familiar with, namely fleet racing and close contact.

Let’s talk about the Globe40, you’ve signed up for the2nd edition. How did you come up with the idea of taking part in this round-the-world race?

Sailing around the world is a dream for many sailors. In my case, it involved a competition mode because I like that. The Globe40 is a nice format that mixes competition and adventure with some great human encounters during the stopovers. I’m going back to the origins of my motivation in the sense of going on an ocean adventure as quickly as possible. After that, I had to sell the project to my partners and put together a team, so it wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but the idea of breaking away from the traditional Class40 circuit appealed to my long-standing partners and the new ones.

We’re going to find ourselves in a race format which is quite exceptional. The excitement is starting to build amongst the competitors and I think we’re going to have a great2nd edition, with a lot of competition and some great matches. Globe40 will enable us to discover the world, and that’s one of the race’s key assets. Globe40 is really a great project.

The arrival of Curium as a new partner means you have an ambitious 3-year programme. How did you meet Renaud Dehareng, CEO of Curium Pharma?

The first time we met was on the pontoons of the Route du Rhum in November 2022 before the start. All he told me was that he had a boat and that he was Belgian, so it would be a good idea to get together to bring the Belgian forces behind a project. We talked about it again after the Route du Rhum and it was finalised in July 2023 when Curium joined the project for 3 years in addition to Volvo and a3rd partner which will be announced in a few days.

With the support of Volvo, Curium and this3rd partner, you’ll be at the helm of a brand new generation Class40, number 187. What are your first impressions and what are the main differences with your previous boat?

To be honest, I haven’t sailed on the new boat yet, so it’s complicated to give you any feedback. We’ve had a much bigger refit than planned, which has put us behind schedule for the 2024 programme. The boat will be sailing for the first time this week during the image bank! Historically, I know that she’s a lot more powerful than my old boat, with huge differences in power upwind and reaching. The 164 had a reputation for going through the sea well in rough conditions, so we’re going to try to keep the strengths of the 164 and improve the 187 in that direction. Sailing in 2024 will be important to see what works and what doesn’t so we can optimise it for next winter’s refit.

Your crew is already partly formed, can you tell us a bit more about your team and the people who will be accompanying you around the world?

We’re a team of 4 people who will be working on the legs.

Renaud Dehareng is the co-skipper as well as the owner and sponsor of the boat. It’s Renaud who knows the boat better than anyone else, as he’s already done several races on board. Young Belgian Djemila Tassin will complete the team. She has already done 2 Mini Transats and recently became a Cap Hornienne in the Ocean Globe Race. Finally, Benoit Hantzberg, my historic co-skipper with whom I finished4th in the Transat Jacques Vabre on Class40 164, will also be doing a few legs.

How far have you got in preparing for this project? What is your sporting programme up to the start of the Globe40 in 2025?

The main issue was to come up with a minimum budget to continue the project and we’re now well on the way and relatively early in the preparations, so that’s positive.

From a sporting point of view, in 2024, we’ll be doing a transatlantic delivery race in April, an Atlantic Cup in May and finally the Transat Québec Saint Malo in crewed mode with Corentin Douguet, who will be helping us to improve the boat’s performance. While I’m on the double-handed world championship with Djemila Tassin, the boat will be taking part in the CIC Normandy Channel Race with Benoit Hantzberg. All these events will give us a complete job list for the winter refit before the start of the Globe40. For 2025, the programme hasn’t yet been defined, but the aim is to be in the water quickly to test the set of sails we’ll be taking around the world.

I imagine that you followed the1st edition closely. What do you remember about this race and what was the most memorable moment for you?

The images of the stopovers were really superb. These are places we’re not used to going to, whether in the Indian or the Pacific. It reminds us that our world is a pretty place and I can’t wait to discover these new lands that I don’t know.

The second thing that stood out was the fact that despite there not being a huge number of boats for various reasons, the race was very interesting to follow, with some great sporting action. There was plenty of suspense right up to the last leg.

The last thing to remember is that there were quite a few breakages and technical problems, so you have to be aware of that when preparing for the round the world race. You have to be able to respond to all kinds of technical problems.

What are your goals and ambitions for the Globe40?

Like any race, the main objective is to finish. If we manage to complete this circumnavigation with the boat, the result will inevitably be positive. We’re aiming for at least the podium. I hope there will be some competition and that there will be a match at each stage. Over and above the sporting aspect, we’ll be keen to take the boat to each stage and discover these superb stages, which will be magical.

Partagez cette article :