Vendée Globe 2020: ITW of Stéphane Le Diraison, a highly committed skipper.

The SeaCleaners - Stephane Le Diraison

What is your assessment of the state of the ocean and how has it evolved over the last ten years?

Unfortunately, the ocean is not doing well. It’s terrible to say since it covers 70% of the globe’s surface and is at the heart of all balances, such as CO2 or climate regulation. If there is no more equilibrium in the oceans, then there is no more life on earth. The oceans are very polluted and this pollution comes from the land.

In 10 years, I have seen a lot of changes without going very far. For example, in the Mediterranean Sea, it is impossible to navigate without regularly encountering various types of pollution: cans, tarpaulins, bags, etc. I have also seen chemical pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. Containers filled with electronic or chemical products in the English Channel and which run aground on our beaches. And this has an impact on the climate.

As a sailor, I’m particularly sensitive to this since I move with the wind while sailing, which allows me to realise that some things evolve too quickly. But I’m an optimist, I think there is still a lot we can do, but we have to stop going in circles. The facts are in. Now we have to take action.


Can you present your Time for the Oceans project?

Time for the Oceans is a message that is particularly close to my heart. I was lucky enough to grow up by the sea and to have nature and the ocean as my playground. At a very young age, I was made aware of its fragility, I witnessed many pollutions: oil spills, plastic or chemical pollution. As I start sailing, I have noticed that the problem is getting worse and worse, with a speed of evolution that is becoming worrying.

In 2016, during the last edition of the Vendée Globe, I realised that the melting of the ice was an extremely worrying subject. We hear about it, but when we are directly confronted with the problem, it is not the same thing. I came across an iceberg at the latitude of Lisbon, on the other side of the Atlantic in the middle of July. These kinds of indicators made me want to become an ambassador to the public, to bear witness to what I see in order to raise awareness and encourage action. And above all to address partners such as Bouygues Construction and Suez, partners committed to the transition, in a way of approaching business that integrates the environment.

It’s a long challenge, it’s not something that can be done with a snap of the fingers, but the action must be extremely concrete. So this project is there to accompany these transitions and also to put the spotlight on the fact that our boats also need to evolve. The use is painless on an environmental level. On the other hand, the manufacture of these boats and their deconstruction are subjects that are not dealt with. The skippers need to make these subjects their own. If we want to be able to continue to benefit from the green label, then we must rise to these challenges.


What will you be doing during the Vendée Globe to raise awareness of environmental protection?

My actions are varied and mainly upstream. This winter, we did a huge amount of work to show that we are capable of building an eco-designed boat.

When I’m at sea, I really like to see my boat as a small piece of land, on which I’m self-sufficient. I manage my energy, my water production, my waste. These are actions that speak to the general public.

For my water consumption, I de-salt the sea water. In order to de-salt, I need energy, and I produce this energy thanks to hydrogen generators, which are renewable energies, and which work because the boat moves forward with sails. You see, it’s a whole loop. And as all this gives lower flows than what we have on land, so I have to learn to live with 6 litres of water per day.

In France, the average water consumption is 160 litres per person, between the washing machines, the shower, and so on. We don’t even ask ourselves the question. So I want to show that it’s easy to make an effort, and if everyone made a small effort and saved 10%, it would make a big difference on a population scale.

It’s the same thing for energy: on my boat, I produce energy, so I can’t waste it. It makes you realise how precious everything is. Just like waste management, which is prepared well in advance, since everything I bring on the boat I have to keep for three months, so there’s no question of having a profusion of packaging, greasy waste that I would leave lying around. There has to be as little packaging as possible, and these are also things that can be shared with the public. It is easy today to have food in bulk for example.


Can you tell me a bit more about hydro generators?

I’m a big fan of it, it’s a propeller that is driven by the movement of the boat. This propeller turns a turbine and produces electricity with very low drag. When we do speed tests and I activate the turbines, I can’t tell the difference. There must be a small one, but it is very small.

What’s really great is that this energy has no impact on the environment, it’s always available and doesn’t require heavy investment or costly routine maintenance. When you look at the currents around France, it’s a real shame that this available resource is unused. Of course, this is not going to be enough to replace 15 nuclear power plants, but in the energy mix, it has its place. By boat, we are making this demonstration. We show that we are capable of being self-sufficient in energy with two small turbines.


What about wind power?

It’s an energy that is very interesting and that works very well on multihulls, since they are boats that go almost twice as fast as we do. The wind felt is much stronger, which allows us to get a good yield from the wind turbine. On a typical Vendée Globe boat, we are not fast enough for the yield to be interesting, but also because we work a lot with the wind in the South Seas. The wind felt is not very strong. But on big boats, especially those for cruising, it is a very interesting solution.


What would you say about the actions of The SeaCleaners?

I praise the diversity of their actions, with the necessary pedagogical side, by informing companies or schoolchildren. Raising awareness is very important for children, they are our future. They are the ones who will inherit everything we are sabotaging today.

Concrete action to collect waste before it decomposes is also essential. Of course, this will not be enough since there are too many sources of pollution, but it can skillfully complement a global waste management policy.

What I also take away from The SeaCleaners is innovation: we need to put grey matter at the service of the environment. And this solution, to valorize waste in situ, seems to me to be really interesting.


Three words to support the fight to protect the oceans?

The words that first come to mind are “URGENT”, “ESSENTIAL” and “HOPE”.


Three simple gestures to preserve the oceans?

First of all, I am speaking to smokers. I have nothing against them at all, but I do have some against those who throw their cigarette butts anywhere, feeling that it has no impact on the environment, especially in cities. Whereas this cigarette butt will end up in a gutter, then in a river, then in the sea, then in nano-particles and finally on our plates. So stop throwing away, whether it’s cigarette butts or even more generally packaging, without forgetting the masks that we find everywhere in nature now. Throwing away well is a simple gesture.

The second gesture would be to be attentive to everything we throw down the drain, such as cleaning products for example, by favouring those that are less harmful.

Finally, lowering the temperature in winter by 1 or 2 degrees in your flat has a very strong impact. This reduces the output of power stations and therefore emits less CO2.


A sentence or a quote for future generations?

Get moving! Take action! As an individual, but also demand this from those around you. Demand change!


A sentence for leaders to challenge them on the urgency to act?

We all share the need to act. This is true for politicians, decision-makers and individuals alike. Business leaders also have their share of responsibility, even if it is complicated in a globalised world, we can no longer continue to do nothing. We must act, because it will be an added value for the future.

Today this can still be considered as a brake. But I am convinced that, in the years to come, it will on the contrary be something promising, a creator of value and wealth for a company. It is therefore the time to act both for the planet and for your companies.