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Portrait Jean Le Cam : Another glance at “King Jean”

BENOIT STICHELBAUT - PHOTOGRAPHERather than a long portrait, here are: The Fables of Jean Le Cam

Jean Le Cam – a dangerous competitor. A sailor with the vast and successful experiment.

46 years – Married two children.

Triple victorious of the Figaro

Second of the last Vendée Globe. Two titles which summarise the innumerable intermediate podiums.

The public as well as the Press mostly discovered the personality of “King Jean” during the latest Vendée Globe. However those who know him well, and Kito de Pavant has known him for years confirms: “Jean did not change, he is reserved on the ground, silent and secret during the preparation of races, but he always has been a remarkable organiser of vacations and podiums! Each one of his interventions was always an explosion of humour, a show of common sense and, often, a lesson of philosophy”.

1/ I did not pass my General Certificate of Education but I knew what I wanted to do! Sail!

I was in scientific high school but did not want to pass my General Certificate of Education. I spent the examination day hidden in my car (a hurdy-gurdy 2 CV that I had fixed)… until it was too late!

Actually, I did not want to pass my Certificate so I would not have to go to University or else… I did it only because I knew what I wanted to do: and that was sailing! It was a daring bet but at that time (1977/1978), few sailors made a living out of it, and this trade of skipper looked as perilous as that of singer or actor!

A not very serious job in the eyes of the crowd but an obvious future for me. Whatever… I wanted to spend the longest possible time at school, to learn and be open minded. And even if the Certificate did not interest me, I then learned the things that helped me to be what I am today.

Physics, mathematics, geometry, for the construction of my boats and navigation. Foreign languages to communicate on all the seas of the world. Physical education to learn to go further than I thought possible and keep in good shape. And all other topics for my general education!

Morality: never release the prey for the shade. And learn all you can while possible. In France, school is free of charge. Of course the system is not perfect and for many lower class families it is not always easy to make ends meet… But everything may still be won and you must believe in it! And remember that what you learn is for yourself and will help you later on.

2/ I had made a choice and I had to assume it!

To build this dubious future and to achieve my goal, my life of teenager was thus rythmed by regattas, made of winter training, search of sponsors, odd jobs. All my time was devoted to the sail. I had few friends, I did not go to the cinema, I did not go to parties, I did not go anywhere on holiday… But I did what I had chosen. I multiplied all the experiments and I made fire of any wood.

To some extent, I made my higher studies on board of many boats, with various professors and especially the Will to improve, always. To change things (technique to be implemented, materials to be used). I developed a sense of observation and learned how to analyse what I saw in order to progress. And that is still true today!

Morality: if you believe in something, then go for it! But give yourself the means of succeeding and be realistic. Your achievements will always be to the detriment of something else.

3/ I did not want to fulfil my military duty on the ground…

I then participated to my first great race, a crew round the world race with Eric Tabarly. In fact, I did not want to fulfil my military duty (mandatory at the time) on the ground. So I decided to be brave and I knocked at Eric Tabarly’s door. He agreed to embark me on his Pen Duick VI for Withbread.

This round of the world was held as a crew with stopovers and I discovered many places like South Africa, New Zealand and South America. A great lesson of geography and humanity… I realised that in France our sense of hospitality was not as developed as in many other countries. And also that no, we are not the most beautiful, strongest, most intelligent people of the world! I learned how to look at other people and developed a strong sense of tolerance and respect and I acquired the certainty that we could not lecture anybody!

We were ten on board and had lived together in a restricted area during one full year. However I realised, when listening to our accounts, that we had not lived the same thing. Each one among us had a different vision of that year, but then each one of us had left to seek something that was personal to him. For some the adventure, for others the competition or the sharing. Had we found what we wanted? Do we still seek it today? I do not have the answer, but I discovered that each human being is unique, and that it is essential to respect the others even when they do not share our philosophy of life.

Morality: if 10 different men can make a boat turn around the world, then I want to believe that a billion people can make the world turn round, as long as they respect each other and accept their differences.

L-incroyable-show-de-Jean-Le-Cam4/ Jean who laughs, Jean who cries…

My adult life revolved around the same concept as my teenager life did… The sail, always the sail.

I created a shipyard with two friends (it still exists, but I am not part of it anymore), I built my first boats (Formulas 40). I started to create a name for myself… and was World Champion! And then I changed boat and was part of the “Figaro” circuit again. The race I most often competed in is The “Solitaire du Figaro”. I won stages and lost races on the wire of the razor. I howled, stormed and raged. From laughter to tears, from successes to deceits, I had the honours and knew the worst too. There I learned more about the others and myself… I learned how to recognise the false-friends (those who are all smile because we win, the same who turn their back to you and bury you as soon as you are confronted to losing).

I learned how to put off my limits, go possibly further, to push back the limits of the sleep, to swallow the grass snakes, to accept the inevitable and to taste the victories. Delicate cocktail and fragile balance… Definitely the sail is not an exact science, nothing is never won and you must be able to question everything while keeping confidence.

Morality: One day will be white, the other black without reason, so it is necessary to keep a cold head, to remain humble and carry on, one’s objectives well in sight.

5/ Quite beautiful meetings

All these years enabled me to meet fantastic people. My sponsors are great persons with whom we’ve built friendship. I thank them for their confidence and their engagement at my side.

While trusting me, they made me believe in me too. They helped me grow and accompanied me in all my adventures. And even if success was not always there, they were still at my side to accommodate and support me. And there is the team with which I currently work and the past teams too. They stay in the shade and never count their time (no OT!). I am demanding and not always easy… But here they are, always.

This yellow boat which takes part in the Vendée Globe is their boat as much as mine, even if I am alone on board. And if I did not have problems it is because worked like hell, using all their knowledge. Thanks to them!

Morality: alone, we can achieve nothing. We are part of a chain and each link fully plays its part.

6/ And Nature in all that?

The sea, the oceans are threatened by us. Soiled by men, wild degasifications, dustbins thrown over edge, wild hunting. The ocean animals suffer, disappear and the ecosystems go wild!

We could say so much of the Earth, the consequences are the same … We are destroying our planet! We vitiate our air (our factories, our cars, etc.). We exterminate animal and vegetable species. The forests disappear, water is not drinkable any more and catastrophes occur.

I live on Earth and I go at sea, and even if I do not know each bird by its name, I become aware that each one of us could do something, learn how to respect nature and commit ourselves to defend it, safeguard it. Small day-to-day gestures from each and every one of us. Even I can still improve in this field!

Morality: human beings decided the Earth is theirs and believe they are Masters on board… Without the trees, we die. Without water, we die. Without animals, we die… It is time to repair the damages!

Photos : Bonduelle – Benoît STICHELBAUT

Visit the races website of Jean Le Cam (Vendée Globe, Transat Jacques Vabre)

– AlP –

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