The legendary sailor they call 'the extra-terrestrial' is back in the game as an 11th hour entry in the Transat Jacques Vabre

A star is being reborn on the Transat Jacques Vabre race. Yves Parlier, the sailing titan they call ‘the extra-terrestrial’, has come back into orbit for the two-handed transatlantic.

The legendary French sailor quit monohulls after his extraordinary Vendée Globe in 2001 when he managed to rebuild his mast and survive on algae and flying fish. He went on to develop a hydroplaning 60ft catamaran and left behind the world of solo racing.

Two weeks ago he stepped in to be co-skipper of Spanish entry 1876, persuaded to pair up with Pachi Rivero after the volatile Spaniard Guillermo Altadill was flicked.

Now 49, Parlier looks strikingly fresh, fit and chipper. He may only have been out sailing with Rivero four times but rival teams are in no way discounting the great man’s chances.

The re-entry of Parlier is one of the most exciting developments here, not least because it affords a view of how things have changed from the perspective of someone who was one of the class’s most daring innovators.

“It’s very exciting because the class is mature, with very good boats, different designs and crew who know them well and have come from one or two Vendée Globes,” he says. “So it’s a top level.”

His ride, 1876, is a Farr design. It was Loick Peyron’s Gitana 80, which was dismasted during the Vendée Globe in the Southern Ocean.

“All the technical advances are very interesting to me,” Parlier admits. His Finot-designed Aquitaine Innovations was the first to feature a rotating wingmast and deck spreaders and he says: “It was more radical whereas 1876 is quite a classical monohull.

“Upwind it slams a lot more and downwind it goes faster but it doesn’t plane. My old boat surfed easily and this pushes a lot of water. I don’t really like the ballast in the bottom of the boat because it makes the boat heavy but it’s about the rule.

“Because you can have a lot of sail area it’s more physical. I used to have seven sails and now we have ten. So probably the boat is more versatile but it needs to be sailed at the maximum – if it’s not you have a big drop off in speed.

“You have to use the right sail in the right range or you’ll have a bad percentage of performance, and [get] the right angle of heel. There’s a big difference in speed between sailing at 10-15° and sailing flat. So you have to make changes more often.

“Single-handed it’s more difficult to sail.”

Parlier says that he is here just for this race but when pressed confesses that he could be available for the two-handed Barcelona World Race next year, so if this goes well perhaps a longer-term alliance with Rivero is possible.

As to coming back into IMOCA 60s with his own boat, he says no thanks. “To do that you have to find a big sponsor and have a big team. I’m out of this system and I’m not sure I’m motivated to begin again. It’s a big job, a hard job and it’s not compatible with spending time with my family.”

What does still interest him is developing one-design multihulls. Four years ago he proposed a one-design 80ft trimaran, one that ultimately flopped. He still has hopes that some kind can be revived and sees a future for a class where the sponsors’ budgets and sailors’ spends are capped.

He thinks, for instance, that the Multi One Design 70, which I wrote about recently here, is “a very good idea – the way to go.”

The next few weeks, however, will be a re-introduction to top-flight competition and will show if Parlier’s drive and skill still match up in a much more competitive 60ft fleet. Rivero did a double-handed circumnavigation in the Barcelona World Race so is more up to date. But in general in this class, the old hands tend to be safe hands.

When asked about his chances of winning, Parlier computes the odds of success coolly and declares: “It’s a very difficult transatlantic, much more difficult than going to Bahia, and we are outsiders. But this race is very open. Of course we can win.”