05 November 2018

Route du Rhum: a connected adventure for Sébastien Desquesses

Sébastien Desquesses, skipper of the “Spirit of Saint-Malo”, and Jean-François Pellet, Orange project lead, explain how new technology makes for smooth sailing in this extreme sailing adventure.

Both born and bred in Saint-Malo, and water sports fans since their school years, they decided to get involved in this unique experience for sailing enthusiasts – a transatlantic single-handed yacht race.

From the race’s starting line on 4 November to the expected arrival in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, information from the skipper and yacht is collected thanks to sensors and connected devices.

It’s a personal challenge for Sébastien Desquesses who is taking part for the first time. Another first is the groundbreaking technology he’ll be using, in partnership with Orange and the Ecole Supérieure d’Ingénieurs in Rennes (l’ESIR), and under the direction of Jean-François Pellet.


Equipe Spirit of Saint Malo

Achille Penet (ESIR), Jean-François Pellet (Orange), Sébastien Desquesses (skipper)


What is your motivation for taking part in this iconic competition?

Sébastien Desquesses: I’m celebrating my 47th birthday on the day we set off. It’s a great gift, but you have to be humble when it’s your first race – and my childhood dream – one that’s so tough.

My overall aim is to develop my solo sailing experience. 


What was the starting point that brought a skipper together with Orange?

Jean-François Pellet: As an Orange project manager, I work at the heart of innovation and how it can best serve customers.

Sébastien and I have known each other for more than 30 years and are both passionate about sailing, so when he announced he was registering for this transatlantic race we started thinking about how we could monitor it better.

Our aim is to go beyond the usual data of position, speed and direction. We don’t know of any other skipper who will be so well connected.

Selfie S.Desquesses et JF.Pellet



What will the onboard experience be like in concrete terms?

JFP: The data coming from the onboard sensors and Sébastien’s connected watch, a Garmin Vivosport, will be collected, transmitted by satellite and made available via an online platform.


Can race enthusiasts also access the data and follow Sébastien Desquesses?

JFP: Everyone can log on to the online platform and see the information collected. You can also ask questions to a virtual assistant who will answer on Sébastien’s behalf. For example, what’s for dinner? The chatbot will find the right information from the yacht’s data and translate it into natural language.


Spirit of St Malo pilot


What benefits does enriched connectivity bring to sailors?

SD: I’m not a big fan of new technologies but I don’t want to leave anything to chance. Monitoring my physical state with a connected watch to track my heart rate, sleep and nutrition helps me analyse my lifestyle on board and better adapt to the extreme ocean environment.

Thanks to the yacht’s sensors, I can also analyse external data such as speed peaks, air and water temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind speeds…

It’s a test-bed for allowing me to optimise my strengths and keep the boat in good condition between here and Pointe-à-Pitre!


As time goes by, the information transmitted helps the sailor to better understand his skills and navigation experience in order to optimise his race and prepare for future adventures. I see real progress.

Sébastien Desquesses, skipper




Did you benefit from specific support?

JFP: Working together and sharing ideas to find solutions with Sébastien was a real driving force. Achille Penet, a student from Ecole Supérieure d’Ingénieurs in Rennes, has also helped us with feasibility studies and onboard tests. The aim is to build an innovative IoT solution.

We’ve been working with start-ups to develop the platform and set up the satellite link.


What impact will this pilot have?

SD: I see real progress. As time goes by, the information transmitted helps the sailor to better understand his skills and navigation experience in order to optimise his race and prepare for future adventures.

The solution can also be used for other activities.   
I’ve set up the Spirit of Saint-Malo association to support athletes in their sailing, mountain or desert exploits.

With this technology, optimising performance and sharing adventures opens up new possibilities.


Follow Sébastien Desquesses