Vendee Globe: Hugo Boss inches away.

So far so good for the tenacious Brit on his fourth attempt to get his Knighthood, I mean, win the Vendee Globe. Personally I reckon the big job now is to be steady and cool and not get too psyched by being in front. I am sure he’d rather be there than in some of the other positions he has been in during his three previous races. Right about now 4 years ago I think he was fixing one of the rudder connecting rods after the Watt and Sea came adrift and busted said rod. Ever the Sponsors Man, he recorded it on board the boat with Hugo Boss logos everywhere. And of course this time, he is posting positions on the Alex Thompson website, so more eyeballs again. THIS is great sailing as marketing tool thinking

The other two leaders are putting the yards (meters?) on the top of the next group. Currently in second is Seb Josse on his third Vendee Globe. Just the short version of his CV includes a fourth in the first leg of the 1999 Mini-Transat, a second in the 2001 Solitaire du Figaro-A four or five leg stage race soloin 33 foot one design boats, around the Bay of Biscay and the western approaches to the English Channel. ‘The Figaro’ is THE training ground for the serious French solo sailor, and lately Brits too. Josse was a part of the crew and so, co-holder, of the Trophy Jules Verne aboard the Maxi Cat Orange, nee PlayStation. Third in the TJV with Isabelle Autissier in ‘03, fifth in the Vendee globe in ‘05, fourth in the ’06 VOR on ABN Amro 11 including a 24-hour speed record. You get the picture. He is sailing for the financial house of Edmund de Rothschild, long a prominent name in sailing with a collection of Gitana’s.

In third lies Armel Le Cleac’h, presently 92 miles astern of The Boss. Le Cleac’h is another professional sailor with a long history of big time racing. Figaro, World Champion in IMOCA (these Open 60’s) fourth in the Route du Rhumb, France’s answer to the OSTAR. A second place, twice, in the 2009 and 2013 Vendee Globe gave him the scent no doubt.

Interestingly when researching the basic stats of the boats, the beam of Hugo boss is not given. But Thompson has the most upwind sail of the three leaders at 340 sqm. Compared to Le Cleac’h at 300 and Josse at 290. He is also a tenth of a metric tonne lighter, 7.5 vs. 7.6. And, in what must be an enormous mental boost for Thompson and a bit of a ‘WTF’ moment for the rest, is the fact Hugo Boss was abandoned in the 2015 Transat Jacques Vabre, in November after being launched 01 September. After being recovered, a nice bit of work in itself I reckon, Thompson’s team spent six months rebuilding her again. And a slight bit of sailing trivia for you Thompson’s co-skipper in the abandoned TJV was the same Spaniard, Guillermo Altadill, (the most successful sailor no one has ever heard of) who was aboard High Noon, the youth boat that blitzed the 2016 Newport to Bermuda race.

Second and third are 89 and 92 miles astern of the Boss, and after that the distances really exercise the bungy cord. From fourth through tenth, they are respectively: 123, 195, 207, 285, 442, 575 and 619. And we are not talking about the rookies here either. Just in this group are a total of 17 (including this one) Vendee Globe races from a total of 43 previous races within the fleet.

From todays interviews with the sailors, Sébastien Josse remarks on the increasing discomfort aboard the boats in this race. ‘With each Vendée Globe it’s worse and worse. In my first one, I had a comfortable bed, but now it’s really uncomfortable and it’s hard to sleep’. Having boat speed is a great way to win a sail boat race but it does have its down side in a three-month race. Josse again:

When the boat is above 18-19 knots, it’s hard to move around. It’s noisy and it’s impossible to sleep with all the banging. It’s less comfortable than a multihull.

Then there are the forces these boats are subjecting themselves to. The following remark was made while the boats are sailing in 15 knots of true wind. We’re at the maximum loads for the boat. In the Southern Ocean we won’t be able to do that.”

If you did not know Thompson, (is British) it might be easy to infer it from his remarks from the same body of ocean. “It’s a bit bumpy. He goes on: (In this cut and paste from the VG news section whose work is duly recognized)

It is pretty amazing to be on a boat which in 16-17kts of breeze I can average 22kts. The breeze has finally come left a bit to allow Hugo Boss to lift up her skirts a little bit and go a bit faster. I have a bit more breeze for a few hours and then it will lighten up and drop a little bit before tomorrow when we will start a real fast, fast dash for three or four days towards the Cape of Good Hope. I could not have asked for it to be positioned more perfectly. It is a very normal scenario this. It is developing just to the south of us and will move down, and I will be able to stay ahead of it. I think just this lead pack will be able to stay with it. We will be with this low pressure for quite a while. I think Seb is right. This is going to be the first big test for the boats. I am imagining a wind angle of about 120 to 125 degrees true, sailing in 23-26kts of wind. Depending on the wave conditions is what will decide how fast the boats go. To be honest if it was flat water in those wind conditions my boat could average over 30kts. With waves I don’t expect to be going much faster than I am now, to be honest 22-24kts maybe. Today I will prepare the boat a little, re-tidy up, re-stack, and I will try and get as much sleep as I can in the next 24 hours. I have a little composite job to do, just to make sure everything really is ready, make sure my sail plan is correct for when it comes, make sure my contingencies are ready, make sure I am fresh to be able to hit the turbo button when it arrives. I guess we are going to find out how strong these boats are now. Who will be ready to lift the foot first? Show the French you have learned? I think these boats…well the limit is quite obvious. You know when you have to slow down. Last night I had to slow down. 24 hours before the Cape Verdes you get slowed down. You get told by the boat. The boat tells you when to slow. It is as demanding now as in more wind. We do not need a lot of wind. The more wind, the more waves, the slower you go.”

We’re not in Kansas any more Toto.

12 meters and 6.5 meters

Moving boats, always at night.

Maybe it’s just me but I seem to spend a disproportinate amount of time moving, going to or leaving with boats, at night. Wednesday night was a classic of the genre. I moved the Mini up to the Hinckley Yacht Services yard in Portsmouth preparatory to erecting the shed around her and the Ranger so I can continue The Quest to get the Mini sailing again. The night was drizzly wet, misty, dank and generally raw. It was the kind of night to sit by the fire with a good who-dunnit and a glass of Shiraz. The dankness and the weak yellow flood lamps reminded me of the first time I saw the rebuilt 12-meter Australia, in July 1979.

Mini nad Ranger at Hinckley Yacht Services

The fellow who had recruited me to be the boat captain, Lee Killingworth and I drove into the industrial area in which the refit had been done. The shed was your basic industrial put-it-up-in-a-day steel shed. It and a few clones were inside a 10-foot tall wire mesh fence in a neighborhood populated with similar homages to the rigors of small business manufacturing

Mini at Hinckley Yacht Services

July is mid-winter in Australia and Perth is on the water. The prevailing weather is from the west and southwest and so brings the harsh storms blowing up from the Southern Ocean bringing lots of moisture with them. And it is cold, raw moisture.

There was no sign on our shed. Warren Jones the Man Who Made It All Happen, in 1980 and particularly in 1983, had wanted to keep the boat invisible where possible. The dark/fog/mist/drizzle atmosphere was winning the battle of light versus dark against the yellowish lamps purportedly illuminating the parking lot.


I opened the gate and we idled up to the side door of our building. I can remember that scene as though it was yesterday. Just the two of us, long disciples of the Aussie Battle to win the America’s Cup, the atmosphere was full of expectation. It felt like the beginning of something no one had ever done, beat the yanks in the America’s Cup.

Tonight, at Hinckley it was the same kind of wet, chill, dank, bleak night, something out of Dickens perhaps. I towed the Mini up the Burma Rd. to Hinckley and pulled in along side one of the huge sheds they have. These storage sheds are the larger brothers of the ones in Perth all those years ago. I wonder what it is with the lighting that goes with these sheds? It is always this pale anemic yellow. Weak enough that you feel if you looked at it too hard the light would just dribble away, mingling with the runnels of water covering the ground and and simply extinguish itself.

Again as in Perth, the whole scene reminded one of a 1930’s Raymond Chandler gangster novel. You know, something like…..

Mini at HYS

There were no headlights on the black shape as it inched closer. It looked like a Caddie, but with street lamps few and far between here, it was that kind of neighborhood, it was hard to be sure. Then again, at this time of the early morning who else was it gonna be? The President?

 In the dark it was hard to make out any particulars of the guy in the car. The one street lamp between him and the tenement was that sickly, anemic yellow color that the lamps down on the ship docks show. The car had stopped just outside the circle of yellow light drifting down from this lone lamp. The drizzle let up for a moment, but that really made no difference. The cloud cover was at about 3 feet anyway, so rain or not, everything was wet and the late fall air was chill. The entire scene was dank and depressing. At length he got out of the car.

He stood there, big and bulky, dense really, 250 lbs and 200 of it was not anywhere near his belt buckle. His hat was pulled down low over the eyebrows and the collar of his long black over coat turned up. The black of the coat matched the darkness of the street, as though they came from the same bin of blackness. So dressed, he was almost invisible outside that weak circle of yellow pinch-hitting for light. For fully a minute he stood quite motionless. He not so much looked around, but rather as if he was sniffing the air, taking in the mojo of the scene. If he were a cat, his whiskers would be twitching. At length who, or what ever, was at Twitch Control must have given him the all clear. He started walking, slowly with steady steps towards the decrepit and dim tenement.

There was no other human on the street but that was not a surprise. 2637 Broadview was the last, more or less inhabited, tenement on the block. It was so well known to the cops, they never did need the number. Just “Disturbance on Broadview”, said it all.

He stopped some feet from the door. Twitch, twitch. Slowly, very, very, slowly he unbuttoned his overcoat and pulled the lapels apart, just a smidge. He reached inside the overcoat and unbuttoned the three buttons on his suit coat. Very slowly, twitching all the while.

He raised his right hand up under his left armpit, and I don’t think he was reaching for his Lucky Strikes.

Mini in yellow light at HYS

It was that kind of night.

Mini at HYSSo here we go again. This time I have the Ranger AND the Mini going into the Vince’s Bush Boatyard Plastic Hoop Shed, albeit with 12 feet of extensions on it to accommodate the Ranger. Maybe after I get her done and sailing I will be able to move boat boats around in daylight, sunny, warm, you know, a normal kind of day for sailing…

Back in "The Day". On a moorinmg in Newport Harbour after the New ENgland Solo Twin, 2003

Back in “The Day”. On the mooring in Newport Harbour after the New England Solo Twin, 2003


J-105 Double handed sailing

This essay was originally written by me for the J-105 class newsletter with a view to getting more J-105 owners to take up the D-H aspect of racing, on a boat almost perfect for it.

Few are the boats one can sail solo with a kite up.

Few are the boats one can sail solo with a kite up.

One of the easiest boats on the planet to sail double-handed is notable by its absence from the fastest growing slice of keelboat racing: double-handed.

Regular readers will know of my interest, nay passion, for short handed sailing, often double handed. D-H  “racing” is much closer to “normal” sailing than fully crewed racing for the simple reason that double-handed is how almost everyone who is not involved in some kind of race actually sails their boat. D-H “racing” uses all the same skills and knowledge, preparation and equipment used for “cruising” and it is the shortest line between cruising and racing. Look around at the boats out sailing anywhere on any given weekend and everyone not racing is sailing with one or two people even on some quite large boats.

The really good news is that for many double-handed races a J-105 needs to merely register and show up. Only the offshore or longer races require more equipment than normal. There are many day and overnight races that a well prepared and outfitted J-105 can enter with very little in the way of extra equipment except, most reasonably, jack lines.

FOR "bigger" races it is straight forward to install a "solent" stay on which to set small sails

For “bigger” races it is straight forward to install a “solent” stay on which to set small sails. This picture is of such a rig on the 105 Jaded in the Halifax race in 2009 with one reef and the Solent upwind in about 22 true in the Gulf of Maine. To add to the economy, the Solent/ “4” in this case was a cut down old class jib.

J-105’s have competed in the Bermuda 1-2: Solo to Bermuda from Newport and then DH back to Newport. I have done three Marblehead to Halifax races and several other races and DH and Solo passages on Jaded. A few years ago a J-105 won the Fastnet overall while sailing in the Double Handed Class and one has come second in the IRC class in the 2009 O.S.T.A.R single-handed race. The skipper was 18.

If additional sailing gear is required, say smaller headsails, then it is pretty easy to install a Solent stay on the 105. AND it can be done in such a way as to not take the boat out of class for OD events. Other components like a good self steering autopilot are universal anyway.

Heading to Halifax in the 2009 Halifax Race. A sound Autopilot is a good investment anyway.

Double-Handed aboard Jaded, heading to Halifax in the 2009 Race. A sound Autopilot is a good investment anyway. When DH, you get to do everything….At least once!

D-H racing is a great way to enjoy such a fun boat as the 105, earn something new and frankly have a blast without all the phone calls, beers and sandwiches.

D-H racing has all of the elements of racing that we are used to in crewed events, and more than one person has observed that many crewed races are, largely, D-H in execution until one gets to the corners.

Lots of sitting around, until you get to the corners

Lots of sitting around, until you get to the corners of course

Sail handling, tactics, navigation & steering are all the same with D-H racing but all require that elusive component required when operating a boat—seamanship. Both of you get to do everything but you have to think a few more moves ahead than when sailing crewed. If nothing else it gives a two man crew a different view of what happens forward of the traveler.

Both parties get to do everything DH. Good practice for when executing the Exit Plan. Sorry the picture is blurry, we were going 10 knots after all...

Both parties get to do everything DH. Good practice for when executing the Exit Plan. Sorry the picture is blurry, we were going 10 knots after all…(OK full disclosure, this picture is from a Class 40…)

I have nothing against racing with a full crew. I have done it my whole life. BUT the existence we all live these days bears on all our decisions and trying to round up the crew on Friday night for a Saturday race, has frustrated more than one owner to either abandon racing all together or more frequently take up Double handed.

Fully crewed often means a lot of people sitting around for most of the race.

Fully crewed often means a lot of people sitting around for most of the race.

I count at least 7 groups around the country focusing on double-handed racing. Just on Long Island Sound alone in May and early June there are three regattas with D-H classes, all sailed on the western Sound and so easily within reach of the local 105 fleet. The boats must conform to the local YRA safety regs, which are precisely those that a J-105 has to meet for day racing on Long Island Sound.

For the more adventurous, I count over 20 races between Long Island Sound and Maine that have D-H classes.

So, come on people, get more value from your boat—sail more often. What better way to learn some new stuff and lower the cost per hour of sailing? Oh, it is a ton of fun and the camaraderie is fantastic.

Second Single handed sailing event in November

The second event in November is the start of the Vendee Globe. Without question the Vendee Globe is, hands down, the hardest sporting contest on the planet. It might even rank in the top ten of the hardest things to complete on the planet. “Climbing” Mount Everest is a relative cake walk when viewed alongside the Vendee Globe.
For such a hard thing to do, the rules are simple, rather like the old gag about the simplicity of the rules for the Sydney Harbor 18 footers:

“They’re 18 feet long and they start at two o’clock”.

An open 50-Same idea as the IMOCA boats but 50 feet long

For the Vendee Globe the gag might run:

“The boats are 60 feet long and the start is in November”.

Realistically there are four rules.
•    The Boats: IMOCA 60 footers.
•    Crew: Single handed
•    Course: Around the world, France to France, under the Great Capes, Antarctica to starboard
•    Rules: Non-stop, no assistance.

An Imoca 60 in heavy weather near New Zealand

Simply reading this summary of the race does not do justice to the magnitude of the event.
Consider for a moment the following:

The record for this circumnavigation is 84 days set in the last race in 2008-2009. And that was of course for the winner. The last finisher crossed the line FORTY TWO DAYS after the winner taking 126 days. Another month and a half at sea! This is an average of just over 8 knots or about the time it used to take the fast BOC boats to sail from Newport to Cape Town.

Think about that for a minute.

What are you going to be doing for the next four months beginning 10 November 2012?

•    Will you be doing it by yourself?
•    Will you get, oh, 4-5 hours of sleep per 24, on a good day!
•    Will you be burning through 6,000 to 8,000 calories per day?
•    Will you be burning these calories on a diet largely fueled by freeze dried food?
•    Will you be trying to fix equipment that ranges across the industrial spectrum from chemistry, electricity, hydraulics, electronics, mechanics, composite fabrication, sail repair?
•    Will you have the skills, thinking, the determination to finish have to deal with all alone
•    Will you have to repair yourself in the event of injury?
•    Will you have the courage and skills to beat the record for a 24 hours run of 439 miles set in 2004? An AVERAGE of bit over 18 knots.
•    The 24 hour run record in the last Volvo Ocean Race is 565 miles in 24 hours, on a 70 foot boat with 10 guys…..

I could go on but you get the idea.

The Vendee Globe is much more than a sail boat race. Even after following the race for years, I still find it hard to precisely define what it is. Ultimately it is probably only possible to define it if you have done it. Only two American sailors, Bruce Schwab and Rich Wilson have successfully finished this race. A third, the late Mike Plant, completed the course but was not scored as a finisher because he accepted assistance south of New Zealand.

The blistering pace that defined the 2008 race bears comparison to another bench mark circumnavigation, the Trophy Jules Verne.

In 1992 my wife and I were in France looking at Mini Transat boats. Driving along the Brittany coast one afternoon, we had the car radio on and I heard the words “Commodore Explorer”. My wife had enough French to tell me that it was a interview, live at sea (well it is France after all)  with Bruno Peyron skipper of this  90 foot cat of the same name. The gist of it was they were hours away from completing a circumnavigation of the globe in less than 80 days the basic premise behind the Trophy Jules Verne-Around The World in 80 Days

•    16 years ago
•    10 or so guys
•    90 foot multihull
•    79 days.

By any standard the Vendee Globe is one of the most compelling events ever organized. The depths to which the human spirit needs to be plumed are mind boggling. A fantastic insight into this condition is a first person story of the race by one of the two US Vendee Globe sailors, Rich Wilson, is in his book- “France to France, Antarctica to Starboard”. Wilson, well known for his combining educational programs and sailing activities for school kids finished the 2008 race.

While not the fastest boat around the Big Blue Marble, Rich was:

The lone America, the oldest skipper, sailing one of the oldest boats, with one of the smallest budgets and he suffers from Asthma to boot.

The only thing I can think of that surpasses the Vendee Globe as a test of ones ability to overcome relates to Commander Bill King. Commander King was one of the original sailors to attempt the Grandfather of the Vendee Globe, the Golden Globe race in the late 1960’s. Commander King, a Royal Navy Submarine commander in the Second World War lets us see just a glimpse of the stresses he had to bear in that role, in this brief video on Vimeo.

Thanks to Scott Kuhner for the link.

If you are moved by that which moves the human spirit, watch the Vendee Globe this winter. Millions of Frenchmen and women do.

Single handed sailing in November

For those students of single-handed and double–handed sailing, November has two
“don’t miss” events coming up. One is in Newport RI, the other in La Rochelle, France
Save the date, especially if you live in the Northeast. On Saturday 03 November 2012 at Newport Yacht Club, on Long Wharf in Newport, RI. NYC hosts the annual gathering of the Bermuda 1-2 group. From 1530 on.

The Bermuda 1-2 is the oldest continually running single handed ocean race in the north east and is one year older than the Single handed Transpac, first run in 1978, according to info on the Single-handed Transpac’s website–And I am happy to be corrected on this detail. The point is the Bermuda 1-2 has been around for a long time and has acted as a proving ground for several sailors who have gone on to bigger single handed races, such as the O.S.T.A.R and the (formerly BOC & Around Alone) Velux Five Oceans.

Sail handling skills are a key element of the Bermuda 1-2

This November meeting is open to all who are interested in meeting the kind of challenge that such a voyage poses. I.E. preparing and sailing one’s own yacht from Newport To Bermuda and then Double Handed return race back to Newport. There are few, if any, activities in today’s world where the skill, cunning, experience, will, and many of the other human characteristics we all envy in those who possess them, are required, and often wished for in greater quantities, than sailing one’s own boat on this course across the Gulf Stream alone.

If you find yourself inclined to see just how good a sailor AND seaman you are, not on a sunny day on Block Island Sound but the inner you, that needs to come to the surface half way to Bermuda, in hard weather, all the while wet, cold, tired, hungry and let’s say, a bit anxious, then this race is for you. One precise reason to come to this gathering is to meet the sailors who have “been there and done that” as they saying goes. Broken spars, damaged sails, getting sails (spinnakers) down in the midst of a squall, thru hull leaks, broken rudders, engine (and so electricity) failures and so on. Without placing too much emphasis on the crummy stuff, a veteran sailor will keep close the Prussian Army’s dictum about “plans rarely surviving contact with the enemy”. The essence of this, and all sailing for that matter, is in the preparation. The sailing is easy, it is the seaman ship that is the challenge.

And you don’t need to have a large ocean going yacht, although it does need to be over 30 feet LOA.

The Bermuda 1-2 size range is 30 feet LOA to 60

Like many grand endeavors, such as a marathon or a personal best in some activity, the first successful completion of this passage is a land mark in a sailor’s life. It is a called a race but the bulk of the competitors are sailing in “normal” boats much like the boats the rest of us have.

Several boats still carry mechanical self steering systems as well as electric Autopilots

I will say that for those of us of a certain age, the camaraderie is very similar to the “Old Days” where the competitors all help each other, exchange tools, how-to tips, weather information and so on.

And even if you are, shall we say  NOT in the market, for the race proper (in 2013), it is an ideal  venue to talk with a great group of sailors, men AND women. If you want to start slowly, the Newport Yacht Club also hosts two other events for single and double-handed sailors. Thus you can come and test the waters in say the New England Solo Twin held annually in July  or the Offshore 160 held in the off years, I.E. even numbered years opposite the Bermuda 1-2 There is also a calendar (still to be filled in fully for 2013) with all the short handed races I can find between Annapolis and Maine.

So, for Saturday 03 November:

•    The  official gathering time is 1530, for a couple of beers and catch up with mates, old and new. Folks are often there from about 1500 on.
•    There is a Forum beginning at 1600 that includes an introduction around the room of who is who and their goals.
•    The Forum includes discussion of changes to the race, since 2011 & comments by the Skippers Representative, Kris Wenzel, a multi-time (female) competitor.
•    She has organized U. Conn Met man, Frank Bohlen to come and address us on the issues of weather, including Gulf Stream 101, on the course and I reckon THAT alone is worth the price of the gas and beers from anywhere on the north east coast.

The “Gam” concludes at 1700 and from then until 1900 general conviviality is the order of the day. There is a cash bar in the meeting space and Hor’s d’oeurvs are available. Frequently a few groups will wander off after 1900 to sample Newport’s restaurants too.

If you are coming, please contact Race C’ tee Chairman, Roy Guay at so he can get a head count for the munchies that the Yacht Club prepares.

The images used above were taken either by me or a long time ship mate and former (is there such a thing?) professional photographer Don Miller Photography. Unfortunately I cannot remember which ones he took-The better ones I guess.

You can see more of his fine work on his website

Used with out permission-I got to give him something to heckle me for

Hope to see you in Newport on the 3rd..