Vendee Globe-Solo record still possible

The foiling IMOCA 60’s are giving a good impression of multihull speed over the course of the first 19 days of this edition of the Vendee Globe, solo circumnavigation. As of 1700 EST, Brit Alex Thompson aboard Hugo Boss has had the pedal down despite breaking a foil on something in the water a few days ago. (It is worth noting that at the moment four boats have hit something and broken the boat obliging three of them to abandon the race).

The VG tracker has a number indicating the percentage of the race the leader has completed. After 16 days Hugo Boss had completed 25% of the calculated great circle length of the race. Extrapolating on this data brings one of course gets to a 64 day circumnavigation. Will this be the end result? Too soon to say fo course. BUT I just did it again for 19 days at 30% which is 62 and some days, so they are not backing off at all.

Thompson has been able to get back up to full foiling speed having gybed to starboard for a while today allowing him to deploy the ‘good’ foil for a while. But sail boat racing regardless of what the boat or the course is needs wind and they appear to be light on for such at the momenet, light being the operative word.

The biggest hurdle the two front runners, now 25 miles apart (at 1700 Race time) is the wind petering out and becoming confused and light. Thompson reports basically sailing into the back of the front.

Oops- pays to pay attention. The 2200 race time position updates places The Boss stretching again over Armel LeCleac’h, (aka The Jackal in French solo terms) at 31 miles over his earlier 25 miles. AND the Boss has the juice again at 22 knots versus 18 of The Jackal.

British Bull Dog lives to fight another day.

The following link/news update courtsy of the VG press office.


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.

Vendee Globe Banque Populaire and Armel Le Cleac’h

Banque Populaire is a co-op of banks, including retail and commercial & insurance companies around France. The holding/parent company-Groupe BP is publicly traded on the Paris Bourse. Their revenue from the Core business line for first three quarters 2012 is 5 Billion Euros.
The English website for what looks like their charitable arm states that BP has: 36 million customers, 8.5 million cooperative shareholders, 117,000 employees & 8,000 branches
In addition to  sponsoring (their first) Vendee globe entry they also sponsor a Figaro Team and are the Marque behind the current holder of the Trophe Jules Verne, the 130 foot trimaran Banque Populaire V.
They have been sponsoring Sailing since 1990 (22 years) so one must assume they like what the relationship with sailing is doing for them.

They are also an Official Partner, since 2000, of the FFV, an Official Partner of the French Olympic Team and they are the Official Partner of The Association Eric Tabarly. On their BP Voile site, there is a blow by blow of the Vendee Globe apparently direct from the VG site and the boat itself, currently leading (1430 EST-Saturday). The Vendee Imoca 60 Team Face Book page has 6500 likes-Up from 5295 earlier this week. There is also a BP You Tube channel-for just the IMOCA 60, with 25 videos on it.

Let’s see:
Figaro for a season: 500,000 Euros. IMOCA 60 for 4 years, at this level, 24m Euros. (Easy math-6m a year
This is the tricky one-a 130 foot Ocean greyhound tri…Euro10 million a year?
Consider: 10 guys in the crew, at least that many in the pits, a mainsail is probably a quarter Million Euros…2,3,4 serious Ribs,simply painting it is probably the same amount of Euros….
Total sailing sponsorship (including the Olympics, FFV and Tabarly…? I guess north of 20-25 million Euros a year.

It seems as though our boy Armel has  been recruited by a big program with lots of resources. One wonders why?

(Trivia section-His older brother Gael is the boat captain for Vincent Riou on PRB…)

From the VG skipper’s dossiers section:
2nd 2000
1st 2003
1st Solo offshore racing Championship 2003
4th in 2004 Plus winning the Transat AG2R-trans-at in the Figaro 2
1st 2010 Win, again in the Transat Ag2R
4th Route Du Rhumb 2006
IMOCA world champ and 4th in The Artemis Transat-2008 formerly the O.S.T.A.R.
2nd Vendee Globe in 2008/9
2nd Route du Rhumb 2010
3rd in the TJV 2011
2nd in the B2B (A solo race back to France from Columbia or wherever the Rd R finishes-It is another VG qualifier) after R du R in 2011
3rd In the Europe Warm Up 2012
1st GP Guyader 2012

Embarks on 2nd VG, November 2012

The Grand Prix Guyader is held in the Brenton seaport town of Douarnenez from Mid April to early May, it is a combined regatta for everything from MOD70’s, Maxi’s , IMOCA 60’s Class 40 to Dragons, mid sized sport boats to Stand Up Paddle boards, Kite sailing and stopping at Opti’s.…It is an absolutely  full blown regatta well underway while boats in the North East US are just getting the covers off…..

Oh, it is only a couple of weeks after Spi Ouest in La Trinite the 2013 edition of which, the 35th, will be held over the weekend of 28 March to 1 April, with usually about 500 boats, at 47.5 degrees north.

Vendee Globe—Why Francois Gabart?

Since the Vendee Globe started, 5 days ago, one young skipper has led virtually the whole race, putting some of the best IMOCA skippers in the world in his wake which frankly is saying something. To paraphrase Butch and Sundance—Who is this guy?

More to the point how did a 29 year old get to be at the helm of a brand new IMOCA 60 Sponsored by a major publically traded (on the Paris Bourse) insurance company?

Turns out he pretty much earned the spot. I have found no evidence at all of nepotism.

The following info is all garnered from the Internet, so “Caveat Emptor”

Francois Gabart is of course French. He sailed with his parents as a 7 year old on a circle cruise of the Atlantic so starting in at least 1990, this fellow has been around the water.

By 1997 he was skilled enough to win the French Optimist Championship. Two years later, now 16, He also won the French Moth Championships and came 4th in the Junior European Championships for the Moth, in 2000. All pretty impressive in itself I reckon.

Between 2001 and 2005 his various on line CV’s cite him as “Olympic Tornado Preparation” and winning the Tornado Junior Worlds in 2003 in the process. Certainly sailing a Tornado is excellent practice for sailing an IMOCA 60. By 2006 he had gotten into the Figaro 2 and finished second in the Cap Istanbul race, one of the major events in the Figaro solo series. The Cap Istanbul sails from Toulon to Turkey with several stops: the race is almost as long as the Figaro itself. In 2006, or 7, he was second. He won it in 2010. In the same 2006/7 time he won the Student class in the Tour De France a la Voile. This is a crewed race in the Archambault 34.

Come 2008 he was sailing as the skipper of the Figaro 2 Espoire Region Bretagne, the Brittany Region of France. This is a common proposition among the French maritime districts. It is as though say Rhode Island & Massachusetts had joined forces to promote the region. Years ago I interviewed the late  Paul Vatiene, then skipper of an ORMA 60 foot tri, in New York to set up for a shot at the solo Transat record. His boat was the same idea-Regional promotional except his was promoting the region of Normandy.

This was also when  Gabart won Rookie of the Year in The Figaro that serious training ground for Soloistas.
And somewhere in there he managed to get an engineering degree.

In 2009, it gets really interesting.

In this year he won the “Skipper Macif Selection, for 2010-meaning I imagine that he was to join the Macif Sailing Team for the 2010 season-Goodbye Espoire Region Bretagne. On the Macif Vendee Globe website for Sponsors, there is a very professionally done website covering everything the Macif company is doing in sailing, including sponsoring the IMOCA 60, and two new skippers for the Figaro team-As far as I can read in my limited French.

So in ’09, he joins Macif, is third in a Transatlantic Race from Brittany to Guadeloupe in the Figaro2, singlehanded. He is out of first by about an hour,  two minutes, fifteen seconds…After 3,400 miles or so. The first and second skippers are 4 minutes apart-The winner is 40 year old Gildas Morvan a fixture on the Figaro circuit for FOURTEEN years, with a record including a second and 3 thirds in The Figaro. Second is Erwan Tabarly  (8 years on the Figaro Circuit) & Gabart is third.

He is 23 years old.

Later he wins the French Solo Offshore Racing Championship sailed in the Figaro 2’s….. Wha? Think about this for a minute- he beats out, over a 10 or so race series, over the summer, some of the best names in one design and solo offshore racing, in the world. No wonder Macif hired him. This is in itself an interesting change of events. Used to be solo skippers would go around with their pitch looking for sponsors-I know I have done it. Think also of Mike Plant, Hal Roth, Phil Steggall, Bruce Schwab, Rich Wilson and so on. In France companies are now looking for talent, so successful is sailing as a medium for getting one’s company recognized

Towards the end of 2009, he gets a third with Kito de Pavant, another luminary from the Figaro world in the Transat Jacques Vabre.

In case you thought this was the boost he needed, it was not.

The gist of a quote from Francois, on the Barcelona World Race site for 2010 says “When I learnt Michel Desjoyeaux was building a new boat for the Route du Rhumb then the Barcelona World Race, I sent him a message right after his press conference in Paris making the announcement—“I’m up for it” He did not learn of his new job until May 18th. But Desjoyeaux reports in the same quote that “opting for Francis was practically a done deal in my head in February but I was focused on the boat building and did not want to be distracted”.

Desjoyeaux goes on to say-“I discussed it with Christian Le Pap, the coach at Port-La-Foret and we concluded it was the right choice.” This was an interesting insight too.

Christian Le Pape is the head guy at something called “Pole Finistere, Center of Excellence in the Nation” in essence a training center for French solo sailors. It’s Mission, in my poor French is the training at a high level for sailors in the IMOCA and Figaro class for ocean racing. It appears to be supported by the FFV, and the regions of Brittany and Finisterre, the Town of Port La Foret & the French Ministry of Sport, amongst others.

So our hero is hired onto the Macif program sailing in the Figaro Class up to 2011 with a side gig of a lap around the planet on a new Foncia, Desjoyeaux’s long time sponsor with The Professor as Desjoyeaux is called. Despite this being like learning computers from Bill Gates or Politics from Bill Clinton, Desjoyeaux  says he was impressed by Gabart’s” mindset, different view of things, and being younger, of a different culture. I want Francois to exercise his opinion and free will”, says Desjoyeaux. “Yes men are no good”.

Unfortunately for both Gabart and The Professor, they did not get too far in the Barcelona World race. The mast broke near Cape Town to which they were able to sail with what was left of the spar.

So, Francois Gabart is one very promising young sailor and one cannot but wonder what might happen if he was at the help of an AC 72…..?

And this just in at 1835 EST Thursday  Armel Le Cleac’h has pulled to within striking distance of the “golden Boy” as the VG press site calls him now. Still 5 days into a 90 day race…..

And another OOP’s: -Sam Davies, the sole woman and 1/3rd of the GBR contingent has apparently dropped her rig near Maderia. She is well and the boat is afloat. More to follow.

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.