When British skipper Mike Golding on Gamesa crossed the finish line of the Vendée Globe at 18h 38m 26s UTC this Wednesday 6th February he took sixth place. He became the first sailor ever to finish three Vendée Globe races and finished just 6 hours 23 mins and 28secs behind his French rival Jean Le Cam who he has been duelling with over fifth since early December.
Le Cam and Golding have a history as rivals including in the 2004-5 Vendée Globe when the Frenchman took second and Golding third, but their courses have crossed many times over the last dozen years on major solo and short handed ocean races.
Golding’s elapsed time is 88d 06h36min 26s. His average speed over the theoretical 24,393 miles course is 11.5kts. He actually sailed 27,281 miles on the water at an average speed of 12.9 kts. He finishes 10d 04h 19m and 46s behind the race winner François Gabart.
The British skipper had to reduce speed during the final 36 hours of the race when the gale force winds and big seas increase the ingress of water into his boat due to leaks in the keel box following the loss of a fairing at the front of the keel head.
It would be fair to say that Mike Golding started his fourth Vendée Globe with high hopes of finishing on the podium. After all in the last, record-breaking edition of 2008-9 he was in the lead in the Southern Ocean when his mast crashed down.
And in recent races like the Transat Jacques Vabre and the B2B he was clearly still very competitive.
But from the early stages Golding, like his hugely experienced contemporaries Le Cam and Dominique Wavre, found that he could not quite match the latest generation design boats sailed by the likes of winner François Gabart and second placed Armel Le Cléac’h.
The Trio Together
By early in the Southern Ocean the small gaps grew very quickly as the chasing trio of 50-something year olds became parted from the leading group who were a weather system ahead. Neither in the Indian Ocean nor the Pacific were this chasing group given the chance to really catch miles. Often they struggled with lighter winds in high pressure systems and certainly never had the fast rides like Gabart, Jean-Pierre Dick, Le Cléac’h and Alex Thomson had. When Gabart was setting his new 24 hours record making 19-22kts, Golding, Le Cam and Wavre were making relatively modest speeds of 12-14kts.
Golding’s duel with Jean Le Cam has been one of the high points of the race. In essence they not only are about the same age with similar experience in the class, but Golding’s training programme in the pre-start season was curtailed when the mast of Gamesa fell down in early May. Hence his summer offshore training could not be completed – opting, like Le Cam to maximise time preparing the boat to ensure reliability.
To that extent Golding has succeeded with no major issues, other than losing the fairing from the front of his keel during the final days of the race which through the last 48 hours of the race has seen him having to slow down and allow his pumps to work. Other issues which have specifically affected his performance are splits in his ballast tanks which occurred early in the South Atlantic, losing his key Code Zero sail on 16th December after the Amsterdam Gate and problems with his hydrogenerators which increasingly affected his ability to make electricity, although in the end his choice to take just enough diesel proved a prudent choice.
In the early stages of the race down the Atlantic Golding admitted he found the early going tough, finding the race routine not as easy to slip into. He railed against a 30 mins penalty imposed for allegedly transgressing the Traffic Separation zones off Cape Finisterre.
In the first big pair of transitions he held east and south with Le Cam and made some good initial gains but ultimately lost out. But by the Cape Verde Islands ‘the three musketeers’ had formed the tight knit group Le Cam, Golding, Wavre which was to last all the way until the more senior Swiss skipper was slowed after Cape Horn. Although they all made good gains in the Doldrums initially, they were slowed slightly after them. But it was after Gough Island that the leaders first really stretched. A tentacle like ridge stretched down SE to hold the trio while the leading group extended away.
Golding’s personal duel with Le Cam waxed and waned. As they entered the Pacific Ocean south of Tasmania Le Cam was able to hold on to the back of a low pressure a little longer whilst Golding struggled and the gap then extended to nearly 500 miles at one point. But the British skipper pegged miles back with a good approach to Cape Horn. At the legendary rock Mike Golding became the first sailor to have sailed six times around Cape Horn solo, three times in either direction. And he continued to claw distance back as they started a painful climb up the Atlantic.
Le Cam found his way towards the South American coast whilst Golding stayed more to the east seeking to get to the Trade Winds first, but all the time the breeze was shifting in direction and pressure and their South Atlantic was the worst that both he and his rival Le Cam could recall. But when their courses converged Golding was just 0.7 of a mile behind Le Cam.
When they did break into the trade winds Golding felt himself at a disadvantage to Le Cam due to being unable to optimise the trim of Gamesa on the close reaching conditions due to his broken ballast tanks. He progressively lost miles until, after exploring lots of different options, he learned to sail with an abnormal heel angle. As they closed into the Azores High pressure Golding caught and caught, finally passing Le Cam on 1st February when his rival separated to go west around the high. In the end the French skipper’s strategy prevailed whilst Golding had to take care of his boat on the boisterous Bay of Biscay in the strong winds and big seas due to leaks around his keelbox.
Mike Golding pledged this would be his last Vendée Globe. After finishing today when asked if he would do it again, he retorted : "In another life."
He has proven himself to be the ultimate professional over the course of his career, racing hard and often with success. This has proven to be a tough swansong for him as it has been for Le Cam and Wavre especially. They have never had the really sustained, favourable low pressure systems which the leading group enjoyed in the south. But he completes the race for a record third time with a commendable result.
First Quotes after the finish line
Mike Golding : "It is a relief to be finished. It has not been the easiest of Vendée Globes, in fact it has been the hardest without any question because of the weather. The boat has been good, we have had a few problems, but the race itself has been hard for this group of boats [SynerCiel, Gamesa & Mirabaud] right up to the end, right up to Biscay. I had 50 knots in Biscay and I put the very small storm sail, the ORC up, for the first time. It is a relief to be in and for a number of reasons, which will become clear over the next few days"
"Yes, I am the first person to have completed the race successfully three times. Lots have competed in the Vendée, and lots multiple times. I have competed four times and finished three times and I have beaten the odds. The odds say that usually less than half of the boats will finish the Vendée Globe and I have beaten those odds in multiple races."
"I didn't do this Vendée Globe, or any other, to stack up a numerical supremacy, I did them to compete, and to win it would have been a dream. I haven't done that, but in pursuing that dream, I have made several others come true, including this one of having finished the race successfully three times. It's an honour to hold that accolade."
The Race of Mike Golding in figures
- The greatest distance covered in 24 hours: Gamesa 30 November 17h30 UTC 410,84 nm 17,1 nds
- Les Sables d’Olonne to Equator 11d 13h 13mn (record held by Jean Le Cam in 2004-2005 10d 11h 28mn)
- Equator- Good Hope 12d 18h 05mn (JP Dick 12j02h40mn record)
- Good Hope - Cape Leeuwin: 14d 23h 40mn (F Gabart record 11j 06h 40mn)
- Cape Leeuwin - Cape Horn: 20d 07h 25mn (record F Gabart 17j 18h 35 mn)
- Cape Horn - Equator: 15j 22h 09mn (record F Gabart 13j 19h 28mn)
- Equator - Les Sables d'Olonne: 12j18h24min
- Vendee Globe Media