The president of the IMOCA Class was a passionate fan of the ninth edition of the Vendée Globe. And so now looking forwards to 2024 projects are emerging fast as are new ideas and solutions which will make it possible to have a faster, better race.
What, for you, was the most outstanding aspect of this ninth edition?
Antoine Mermod: “I am above all a sailing fan and I love the history and legacy of this race, which in fact was a bit crazy, and which was shared by all the sailors who, each in their own way, inspired and engaged us.
Did the way it rolled out surprise you?
A. M : Well, yes and no. One way or another a solo round-the-world sailing race is always an extraordinary adventure. There is no such thing as a normal story. But this time in particular it surprised me, even considering that each Vendée Globe is different.
Many of us typically expected to see the benchmark time – the 74 days record of Armel Le Cléac’h of 2016 – tumble but the winner came home in 80 days. Did that surprise you?
A. M.: Yes it did a little but I think it did for many people because since 2008, we have seen that we have improved the mark by one day in each year that goes by. And for sure on paper it was completely conceivable that this Vendée Globe could be won in 70 days. But the sea and weather conditions rather worked against this scenario.
Among the best news from the IMOCA class point of view must be that 25 of the 33 entries finished the Vendée Globe, and as well as that two women sailors carried on to the finish line despite having had to abandon.
A. M: That’s a great source of pride. A Vendée Globe is such a huge adventure that completing it is a success in itself. Getting around is always an ambition, and getting to the finish line is important for the partners, the teams and all those people who invest in our skippers. It is important that things turn out well for the healthy future of programmes, the race and the class. Future projects have already been launched and they are catalysed by the evidence of a fleet which is reliable sailed by well organised and prepared skippers who are up to the challenges. In this respect, teams, the Vendée Globe organization, the FFVoile and the rules committee in particular and us have all worked hard over four years to set the bar high.
So the Vendée Globe 2024 already looks promising, do you think?
A. M.: Yes, indeed we already have a very strong momentum for the next edition, yes. When the previous race mixes the reliability of the boats with great stories it inspires skippers and partners to come back and newcomers to join the adventure, and others who raced previous editions to come back and have another go. The numbers for this 2020 edition were exceptional: this Vendée Globe attracted a very large audience during a particular period when sailing really stood out as never before. Now everyone wants to do even better in four years, and people want to continue to be inspired. It was a great success.
Among the highlights of this Vendée Globe having six women at the start remains an encouraging sign. What do we need to do develop this still further?
A. M.: Gender equality is a major social issue for our times and sailing is one of the rare sports which allows everyone to race on an equal footing from the starting line to the finish line. We were disappointed for Sam Davies and Isabelle Joschke, who were both fighting near the front when they retired, but they both found the courage to complete their respective solo round the worlds. We would like to now see ten or twelve women on the starting line! In the IMOCA Class, with The Ocean Race, we are helping to bring on female talent as each crew will have to include at least one woman. This is important, real work towards that future.
Another very impressive character was Damien Seguin, who, moving from Paralympic sailing on a straight daggerboard boat, finished 7th!
A. M .: Damien is amazing. He is a great ambassador for inclusion. Having a skipper of his level, who could very well be one of the real contenders to win in four years times, shows how open and equable our sport is. The sea is open to everyone.
We have the feeling that ocean racing including the Vendée Globe increasingly seems to resonate with a wider public.
A. M .: That is a general state of mind that drives the sailors in this class and others. We have very competent skippers many of them talented engineers or technicians in their own right but who manage to remain super accessible. These enthusiasts want to and need to share this chance they have to live their passion. In the case of the last Vendée Globe it resulted in 33 different adventures around the world all of them based on humility, accessibility and simplicity, which in my opinion are very relevant, modern values. The sailors reveal themselves, they tell their story, and it is very transparent. In my opinion, we have managed to maintain the ethos, the simple down to earth philosophies of the skippers, their simplicity and direct speaking, an ease of access, the contentment with being able to share and increasingly engendering a generosity of spirit which all in all makes it all very human.
With a view to the Vendée Globe 2024, what are the directions that the IMOCA Class (which is meeting this Thursday for a General Assembly) will take?
A. M.: We are in the process of finalizing the changes in the rules (all the technical rules to which boats must comply, editor’s note). There will be no major technological breakthrough, we will be very much in line with what has prevailed in this Vendée Globe. We have seen all the development that needs to be done to optimise boats with large foils, to finesse their performance. We are going to limit the size of the foils which we did not do for 2016 because we did not have the accumulated knowledge to plan for the future. Now we understand better and teams are all moving towards solutions that seem adequate. This is a time to regulate foils and their use. We are also going to vary the orientation of the mast because, in the Southern Ocean IMOCAs with very tight lines found it very difficult to go fast. By changing the orientation of the masts the driving vector will be more upwards, and this will generate a big gain. And in fact now we only go the Sothern Oceans every four years and only learn each Vendée Globe edition, but the boats need to be able to be more versatile to tackle what in essence is a third of the race.
What lessons can be learned from the Kevin Escoffier (PRB)’s accident?
A. M.: It is difficult to form any really concise analysis (since the boat sank, editor’s note). Kevin and his team have made some conclusions but it’s not easy to learn lessons. Regarding structural breakage, we are considering two solutions that would apply to older generation boats, especially those from before 2010. The strength criteria that we have imposed since that date are twice as high. All the data compiled on each Vendée Globe is good for us and we can clearly see that the boats have held up well. This is harder for older boats and studies are underway on the aging of composite structures. On the other hand, we have learned some valiuable lessons in terms of safety. What caused problems in Kevin’s recovery was his lack of communications and various security features. We are reacting to this. And then we have to review some rules on the unsinkable elements and on the construction of hatches in watertight bulkheads “.