Vendee Globe – one month, many lifetimes

For the leaders of the Vendée Globe, the very difficult conditions in an Indian Ocean depression are the most challenging of the race so far. Fatigue accumulated over one month of racing is less noticeable when motorway conditions roll out in front of a skipper and his or her IMOCA yacht, but right now in winds of 35-55kts and big seas, the combination of tiredness and continuous stress makes small technical jobs hard, and big jobs seem impossible.

A period of fast sailing yesterday and into last night, averaging close to or just over 20kts, has seen Charlie Dalin extend his lead out to 250 nautical miles – his biggest margin yet as he has now led for nearly half of the race’s duration so far.

While the Apivia skipper was ripping out some fast miles at the leading edge of the front, nearly all of his rivals who are chasing in his wake, either had technical problems or slowed to reposition themselves relative to this particularly malicious looking 800 mile wide system which has over 60kts or wind and eight metre waves near its centre.

Technical problems have meant living near the front of the peloton has meant to survive a war of attrition. Autopilot problems have beset Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée 2) and Damien Seguin (Groupe Apicil) and both have slowed periodically and lost places because of this. Seguin has suffered since Sunday night and dropped from third to seventh. Burton has gone from second to fourth.

But Seguin and his team confirmed the solo racer has his problems solved: “I am confident because we tested a lot of things to identify where the failure came from. Now we have to know if it is a solid fix. Yesterday was a very complicated day for me. I was so fatigued, I was feeling low, and I was in a bit of a shambles. But I managed to rest a little, things are going much better, the conditions for sailing are a little better. Even if I am not moving very quickly because I am in backed off a bit, at least I am going in the right direction and I'm still in the game. 

“In these situations I have complete confidence in my shore team to find solutions, to help me implement them in the boat. It’s never easy because you’re in a competition and you always have the feeling that every mile lost is a real tragedy. In fact, we must put it into perspective, this is such a long course. I have to keep going and get back into racing mode as soon as I can. Mechanical problems are an integral part of ocean racing, it is a mechanical sport. 

“I remember the transatlantic races, especially the Route du Rhum with a lot of energy worries where I had really struggled. I am used to fixing things on boats. I know I can go a little bit in the red when it comes to problem solving. Yesterday was a bit extreme, I was really tired but luckily I have people on the team to help me keep my spirits up and to push me to see things in a positive way because it is not easy all the time!”

Meanwhile it is Yannick Bestaven (Maître CoQ IV) who has done well and is up to third place. “I feel like I have lived several different slices of life in a very short time,” said Bestaven who is on his second Vendée Globe but never made it into Day 5 on his first one in 2008. “So much has happened in such a short space of time, you would just never imagine it.”

“Sometimes I wonder what the hell I am doing out here, absolutely in the middle of nowhere on this very rough sea,” reflected Benjamin Dutreux, the 30-year-old Vendée Globe first timer from the Ile de Yeu by Les Sables d’Olonne. And Isabelle Joschke (MACSF), asked about how she was feeling after one month of racing, replied, “I feel like a very small thing, very fragile.”

Behind 2016’s record pace

Although the one month elapsed represents a little less than half of the record times predicted before the start, only 38% of the course has been completed. Right now the leaders are in the middle of the Indian Ocean while four years ago, Armel Le Cléac'h had already passed Cape Leeuwin (on the south-west tip of Australia). Since the start from the French coast, the weather has never really been good for a fast race, especially in the Atlantic. There were no long surfs in the trade winds and no reaching conditions in flat-ish seas to see the fast foilers reel out the 500+mile days that were expected of them.

“At this stage in the Vendée Globe, after a month of racing, it's quite incredible to have eleven boats within 600 miles of each other in the Indian Ocean with so many different design generations all represented,” said weather consultants Sébastien Josse and Christian Dumard.

“Between the 2020 generation LinkedOut in second and fifth placed Dutreux’s OMIA Water Family there are 12 years or three Vendée Globe generations but they are only 200 miles apart. That is really, nothing! It’s less than half a day in some conditions.”

Tonight will be the toughest for Charlie Dalin with winds over 50kts at times, while second placed Thomas Ruyant has slowed for periods to avoid the worst of the system.

Joined this afternoon during the Vendée Live, Yannick Bestaven described his life on board as like “animal” living conditions inside Maître CoQ IV. “I retracted the foils because the shocks are so violent. I just sail in all directions. I do everything to not be ahead of the routing, so as not to throw myself into the mouth of the wolf.”

This system is a very deep depression that forms right on the forehead. From Bestaven to Sorel (11th), they are nine to have slowed down to allow this depression to move south. Apivia and LinkedOut are already too far east to avoid it. Dalin has already been experiencing harsh conditions: this afternoon over 40 knots of crosswinds and he has slowed at times to protect himself and his boat.

Jeanneau JY60
West Systems
Race Yachts
Cyclops Marine