1,300 RUGGED MILES REVEAL A WINNER AND HARD-EARNED LESSONS FOR ALL
By 1400hrs UTC this Saturday afternoon only four solo-skippers had still to cross what has become the de-facto finish line of the Vendée Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne race, set at the Iceland gate, just to the east of Iceland. But the majority of the 15 boats which have finished had to battle through brutally tough and unpredictable winds and seas to break the finish line.
Finally beaten by the conditions over the course of Friday and Saturday were Isabelle Joschke, Arnaud Boissières and Manu Cousin who abandoned. Both Boissières – a four-time Vendée Globe finisher – and Joschke were less than 50 miles from the finish line which was directly upwind into more than 40 knots of icy, northerly winds.
A mainsail tear above the third reef meant the tough Franco German skipper Joschke had been sailing under storm jib only after suffering the damage more than 24 hours earlier.
The decision to officially declare the waypoint gate the finish was taken last night. Race director Frances Le Goff received a barrage of positive messages overnight from the exhausted solo racers.
“It was the decision to make,” asserted Jérémie Beyou (Charal, 2nd). “Even before it was taken, I had informed my team that I was going to take shelter because it was just too hard.” Sébastien Marsset messaged to Le Goff, “There weren’t a lot [of] other solutions.” “No one can realize the difficulty of the conditions we had to face,” emphasized Éric Bellion (COMME UN SEUL HOMME Powered by ALTAVIA).
Speaking to Race HQ in Les Sables d’Olonne at lunch time, 2016-17 Vendée Globe finisher Bellion – as tough a cookie as they come – put into words the seemingly endless “north face” climb. “Often the boat was nearly at 90 degrees. It was extremely, extremely hard sailing,” he recalled. “I thought about giving up several times. But I found the resources inside me to continue.”
Bellion recounted how he came close to a collision with Sébastien Marsset (Cap Agir Ensemble) in 40 knots of wind. The VHF crackled on both sides and they struggled to hear each other. Marsset pulled up his helm and missed his friend and rival but at the same time Marsset’s rudder kicked up and he lost control. “It was as if you were on a bike hurtling down an embankment trying to avoid a car,” grinned a visibly relieved Sébastien Marsset, almost euphoric after his finish.
“It was dangerous for the boat, for sure,” reported the young Swiss skipper Alan Roura, whose seventh place on his new IMOCA Hublot (ex Hugo Boss) is his best major IMOCA result yet. “I managed to set off all the emergency alarms at least once,” recalled Bellion (video interview here https://youtu.be/BUkDnKQF8Fc).
Provisional race winner (*) Charlie Dalin (APIVIA) – whose second back- to-back IMOCA race triumph this is – effectively received the news he had won when Race Direction officially signaled the course was shortened at the Iceland gate. At that time, Dalin was tethered to a substantial mooring buoy, sheltering in a nearby fjord.