Vendée Globe: One Month, Many Lifetimes

Vendée Globe: One Month, Many Lifetimes

KEY POINTS:

30 days of racing

Dalin into Dante-esque night but has biggest lead yet

Three IMOCA generations head to head in the peloton

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.

Isabelle Joschke, MACSF:

Things are going well today, but I am starting to get tired of these conditions that are not easy. The sea is very disorderly, and the wind just keeps changing strength and also direction which means that there is just no consistency on board and the boat goes either too slowly or starts to accelerate really fast, so I have to take care to not just get stuck between two waves. There is not that much rest!

We have massively reduced our potential and I never thought we would be able to reduce our potential to this extent, it is just impossible to sail fast in these conditions. It is so strange, and so with regards the rest of the fleet, for sure I am keeping an eye and watching my speed, but above all I am sailing by instinct and how I feel the boat. Every boat, according to where they are positioned in the low, will be able to sail more or less, faster. I am trying to preserve the boat more and more and I realise that when I do a manoeuvre, I do it with great care. I am doing my utmost to preserve the boat and I realise that I have been at sea for a month now and it is beginning, and it is beginning to feel the wear and tear. There were a whole lot of things and if we are going to make it all the way around, we have to take great care of it.

Before the start I thought I could do well, but I did not realise just how hard it would be to get a good position and the start of the race was just so, so hard. I think I imagined it would not be as tough and in particularly psychologically. Now after a month at sea, and a month in the South, I realise that I am just a tiny little speck in the face of all the elements. I feel much more fragile than I did in the Atlantic and I had not anticipated that.

I ask myself how long it is going to last. Does it just bang like this for a whole month, because if so, I am going to go mad!

I try to look ahead two to three days and thank goodness there are charts because I focus on those and see that there is Cape Leeuwin ahead and that means I will be South of Australia. I am not sure if it will be more comfortable, but I then see there is New Zealand to pass and then we enter the Pacific, but I do really question myself. Is it going to be this hard for a whole month? I suppose it won’t and that there will be moment s of calm. In a week we should get caught up in a big high and that will do us some good, give us a bit of a chance to repair things on the boat.

For now, I look ahead in the short to medium term and then I hope in the long term that things will change even though I know I will get used to it. Before things were very busy but then now things are much similar. The days paradoxically pass quickly, they blend into one, they are very similar. It feels as if time has been stretched out. I find it all very hard to understand and so for now I am just focusing on Australia!”

Boris Herrmann, Seaexplorer – Yacht Club de Monaco:

“I kept an eye on the weather this morning, if it would be light enough wind for my J2 repair. But no. It wasn’t just quite right. Still 20 knots every few minutes. Drops to 13 but very short. Now we are back in accelerating breeze stable at 20-22. Boat speeds up to 32 sometimes. At night I had to furl the headsail twice. Take a reef. Squalls. So fragmented sleep but still a good night after all.

From now on the wind will increase and only ease off in 48 hours 800 miles east from here then. It will be the strongest low so far. I am fine with it. My next inner milestone is the gybe on Thursday – then I know I will have made it through the worst and have easier conditions for the next 1600 miles to Cape Lieuween where I expect to be on the 13th.

The other major milestone will be this Friday the 11th when for the first time since entering the Southern ocean the wind should drop below 15 knots and I can tick off my J2 and other repairs. Gaining the J2 back will be a boost in confidence as I am lacking the sail for an entire ocean. It has made life more difficult and cost me lots of miles. Something really to look forward to.

After that I will close my navigation program and restart it in anti meridian view – with NZL in the center of the chart and the Pacific to the right of it. Europe at theborder of the chart then…I haven’t looked on the tracker in quite a while as I was fearing it could demotivate me. Anyway I’ll do my best and my focus is 100% on the race.”