Vendée Globe: everyone’s a winner. Part 2


Exciting, round the world, solo and rightfully the world’s most challenging Vendée Globe 2020/2021 regatta is slowly coming to an end. After several months of a grueling and non-stop race, most of the “Open” 60 class yachts have already crossed the finish line. 8 out of 33 participants in the regatta have left the race prematurely, 20 reached the finish line and five still have to travel several hundred nautical miles to come back to Les Sables d’Olonne, from where they all started on November 7, 2020.

This is the first time when such a number of single-hull sailboats with equal characteristics were allowed to compete in Vendeé Globe: 8 absolutely new yachts were built in the last two years, 5 foil yachts come from the previous generation that were built in 2015, 12 more a bit older – 9-13 years old. Five of them have been converted to foil!

Over the past two days five participants of the regatta at once reached the finish line completing their round-the-world trip in 94-95 days. Among them is the youngest participant, 27-year-old Swiss Alan Roura on La Fabrique, for whom this is the second Vendée Globe. Just imagine that he made his previous voyage when he was only 23! Although the result he showed then was much better, he was the 12th, as this year he reduced his position to 17th place.

This season the Vendée Globe will be remembered for records in many ways, with a record number of yachtsmen entering the competition, including six women and nine foreign competitors, although the majority of skippers still represent France. This time German Boris Hermann on the Seaexplorer – Yacht Club de Monaco had a great chance to win the competition. If he came first, he would be the first non-French yachtsman to win the cup since the regatta was founded in 1989.

However, he “met” French fishermen on his way only 90 miles from the finish line who were not visible on the radar, and a collision with their boat instantly deprived him of this opportunity, dropping him to the fifth place. But everyone who was rooting for Boris should not be very upset. He did not win the Vendée Globe, but he became the IMOCA champion for 2018-2021. Herrmann showed the best result in all regattas in this class.

Another record was set in the women’s qualification. 31-year-old Frenchwoman Clarisse Cremer beat the world record and became the fastest solo woman to ever complete the round-the-world race on monohull yacht Banque Populare X. It took her 87 days, 2 hours and 24 minutes, improving the result by 7 days. Although the previous record was set 20 years ago, when the Vendée Globe differed significantly from modern regattas both in characteristics of sailing yachts and participants skills.

Kremer herself admits that it makes no sense to compare her result and the previous record that was set by Ellen MacArthur. In general she does not like the division of results by women and men. “But this is a mixed race and a mixed sport and (it’s) about the breadth of ocean racing together. There is no female classification”, – she said after the finish.

The 53-year-old Kojiro Shiraishi also successfully completed the trip around the world on the DMG Mori Global One which was built in 2019, becoming the first Japanese skipper to make the Vendée Globe from the very start till the end. He did not succeed the first time, in 2016 Kojiro retired, losing the mast in the Indian Ocean. This season his chances also seemed very ghostly, because a week after the start of the competition Kojiro tore at the top of the mainsail and it seemed impossible to fix it. But following the advice and guidance of his coastal crew, Kojiro managed to sew the sail and complete the distance in 94 days, finishing 16th.

The remaining six yachtsmen are staying several hundred miles from the finish line. Curiously, all six of them have no hydrofoils on their yachts. Surely most of the participants will learn from this regatta, since even those who have successfully covered the distance but were unhappy with their result, are unanimous in the opinion that it is not enough to modify old boats by equipping them with foils and a movable keel. New boats built specifically for the Vendée Globe run much faster, have fewer breakdowns, and faults are less critical.

Although there are some exceptions, for example, Englishman Alex Thomson, who took part in this round-the-world competition for the 5th time, dropped out of the race in the first week on the new Hugo Boss, damaging the bow of the boat and being unable to repair the damage on his own. On the other hand, the lack of foil did not stop the 4th place for Jean Le Cam and the 7th place for the Paralympian Damien Seguin, who was born without the right hand. This once again shows that any modifications and technical improvements to the yachts do not diminish the importance of the skipper’s skills. Another one important ingredient in sailing is luck. Even the finest yachts driven by the most experienced skippers can fail without it.

For example, experienced Samantha Davies crashed into an object at night at a high speed of 30 knots (55 km/h), severely damaging the yacht’s hull. She decided that it was not safe to continue the race, so she stopped in Cape Town (South Africa) to repair the boat and continue the journey out of competition, as part of a charity event in support of children with heart problems. This is not the first such incident that happened to her during the race around the world. 8 years ago she lost her mast, it also happened during the night. “Everyone knows from the start that this kind of thing can happen. These are the ups and downs of the race, it’s an adventure… I’m not the only one to arrive in Cape Town, I’m in contact with Seb Simon, I think we’ll shed some tears into our beer…”, – Samantha commented on her failure.

Her misfortune colleague, 30-year-old Sébastien Simon, also crashed into an unidentified object in the South African region in early December, severely damaged the right foil and stopped participating in the race. This part of the distance within the Cape of Good Hope has always presented great difficulties for skippers due to strong winds and huge waves. Kevin Escoffier’s yacht split in two, hitting one of these waves.

However, the results speak for themselves, eight leaders of the competition made the distance almost in the same day, six of them had foil yachts!

The next Vendée Globe in 2024/2025 will reach a qualitatively new level and we are looking forward to a much more spectacular and breathtaking race of the strongest and most enduring skippers in the world.

Read beginning of the story: Vendée Globe final: Everyone’s a winner


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