For the first time in Vendee Globe History the back marker in the fleet will have rounded Cape Horn and be back in the Atlantic, before the winner finishes the race. That is a huge milestone for this race and shows how willing to push the slower and older boats have been this edition.
Now with half the fleet back in the northern hemisphere the front half of the fleet in the Vendee Globe is running their weather routing to the finish line.
They can use both the GFS (American) model and the ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) to get them to the finish line. So, they can compare the two and take confidence when the forecasts align, and the routing does not change too much each time they run the different models. This also indicates to us spectators that the finish is within the next five days. Less than 2,000 miles to the finish for the lead group and there is no way to tell who will end up on top of the podium.
It is now not only going into the exciting final phase of the race, but also the weather will be more than interesting due to the strong variability of the pressure systems, says meterologist Sebastian Wache from WetterWelt. Currently, for the leading boats and Boris have to reach the narrow wind band left by an old cold front. On the other hand, in the east and in the west there is high pressure area with calm.
Until Saturday, a very extensive low pressure will build up off the coast of the USA and Canada. In its area of influence, a marginal low pressure will appear just southwest of the Azores. Boris Herrmann must now enter its area of influence in order to take the good wind with him. It will be this massive low with all its possible marginal lows that will push the boats to the finish line.
The doldrums were hot and squally. The cloud cover gave the sailors some relief from the intense heat they were experiencing on deck and the rain activity has given them the chance for a quick shower. However, there is no opportunity to take their foot off the gas. The front runners were released from the clutches of the doldrums quite quickly and relatively unscathed.
The reaching conditions took them towards the Azores High where they are now finding their way across the small light airs transition. The sailors are then looking towards the depressions coming across the Atlantic to hook into and ride downwind into the Bay of Biscay to the finish line. All weather files suggest that there are very few surprises ahead between them and Les Sables D’Olonne. This is now a battle of boat speed. Who has the capacity to still push themselves and the boat at as close to 100% as possible?
Thomas Ruyant: break on the port side
It has been well documented about the foil issue Thomas Ruyant onboard LinkedOut has had. At the start of the Southern Ocean, he hit something and suffered damage to his port foil. He had to cut the last third of his foil off to prevent further damage occurring. This means that he is now having to sail his boat very differently when on a starboard tack. He can no longer use his foil for lift and the section he has remaining out the side of his boat acts as drag.
As a result, his boat speed has suffered. It has been impressive how hard he has worked to keep within reach of the podium spots throughout the race to date, often changing places with Charlie Dalin and Yannick Bestaven throughout the race. Sadly, for Thomas, the last few days along the Brazilian coast, through the equator, to the doldrums and first few days in the north east trade winds have all been sailed on starboard. As a result of that he has been unable to keep the pace of the other boats, but he will continue to fight.
His LinkedOut boat, designed by Guillaume Verdier and built at Persico, Italy in 2019, was based on the design concept of the Super 60 originally planned for The Ocean Race. It has been modified for solo sailing working hard on the ergonomics of the boat. It is on its second version of the foils, but the unfortunate incident of a collision at the start of the Southern Ocean has meant we have never really seen this boat perform at its full potential of its foil capacity.
Thomas Ruyant retired from the last edition of the Vendee Globe when his boat, ‘Le Souffle du Nord’ hit something in the South on December 20th resulting in the boat nearly breaking in two. By some incredible feat of seamanship, Thomas nursed his boat into New Zealand and that meant it could have another chance and is back racing in this edition with Maxime Sorel, as ‘V and B Mayenne’, currently in 10th place.
We also know about Charlie Dalin onboard Apivia, that he had an issue with his port foil in the middle of the Southern Ocean that he first thought would put a stop to his race. However, with some clever design, drawing and engineering whilst at sea he was able to wedge his foil allowing him to still be able to use it, albeit not at 100%. We have spoken about Charlie and his boat in a previous article.
Yannick Bestavens Birthday Present
Yannick Bestaven on his boat Maitre Coq, has been another competitor that has occupied the podium positions and led the race from Christmas through to just off Brazil. Racing in his second Vendee Globe, Yannick, aged 47, has put on a great display of Southern Ocean sailing. His lead rounding Cape Horn between himself and second place Charlie Dalin, was 400 miles.
He knew it was coming, looking at the weather the South Atlantic had in store for him, that his lead would be eroded away, and the rest of the hunting pack would close in. I can only imagine the tenacity and resilience required to keep your head and focus when you go from being 400 miles ahead to being back in the hunting group in 6th position. Frustrated yet determined, he lost a few miles but I am sure the runway for Yannick has not run out.
Having lost his mast before leaving the Bay of Biscay in 2008 in his first Vendee Globe, Yannick has waited until he could put the right project together to go again and produce a performance he was confident he could deliver. Not a race favourite before the start, Yannick, I am sure has surprised a few people. His boat was the former ‘Safran’ in 2016 with skipper Morgan Lagraviere who had to retire from the race whilst in 4th place with a broken rudder after just 18 days. He clearly has confidence in the boat and his own performance but is he still able to fulfil his full potential in these last few days?
Louis Burton: The real surprise
Another skipper that was not a race favourite before the start of the race and I feel was probably overlooked by the media excitement in the build-up was Louis Burton. He has been the real surprise performer out on the water this race and is in striking distance for the top sport in a few days’ time.
He is now up to second, starting to see his westerly route pay a dividend. He has negotiated the western side of the high pressure zone quickest and into the weekend should see his gains continue, sailing faster and back on a more direct route. He has a narrow band of breeze to work but his position, some 70 miles north of the latitude of Charlie Dalin/Apivia, right now looks like he might overhaul Dalin when they converge near the Azores.
It is Louis Burton’s 3rd Vendee Globe, his first attempt was unsuccessful when he retired in the 2012 edition due to a collision with a fishing boat damaging his port shroud and threatening the integrity of his mast. He then returned in 2016 and finished in a respectable 7th place which was impressive as he sailed an older and heavier IMOCA. At the end of that race, with his continuing sponsorship from Bureau Vallee, he purchased the winner of the 2016 edition, the former Banque Populaire VIII, that he is now racing today.
Based in St Malo, this sailor has been quiet in the build up to this Vendee Globe, choosing to do his training alone rather than line up against the competition. There were no big upgrades on his boat, but he spent time getting to know the boat and understand its performance. He was noticed on start day when he jumped the gun by seconds and was deemed over the line early for the start of the race.
This incurred a penalty of 5 hours which had to be taken before 38°N in which the boat had to stop for that total time before moving on. He then sailed an aggressive course in the South Atlantic and continuing into the Southern Ocean skirting the edge of the ice limit positioning himself in stronger winds and bigger waves but sailing a shorter distance than the others. With this trajectory, Burton managed to position himself to the front of the fleet and just on the podium.
Married into a sailing dynasty
Louis thought he was facing disaster when he began to have a few issues that very quickly escalated to being potential race stopping issues. He suffered with multiple crash gybes due to a malfunctioning autopilot which potentially contributed to some damage to his mainsail track forcing the sailor to race with the second reef in. It was as he passed Macquerie Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site halfway between New Zealand and the Antarctica peninsula that Louis Burton stopped his boat in the shelter to make his repairs. He was not permitted to anchor but the island offered shelter and after multiple mast climbs, he was successful.
At a cost of just short of a day in time Burton re-joined the fleet a long way back from where he was before. He was 938 miles from the leader but did not lose heart. Able to push his boat once again at 100% it took just 23 days to return to the front of the pack once again. Now we are watching to see if he has what it takes to position his boat at the front of the pack when they cross the line.
Regardless of the result, his race full of setbacks and comebacks has been impressive. A performance to be noticed and applauded. His wife and campaign manager and renowned solo sailor in her own right, Servanne Escoffier must be super proud. Servanne and Kevin Escoffier, skipper of the ill fated PRB, who was rescued this race by Jean Le Cam, are cousins. Better known is probably Franck-Yves Escoffier (Kevin’s father, Servanne’s uncle) winner of multiple Transat Jacques Vabre races and Route de Rhum races on a Multi 50. This is the family Louis Burton is part of by marriage, and now has delivered his own fairy-tale sailing race adding to the dinner table conversations.
Damien Seguin: The real single-handed sailor
Others worth watching in this front pack are Damien Seguin, the only non foiling boat positioned in the leading top six places fighting to stay in the running for these final miles. We know he is a great sailor, winning multiple Olympic medals and World Championships, but that is in a dinghy in a race that last for twenty to thirty minutes at a time. I am not surprised by his performance as a sailor but to take on the Vendee Globe literally single handed is impressive.
Damien was born without his left hand, something he does not see as a handicap and he has displayed to us in this race that indeed there is nothing that can stop his world class performance. He is racing a 2008 boat that was the former DCNS, a sistership to the 2007 Hugo Boss. This boat was dismasted in the 2008 race, skippered by Marc Thiercelin and then raced again with Eric Bellion in 2016. It is probably better known as the boat used to make the film, ‘En Solitaire’ in 2012.
Damien worked with Jean Le Cam in modifying his boat and preparing his boat for this race and throughout the course the two have never been far apart, but it is now, in these latter stages of the race, that Damien has found an extra gear and is making the most of it keeping pace with the others just hanging onto the edge of the podium places.
Boris Herrmann, who was 2nd for the last days and is doing a phantastic race reported yesterday evening: „We have found ourself some good breeze in the high pressure ridge, sometimes we have been up to 22 knots. Right now I have flat seas and dream conditions. I think Louis Burton has a fantastic option there to the north. There is still plenty of way ahead of us and this is still not the right moment to discuss.“
The first to finish this Vendee Globe will not only be the winner of the race but also the winner of the closest fought ocean battle ever seen on a global stage. We have said it before, but this edition of the race is unprecedented. It has been the most wonderful distraction and motivation to follow as a spectator. The sailors from first place to last place, those who retired and stopped and those that retired and set sail again have been truly inspirational and a shining beacon of light of all that is great about our sport.