Many offshore sailors are superstitious, and I would not want to tempt fate at all. But I cannot ignore the fact that as we watch with abated breath as this edition of the Vendee Globe plays out its final chapter. The closing miles to the finish line may deliver, for the first time in history, the first non-French winner.
Boris Herrmann is within striking distance and has his boats full potential at his disposal. He is fatigued but has a new energy with this Atlantic fight that is taking place. He is excited to be part of it and he is now allowing himself to see what could be possible. The sailors may be tired, but we must remember the boats are tired too. We know Boris has made repairs to his sails but as far as we know all sails are available to him and both his foils work to their full potential.
At 39 years of age Boris has said that he has been building up to this Vendee Globe since he was a teenager. He has gained valuable experience in progressive steps in his career. He won a Round the World race in a Class 40 in 2008/9 with his friend Felix Oehme, then stepped onto an IMOCA 60 to race in the Barcelona World Race in 2010 with Ryan Breymaier. Boris transitioned onto fast record-breaking Multihulls with skippers Frances Joyon and Giovanni Soldini. Achieving the Trophée Jules Verne in 2016 onboard Idec with French skipper Frances Joyon and numerous record attempts with Giovanni Soldini onboard the MOD70 Maserati.
Sponsors who have a Program
Boris met Pierre Casiraghi, the Vice President of the Yacht Club de Monaco sailing together onboard Maserati and the concept to create Team Malizia together was achieved in 2016. The team name Malizia was chosen by Pierre, as it symbolises the Grimaldi family history and their deep connection to the Ocean. It translates to “the cunning one” a name that was given to Francesco Grimaldi in 1927 after he established the family dynasty.
Built in 2015, the yacht, „Seaexplorer – Yacht Club de Monaco“, designed by Verdier VPLP and built at Multiplast in France was originally for Seb Josse when he raced the 2016 Vendee Globe in Edmond de Rothschild. He was forced to retire with damage to a foil. For this edition of the Vendee Globe, the yacht is so named due to the partnership between Kuehne + Nagel combined with the Yacht Club de Monaco to create a partnership based around sustainability, the ocean and climate change. These two title sponsors are represented on the hull and the sails along with the other partners, EFG Bank, MSC, CMA, and Hapag Lloyd.
The Ocean will be grateful
This boat is recognisable against the new builds in the fleet by its low cockpit, but Boris has worked hard on the boats reliability since 2016 and has changed his foils to version 2 foils designed by Verdier, following the proven concept carried onboard MACSF. They are big foils and can give the boat fast speeds when at the optimum angle, that should see him able to sail faster than his closest rivals to the finish line.
The IMOCA is fully equipped with 1.3kw of custom fitted solar panels and two Watt and Sea hydro generators to power the boat so they can avoid using fossil fuels as much as possible. Reducing the amount and therefore the added weight of fuel that must be carried enhancing performance. However, there is additional weight that Boris has knowingly added.
He is carrying a CO₂ Ocean sensor onboard to measure the ocean data in the remote locations the boat is passing through as it sails around the world. A smaller and lighter version of the scientific data I was able to obtain when I led the team, Turn the Tide on Plastic in The Ocean Race in 2017. It can test the CO₂ levels, the salinity, pressure and the temperature of the water. These elements collected feed the International “SOCAT” database accessible to the international scientific community.
The project has a strong education programme running alongside the race and it has been enhanced by Boris being so willing to share what he sees and how he feels along the racecourse. The project had the mission to promote ocean research, ocean protection and education across the planet. The team has met with 10500 children, held 25 conferences, and has had 10 000 education kits downloaded. Boris has even linked to school children live from his boat during the race.
Always on Air
This may be the first time a German sailor has competed in the Vendee Globe, but Boris has completed three circumnavigations, one of which was non-stop, making him an ideal choice to carry the hopes of his nation, but he has never raced solo before. So, this will be the longest time Boris will have spent on his own. He has not hidden from us his solitude and how at times he has found this feeling of isolation difficult, but he does maintain that while he may be alone, he is not lonely. Thankfully, he has fully engaged with the camera as his companion and shared his race with us every step of the way. Being able to communicate fluently in three languages has been an asset and something the media were quick to capitalise on.
I have been super impressed how much media Boris has done. Always being available to chat and willing to share even the rawest of emotions with us in this race. He has been open and honest, and we have really been able to experience the highs and lows he has felt. The camera has shown us life onboard, how he sleeps, how he eats and even his beloved Christmas jumper, that will remain my highlight of the race. This jumper came out on the first Sunday of Advent on day 21 of the race and stayed with us throughout the festive period. He has shared his sunrises and sunsets, his mast climbs and sail changes. We have even seen him share the racecourse with boats within sight making Christmas a much more sociable affair.
Boris has talked to us about the weather, the science, and data he is able to collect along the way and of course his strategy and tactics for a strong performance. He has sailed a very mature race, focussing on keeping himself and his boat in one piece in the Southern Ocean, staying with the pack but not pushing too hard. At the same time, he knew if he could position himself with the lead pack coming out of the South Atlantic, he could be able to challenge for the podium. Now 78 days on as we approach the final miles, he is doing exactly that.
I have loved his Germanic approach throughout his campaign. He likes to be ahead of schedule and ready for each stage of his project. He not only arrived first into Les Sables D’Olonne in October in the preparation phase of the race, but when he arrived, he and the boat were ready to go. The team were left with only small preparation jobs and Boris himself went home and spent valuable time with his wife and young daughter whilst looking at weather and eating and sleeping well. Due to COVID restrictions during the race start period, travel and interactions were limited so Boris kept himself as safe as possible.
Sailing of these IMOCA boats is also very technical with data giving load readings from all over the boat. This allows the sailor to avoid over stressing and risking the foils, mast, or hull to shock loads. By sticking to these numbers, Boris has avoided having any major issues along the way and now gives himself the best chance to sail at his full potential for these final miles.
Before the race Boris spoke openly of knowing his boat and himself but never experiencing how to deal with a set back when solo sailing. He has been lucky to date, but was super aware of not really knowing how he would react to being forced to manage a major issue and sail compromised.
Throughout the race we have read blogs and seen videos of most issues that Boris has had to deal with. Each time he has been even tempered and calm in his approach dealing with issues in a matter-of-fact manner, being methodical and practical. We learned of him changing his motor that drives the hydraulic pump for his keel ram. This drives the head of the keel back and forth and it was damaged due to water ingress.
On day 53 he was thankful he had a spare motor, but then was nervous because if it happened again there would not be the option to change it again. We knew about some damage to his J3 sheet back at the start of the race on day 3 and that Boris climbed to the top of his mast on Day 19 to service his gennaker lock that was not working properly.
God’s hand and time bonus
On day 34 he suffered damage to is mainsail, noticing that batten number 2 was broken and there was a small rip in the sail. He dropped the sail and carried out the repairs using Sikaflex and 3di patches and replaced the broken batten with a new one. This sail damage theme continued when we saw the next day that Boris had to fix his J2 zipper that had come undone in the middle of the luff. Another climb aloft up his forestay but only halfway this time.
On day 26 Boris talks about losing both his hydro generators but it was not until Day 37 that he had the conditions to set about fixing them. On day 57 Boris was able to celebrate rounding Cape Horn. His fourth time round and his first solo, however, celebrations were far from his mind. With 140 miles to go Boris was aware of a building breeze to 45-50knots. He was going through the sail changes and was at J3 and 2 reefs when he went for the third reef.
The leech of the mainsail caught in the shrouds. It is a common problem that the sailors know happens. The battens caught inside the shroud and the only way to free them is to luff up. The sail flapped and the leech ripped as it hit against the shrouds. He aired his frustrations clearly on video, knowing that it was a foolish mistake that he had made and now it was going to cost him some sailing time when he repaired it. He rounded Cape Horn under just his headsail with his mainsail down and lashed to the boom. The repair was carried out quickly once round Cape Horn and he was back racing with a full main the next day.
Despite these little gremlins along the way, Boris has been incredibly careful of his boat and stayed on top of the jobs list and now that is playing to his benefit when every minute counts, as all the first three boats can win this race on Wednesday. As Boris has said, you make your own luck for 80% of the time then there is that small 20% of luck, where anything can happen and then you just have to pray to the wind Gods.
We also need to remember that Boris carries a 6-hour compensation, awarded from the International Jury after, to be applied at the finish of the race. This was given for his part in the rescue of Kevin Escoffier when his boat, PRB, sank beneath him on day 23, and the jury evaluated the impact this had on his race. Yannick Bestaven has been awarded a 10hrs 15mins compensation and Jean Le Cam is awarded a 16hrs 15mins compensation. So even when the boats cross the finish line on the water the positions may still change.
A longer line, just in case
To account for the complicated conditions for the close finishes into Les Sables in the days to come, the race director decided to lengthen the finish line, in accordance with article 9.1 of the sailing instructions. The line, which was supposed to be 0.3 miles (500 meters), will now be 1.9 miles (3.1 km) extended south. This will give the fleet enough runway to slow down after this remarkable sprint finish.
Six-time circumnavigator Dee Caffari, who covered the Vendée Globe for float, will provide live commentary in English on Wednesday’s finish.