Vendee Globe

  • 2016 VENDEE GLOBE: A Mob Scene and Then Some

    Vendee dock

    About 16 years ago I wrote a story for SAIL Magazine about sailing in the Sydney-Hobart Race and dropped a line about having died and gone to heaven, as at last I’d found a place where ocean sailing was considered a top-tier sport. Well, this week it’s like I’ve died all over again and heaven is even grander than before. It's also very French. Before I left to travel here to Les Sables d’Olonne I told some non-sailing friends of mine I was going to the start of the world’s most popular sailboat race. “Like the America’s Cup?” they asked. “No, this is much bigger than that,” I answered. And it is, and it’s a shame the French get it mostly to themselves.

    I hope I don’t really have to explain this to anyone who reads this blog, but just in case: these guys are racing non-stop around the world all alone. It's a very simple concept, but also a very large one.

  • 2016 VENDEE GLOBE: And Away They Go!

    Race start

    I’m back in the States now, having endured the indignity of the presidential election results while in France, and finally have a moment to drop a word or two about the actual start of the Vendée Globe. This was almost a week ago now, and I’m still sort of buzzing from the experience. There really is nothing that compares to this in the sport of sailing.

  • 2016 VENDEE GLOBE: Battle of the Foils Denouement

    Armel on Banque Pop

    Last we discussed this the race leaders, Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss and Armel Le Cleac’h on Banque Populaire (seen above, celebrating the New Year), had just been in sight of each other as Armel passed Alex and then opened up a slim 15-mile lead. It seemed my remarking on this was a jinx for Alex, as Armel’s lead steadily increased from there, to over 800 miles, and it was starting to look like Game Over for Alex. After the duo rounded Cape Horn, however, Armel fell into light air while Alex powered on and in a matter of days that lead magically evaporated. At one point it shrank to about 20 miles(!) and as of today Alex is only about 130 miles behind, still with a serious shot of winning this thing as the duo, who are both now in the North Atlantic again, pick their way through a complex weather system to the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne.

    But wait! We also can’t entirely rule out the third-place skipper, Jérémie Beyou on Maître CoQ, who has been staging his own Furious Comeback since rounding the Horn and has whittled a deficit of well over 1,000 miles to 650… and shrinking… by the hour… maintaining speeds of around 12 knots as I write, while Armel and Alex diddle around at sub-5-knots speeds in the Doldrums.

    As Yogi Berra would say: It ain’t over, etc.

  • 2016 VENDEE GLOBE: Le Cleac'h Is Victorious!

    Banque Pop finish

    It’s done. Try as he might, Alex Thomson could not overhaul Armel Le Cléac’h in the last mad dash back to France. Le Cléac’h sailed his IMOCA 60 Banque Populaire across the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne at 1537hrs UTC this afternoon, setting a new Vendée Globe race record of 74 days, 3 hours, 35 minutes, and 46 seconds, just under four days faster than the old record set by Francois Gabart four years ago. Thomson, as I write, was expected to come in about 12 hours behind him.

  • 2016 VENDEE GLOBE: Southern Ocean Match Race

    What a nail-biter! Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss and Armel Le Cleac’h on Banque Populaire have been swapping places at the front of the Vendée Globe fleet for some time now and are deep in the Southern Ocean, not too far west of the longitude of Cape Leeuwin at the southwestern tip of Australia. Le Cleac’h is the French heir apparent favored to win the race at the outset; Thomson is the Great Anglophone Hope, the only non-French competitor to have any chance of winning the race since Ellen MacArthur came a close second to Michel Desjoyeaux way back in 2001.

    The ugly twist: Thomson has broken off his starboard J-foil (just as Ellen MacArthur lost one daggerboard after rounding Cape Horn in the 2000-01 race) and is essentially fighting with one hand tied behind his back. As the image up top suggests, when sailing on port tack Hugo Boss is a bit tender.

  • LUCKY 13: Rich Wilson Completes His Second Vendee Globe, Fastest American Ever

    Wilson returns

    After running much of the Vendee Globe in 14th place (out of an original fleet of 29), the race’s only wholly American competitor, Rich Wilson, got lucky as he started closing on the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne two weeks ago. It wasn’t the sort of luck you openly pray for, as it came at the expense of another competitor, the half-American Conrad Colman (the other half is Kiwi), who was ahead of Rich in 10th place when his boat, Foresight Natural Energy, was dismasted less than 800 miles from the finish. Conrad did cobble together a jury rig, but he hasn’t been fast enough to stay in front of Rich, and so it was that Rich finished in 13th place the day before yesterday.

  • OPEN 60 DELIVERY: From Portland to Marblehead with Rich Wilson

    On deck GA4

    I narrowly missed my last chance to sail on an Open 60, way back in 2001 at the Heineken Regatta, when Josh Hall and Gartmore turned up a last-minute no-show due to family issues, so I was pretty psyched about getting aboard Great American IV (ex-Mirabaud) with her skipper Rich Wilson late last week. This was his first outing on the boat this summer, a delivery jaunt from Maine Yacht Center in Portland to her home mooring in Marblehead, a distance of about 100 miles. Also onboard was Jonathan Green, a local Massachusetts racing sailor (on the left in the image up top) who is assisting Rich in tuning up the boat for next year’s Vendeé Globe start in France.

    Unless something pretty dramatic happens, Rich, who last ran (and finished!) the Vendeé Globe in 2008-09, will (again) be the only American sailing in the race. At age 65, he will also be the oldest competitor in the race’s history, a fact he doesn’t necessarily like to dwell upon.

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