It seems to be a seasonal thing. Topless was the order of the day at the beginning of the race, bottomless is clearly more of a "last miles" phenomenon – and at the risk of disappointing a few readers, this has nothing to do with Sam Davies’s bikini sessions, we’re talking masts and keels here, or spars and appendages should some of you prefer a more elaborate vocabulary. So it’s now Marc Guillemot’s turn to try and manage the last few hundred miles without any counterweight beneath the hull, ballasts full to maintain the streamlined Safran upright – mind you, if he ever wants to beach her, the forms below the waterline seem perfect for a soft landing now that the big canting thingy has deserted.
Having feared some criticism after a particularly gear-breaking Vendée, the IMOCA class had issued a press release to put things into context a few weeks ago – the text of which you can find here. Given the level of emotion following Yann Eliès’s accident and Jean Le Cam’s capsize – events during which there had been genuine and legitimate worries concerning the sailor’s physical safety, it wasn’t a bad idea to lay it out on the table and make sure the (once again legitimate) emotional side of things didn’t take over the rational explanations. Sure, everybody would prefer if boats could hit containers and not sustain any damage, but it ain’t so and yes, there are high risks in a race like the Vendée Globe, that’s a simple fact. Michel Desjoyeaux has done the best PR possible for the class upon arriving in Les Sables d’Olonne, when he addressed the question of the boats’ reliability and seaworthiness: "If the people who say that our boats are not strong enough saw what the gear goes through, what it’s really like out there, then maybe they’d stop writing all that bullshit." Maybe being the right word, because in fact it’s not likely – looking for polemics, however lame, is a sport that appeals to the media and it’s not going to go out of fashion that soon.
Wouldn’t it be nicer if commentators concentrated on other issues – after all, what’s the biggest scandal, a few masts that come down (which is perfectly normal within a prototype-based sport), or the fact that the oceans carry so much crap? Funny enough, a lot of skippers have voiced concerns about the amount of rubbish they saw during their journey, but it didn’t generate much of a debate. To go even further, if we still had a reasonable sense of priorities, what should worry us when a mast breaks or a carbon boat sinks (apart from the sailor’s safety which in N°1) is the fact that it actually creates a pollution – don’t get me wrong, this should not be seen as the start of a crusade, the idea is simply to put things into perspective. The environmental impact remains marginal in the global picture, but so is sailing to the outside world – might come as a shock but it’s true, some (most) people are actually completely oblivious to the joys of getting wet while pulling on ropes.
But, on the other hand, vast horizons, spirit of adventure and the magic of the high seas have the power to capture everyone’s imagination and thus to relay important messages… Let’s just hope they don’t get buried under a pile of sterile and administrative considerations. And let’s tip our hats to Miss Davies for her great performance, and wish a safe journey home to Marc – strong headwinds with no keel, no fun. – Jocelyn Bleriot.