place your bets!

Ronnie and I (Mr. Clean) have spent two weeks crawling around boats, talking to skippers, questioning the cognoscenti, drinking with shore crews, and researching the fleet.  If we can’t put out some educated guesses out there for the 2012 Vendee Globe by now, we don’t deserve to be here.  And of course we don’t agree, so we each put together our own pick sheet; for the top five finishers, for the first three to break, and our sentimental favorites. Be sure to go through the entire thread for Ronnie’s detailed analysis of each boat, video boat tours for nearly half the fleet, and words from every skipper’s mouth in our Sailing Anarchy ‘Innerview’ marathon.   Here’s Ronnie:

This is the most competitive, closely matched fleet in Vendee Globe history. And that’s not coming from me, a lowly “Vendee virgin”, that’s coming from experienced skippers in the fleet, industry insiders and legends of the game. There is more parity in terms of boat performance, skipper talent and level of preparation than the race has ever seen before. With a 20-boat fleet where ten skippers could realistically win this race, there is truly no clear favorite. So when Clean told me a few days ago that I would need to write a front page piece with my top 5 picks, first 3 to break and my sentimental favorites, I almost had a heart attack. This is my disclaimer: This is the Vendee Globe and there’s no way I can guess when a mast is going to fall down, or when a large whale will unknowingly swim in front of a 60-foot racing yacht sailing at upwards of 30 knots of boat speed, but what the hell this is Sailing Anarchy and Clean told me to write it, so here goes!

1st place: Jean Pierre Dick/ Virbac-Paprec 3 – With a hot VPLP/ Verdier designed boat, a brick shit house of a rig that shouldn’t fall down and a sailor who is peaking in his career, this is JP Dick’s time. Winner of the last two Barcelona World Race’s, the last Transat Jacques Vabre and current holder of the 24-hour distance record for IMOCA 60’s, Jean Pierre is on fire right now. Virbac-Paprec 3 is massively funded, thoroughly prepped and it would be a nice swan song for Dick to finally win a Vendee before he leaves the class and starts racing MOD 70’s.

2nd place: Alex Thomson/ HUGO BOSS- With a history of bad luck and misfortune, even the blind squirrel has to find a nut eventually, right? The fact that my so-called “blind squirrel” is one of the best sailors on the planet and is sailing on Bilou’s old boat only makes things that much more enticing. When Alex hasn’t broken, he has shown great pace in his career, no matter what the boat. Alex has gelled with his boat, recently smashed the Singlehanded monohull Trans-Atlantic record and has a sponsor that has enabled him to prep a boat and run a campaign in the best fashion. This is AT’s year.

3rd place: Jeremie Beyou/ Maitre Coq- Yep, I went there. This is my dark horse of the fleet, i’m picking a sailor that many in the US have never even heard of to finish on the podium. In 2011 alone, the 36 year old won his second Solitaire du Figaro and then teamed up with JP Dick to crush the fleet in the Transat Jacques Vabre. It doesn’t hurt that he is sailing on a slightly optimized version of the boat that won the Vendee Globe in 2008-09 (Foncia) and then finished second to “Virbac-Paprec 3” in the Barcelona World Race last year (MAPFRE).

4th place: Marc Guillermot/ Safran – Third place finisher in the last Vendee Globe, Marc seems to finish top 5 in almost everything he enters. Key word in that sentence being “finish”. With a keel and mast designed by his sponsor “Safran” who designs stuff for the aerospace and defense industry, I have confidence that the 53 year old will sail the boat smart and fast and make it back to Les Sables d’Olonne in one piece in under 90 days. Just like JP Dick, he has a super fast VPLP design with a stout rig and good funding and preparation. Add in Guillermot’s experience, maturity and sailing talent and that’s a recipe for success in my book.

5th place: Bernard Stamm/ Cheminees Poujoulat- My other dark horse. Juan K has never designed an IMOCA 60 with a winning record, but as everyone knows, he’s the master of fast Volvo 70s. After enough trial and error, I think Jaun has got it right and that the experienced Swiss skipper will manage to keep the boat in one piece and show good speed in the Southern Ocean. With climate change and ice limits that seem to move further and further north every year, the Vendee fleet will experience more upwind conditions and close to beam reaching conditions than in years past. This will favor the brutish Juan K boat and the tenacious Stamm.

Top 3 to break 

Notice a common theme here…. Sure, the VPLP’s have great speed and top results but all of the obsessing over light weight is going to prove problematic in the treacherous Southern Ocean. One good gale and these boys are back to the shed.

Vincent Riou/ PRB: Have you seen this boat up close and personal? I have and i’ll tell you right now that this is the lightest, most extreme and probably most fragile boat in the fleet. Vincent claimed in our interview that “PRB” weighs in at “under 7 tons”. If that is true, then it makes him not just a bit lighter, but several hundred kilos lighter than any other IMOCA in the fleet. If I had to pick one of these boats to do another Singlehanded Transpac in, this would probably be my pick, but a month in the Southern Ocean and then a rendezvous with Cape Horn? Nah-ah.

Banque Populaire/ Armel Le Cleac’h: Bad news for the 2nd place finisher of the last Vendee. No doubt one of the most talented sailors in the fleet, if not on the planet. And his VPLP/ Verdier designed Open 60 has shown unbelievable speed and results, but she’s also seriously been broken, and not too long ago. Her first introduction to the Southern Ocean resulted in the top third of the mast breaking, while leading the Barcelona World Race with Michel Desjoyeaux and Francois Gabart aboard. In 2011, the boat cracked its hull and deck and while they were repaired nicely, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the boat keeps breaking.

Francois Gabart/ MACIF- I can’t get over the striking similarities between Armel on “Banque Pop” and Francois on “MACIF”. At 29, Francois is the young prodigy of this fleet, currently leading the IMOCA season points standings by a scant 3 points over sistership “Banque Pop”. Both boats are undeniably fast and the skippers arguably the two greatest talents in the shorthanded offshore sailing world at the moment, but when I check out these boats, the words “reliable’ and “stout” aren’t the first two to come to mind.

Sentimental Favorites

Alessandro di Benedetto/ Team Plastique: The funniest interview that we had, Alessandro is an absolute legend in my mind. After sailing several beach cats solo across oceans, including a 20-footer from Yokohama to my beloved San Francisco, the dude sailed a 21-foot Mini Transat solo non-stop around the world. He dropped the rig before Cape Horn and instead of heading for port or popping his EPIRB, he set a jury-rig and sailed back to Les Sables d’Olonne. ‘Nuff said.

Zbigniew “Gutek” Gutkowski/ Energa: Gutek may not win the Vendee Globe, but he’ll win the party. The dude is hilarious, he’s from an obscure place like Poland and he and his crew have been so hospitable to me while i’ve been in France that I will rock the Gutek fan club all the way around. He gave me my first ride on an Open 60, threw back a few in the pub and showed me nothing but love and friendship in Les Sables. Fair winds and following seas, friend.

Sam Davies/ Saveol- Sam, if you read this, I think I love you. I know you’re happy with Romain, but if things go south…. I’m just sayin’…..In all seriousness, this race is going to be epic. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun bringing the pre-race to your desktop from Les Sables. Follow the race all the way ‘round on SA’s front page and in the forums.

If you want to bet on the Vendee Globe, check out www.regattabet.com. I don’t know what the oddsmakers were smoking, but there’s some money to be made on this race.

And here’s how Clean thinks it will play out

Like Ronnie, I think the parity among much of this deep fleet is going to be a major story in this race; I just don’t see any runaway winners.  That being said, there’s a good chance that the very competitiveness of especially all the new ultra-light VPLP/Verdier boats may be their undoing; I can very easily see the Macif/Banq Pop/Paprec-Virbac trio pushing one another to the breaking point, while Safran and PRB are just so light and extreme that something’s got to give.  When that happens, the most versatile performer with the most reliable boat brings it home.  Add to that the latest boats’ documented difference in slamming loads and you have more skipper fatigue and the resulting bad decisionmaking…

1st place: Alex Thomson/Hugo Boss –  There is something in Alex Thomson’s eyes that screams “Winner” to me right now.  Maybe it’s having a young child whose health is something of a miracle, or maybe it’s the certain knowledge that he will be looking to pass the torch soon, but Alex seems loose and comfortable and his Farr-designed, JuanK-massaged boat (ex-Veolia) can handle the speed that he’s shown so many times. His shore crew are efficient and talented, his budget has got to be huge, and he’s got a Richard Bouzaid-designed set of Doyle sails (the only Doyles in the fleet) that, according to crew, are ‘seriously fucking fast.”  If Doyle made them strong enough to get around without issues, I think Alex might well squeak out a victory over the next guy.  It’s a risky call, but I’m making it anyway.

2nd place: Jeremie Beyou/Maitre Coq – I’m going for the one-design guy in the boat that won in 2008/9.  Plus Michel Desjoyeux-created boats have won the last four Vendee Globes, and this was Mich’s record setting Foncia from the last race.  Jeremie just inked a long term deal with Maitre Coq, which means he’s both very grateful for their support right now and relieved of the pressure of worrying about getting new sponsors when the race is over.  It’s a good combination to make a great result with an extremely talented guy, and his boat is the epitome of reliability.

3rd place: Kito De Pavant/Groupe Bel –  If anyone’s due for a decent finish in a RTW race, it’s the incredibly popular Kito.  Who doesn’t love Laughing Cow cheese? Seriously though, Kito has got more miles in his boat than anyone else in theirs, and the older, wiser De Pavant might just get on the breaks sooner than some of the whippersnappers, saving wear and tear on his boat and keeping him fast all the way to the end.

4th place: JP Dick/Paprec Virbac 3  – I’m really looking deep into the crystal ball for this one, because JP Dick has no business being in fourth unless his boat breaks in some serious but not life threatening way, he fixes it, and then storms back to pick up the guys that passed him.  Unlike the Barcelona World Race there are no stopovers; broken mast cars and a broken traveler like JPD suffered last BWR would probably be fatal on a Vendee Vendee Globe, or at least bad enough to drop you from 1st to 4th.  JP is certainly motivated to win, especially with his upcoming move to the MOD likely to take up all his time for the next few years.  But I’m still not convinced that his boat will be reliable from stem to stern.

5th place: Bernard Stamm/ Cheminees Poujoulat – Holy crap: Ronnie and I agree on something!  Stamm and his ride are a solid bet on paper; he has the speed, the know-how, and a boat that can charge when the conditions are right.  He’s also done a lot to rectify some of his boat’s slower points of sail.  Remember how Groupama carefully fixed the gaps in their performance as the Volvo went on, snatching victory up at the end?  Bernard’s been doing that kind of work on his JuanK boat for a while, and I think he may surprise everyone with the kind of runs he puts together.

First To Break 

As I wrote above, I think we are going to see some serious carnage amongst some of the favorites as a result of their parity; their proximity and speed will have them pushing harder than their boats can handle, with discomfort and fatigue playing a major role. But there’s another group that might have issues; the noobs.

Gutek/Energa: The towering Pole is affable and always has a smile on his face; even when a wind generator puts a 6-inch gash into his head.  But that doesn’t mean he’s truly ready for the ex-Hugo Boss Finot-Conq boat, a powerful beast that he just picked up a few months ago.  Gutek went around the world in an Open 60 that barely looks like one compared to the newer boats, and this is a whole different kettle of kapuśniak.  Look for Gutek to bow out before Good Hope.

Francois Gabard/Macif —  I don’t know why, but the Golden Boy just has too much going for him to do well.  A gorgeous partner and a new baby, a sweet sponsorship deal, and a long and illustrious career await him, but first, some heartache is likely to be ahead.  And in his first solo round-the-world race, he’ll get it.  Macif is probably the fastest or second-fastest boat in the fleet and Gabard has a wisdom that belies his age, but I just don’t have confidence in the boat, and the early stages are going to see some hard pushing; will it be up to the conditions?  I guess ‘no’.

Marc Guillemot/Safran – As cool as Guillemot’s partnership is with military research and manufacturer Safran, there’s just something about their partnership that makes me uneasy.  Mixing different standards (the sailors/designers vs corporate scientists) can create problems that don’t show themselves until its too late, and Guillemot could bow out early with a rig or structure failure.

Sentimental Favorites:

Sam Davies/ Saveol- Yeah, like that one was tough. Alessandro di Benedetto/ Team Plastique — The guy is a legend, and he has the best-looking PR girls.  If he gets in 2 weeks after the winners it will be a huge win for him, and I’m looking forward to following his special brand of crazy for 3 and a half months.

Bubi Senso/Acciona 100% Ecopowered – The sweetest man you could imagine, a crusader for the environment, the most enjoyable technical crew and media staff, and a boat designed to showcase the state of the art in non-fossil fuel-based power generation.  What’s not to love?  We just wish he was bringing his dog Botox with him.