breaking it down

This Vendee Globe report is brought to you by Bruce Schwab Energy Systems!

Now two weeks into this Vendée Globe race, the dust is beginning to settle on an ever-shrinking fleet of Open 60’s that is rapidly reaching South, the equator in their wakes and Roaring 40’s over the horizon. A definite pecking order has been established by this point of the race with the fleet compressing in the doldrums, only to stretch back out in it’s original formation. At the top of the fleet, the sisterships “Banque Populaire” and “MACIF” still lead with the fleet’s other two VPLP’s, “PRB” and “Virbac-Paprec 3”still in hot pursuit. The latter 3 boats quickly legged out on the Juan K designed “Cheminees Poujoulat” and previous generation Farr “Hugo Boss” after the 5 boats found themselves virtually re-starting the Vendée in the doldrums, oftentimes drifting around as one 5-boat cluster of carbon and flogging racing sails.

Bernard Stamm’s “Cheminees Poujoulat” even flogged a genoa so hard in the light-air mess after a squall that the sail ripped itself on a daggerboard! Meanwhile, the 3 oldest skippers in the fleet continue to sail in close formation some 300 miles back of the leaders, while Acciona and skipper “Bubi” Sanso attempt to bridge the gap and re-engage the middle of the pack, having cleared the doldrums while the fleet’s backmarkers are still floundering in the dreaded ITCZ, called “the worst ever” by previous Vendée winner Vincent Riou. And in an unfortunate announcement that many of us saw coming, Polish skipper “Gutek” has officially abandoned the race on “Energa”, and has sailed to port in the Canary Islands. The leaders are now approaching a complex Saint Helena High which will create opportunities to gain miles on competitors.

BREAKING NEWS: Vincent Riou on “PRB” has hit a floating metal “buoy” and has sustained damage to the bow of his Open 60. He will be evaluating the situation and making necessary repairs if feasible. The hull has become torn and delaminated for about one meter on the starboard side of the bow. This comes just a week after Riou’s last scare, when he hit a floating tree trunk at 18 knots.

VPLP’s continue to dominate up front

Winner of 2nd place in the last Vendée Globe, Armel Le Cleac’h is sailing a brilliant race at the front of the pack. Overhauling sistership “MACIF” more than a week ago west of the Canary Islands, the 35-year old “Banque Populaire” skipper has maintained the race lead for more than 8 consecutive days, having entered and exited the doldrums with a 5-boat pack sailing in his wake, waiting to attack at any given opportunity. Le Cleac’h achieved a major feat this week in becoming the first boat to cross equator, doing the deed in just more than 10 days and 19 hours.

Some 25 miles behind “Banque Pop”, the five boats in pursuit;”MACIF, PRB, Virbac-Paprec 3, Cheminees Poujoulat, and Hugo Boss” all enjoyed a restart Tuesday morning, with all five boats racing within one or two miles of each other for much of the day! Limping through the doldrums, called the “worst ever” by ’04 winner Riou, the five boat-pack immediately re-gained dispersion upon re-entering the South East trades, with the 3 newer, lighter VPLP boats easily pulling away from Alex Thomson in his previous generation Farr design, clearly superior in the 12 to 15-knot tradewind reaching conditions.

Having fought with “MACIF” and “Banque Pop” seemingly since beginning of the race, Swiss sailor Bernard Stamm and “Cheminees Poujoulat” have been relegated to the back of the lead pack to battle with Alex Thomson on “Hugo Boss”, both skippers undergoing onboard repairs while simultaneously trying to keep pace with the four French leaders. Alex Thomson has finally fixed his hydrogenerator that was damaged six days ago in the same incident that left him repairing a carbon-fiber rudder tie bar in the cockpit.

The hydrogenerator (is) back down and working which is relief and it’s nice to be able to concentrate on something other than fixing stuff,” said the Hugo Boss skipper. “The temperature wasn’t too bad but it’s a really fiddly job; drill, clean, screw, while you’re doing that stuff at a 30 degrees of heel.

Bernard Stamm on the other hand was having his own problems, “The sea was pretty chaotic and in a windless area, the boat was shaken really hard, one of the centreboards went up and it tore up the genoa. In order to keep progressing, I had to take a route that goes further east than the others, otherwise it would have slowed me down a lot”, said a fatigued Stamm, who is also nearing completion of some necessary repairs to his autopilot. Sailing more upwind and making easting, as the other lead boats were genoa reaching due South, Stamm may end up staying par for the course with Dick, Riou and Gabart as he reaches stronger breeze before the other 3, allowing him to gain back some miles that he has lost in the past 3 days.

What’s ahead for the leaders

Currently sailing some 300-odd miles south east of the eastern most point of Brazil and South America, the leaders still have 2,700 miles to sail until the Cape of Good Hope with the major challenge being in negotiating the currently active yet relatively stable Saint Helena High. With a weak low off of South America and a strengthening High, the isobars could compress and create a strong northerly flow for the leaders to ride South before heading East. If this does indeed play out, the front pack could have a ripping ride into the Southern Ocean.

7 skippers penalized for violating Traffic Separation Scheme off Finisterre

Following the protest by both “Hugo Boss” and the Race Committee, 7 boats in the fleet have been penalized for violating the Finisterre Traffic Separation scheme. Seeing as how two fishing boats were hit by screaming Open 60’s with presumably sleeping skippers, this is an issue that the Vendée Globe is taking very seriously. The penalized boats were “Synerciel, Mirabaud, Acciona, Initiatives-couer and Energa”, who were all given 2-hour time penalties. “Gamesa” was given a 30-minute penalty and “Virbac-Paprec 3” was given a 20-minute penalty. Javier Sanso on “Acciona” and Tanguy de Lamotte on “Initiatives-couer” both appealed the jury’s ruling, but lost their appeals. Per race rules, the skippers had two days to take their penalties, and all have now done so.

Three “50-something’s” still occupy middle of the fleet

In what has been one of the most entertaining and long-lasting battles of this Vendée Globe, 3 of the oldest skippers left in the fleet have been in a 3-way drag race since the Cape Verde Islands. All in their 50’s and all sailing last-generation boats, these 3 ultra-experienced skippers have been sailing very smart, fast and consistent races, merely waiting for a handful of newer, faster boats to falter before moving into podium positions. Leading the pack is Mike Golding on his extensively refit and modernized Owen Clarke designed “Gamesa”, sailing some 300 miles back of race leader Le Cleac’h. Incredibly, this week marked Golding’s 22nd crossing of the equator!
50 miles in Golding’s wake is the always joking Jean Le Cam on “Synerciel”, who, despite not gaining any miles on the English skipper in the past 24 hours, has declared that he is “hunting Brits”.

Says Le Cam, “The boat is going so fast, I left the Swiss (Dominique Wavre) behind and it’s now time to attack my British friend. The next ones to pass are foreigners. First Golding, then a Swiss (Stamm), then another Brit (Thomson), I’m definitely into international hunting. The skippers after them are all from Lorient or Port-la-Forêt, not as much fun. I don’t care about my actual speed, I just want to make sure I’m faster than the others. And I am faster than Wavre and Golding.” Le Cam’s own record time to the equator of 10 days and 11 hours during the 2004 Vendée will stand for at least four more years.

“Bubi” tries to bridge the gap

One of the boats making the biggest moves on the race course is Javier “Bubi” Sanso on “Acciona 100% Ecopowered”. The latest-generation Owen Clarke design blasted through the doldrums, having now caught and passed the third pack of boats since stopping in the lee of the Canary Islands to ascend his mast for repairs. Taking a very easterly route across the doldrums, the Spanish skipper was able to make massive gains on both Arnaud Boissieres on “Akena Verandas” and Bertrand de Broc on “Votre nom autour du monde”. 

From Bubi:

Hello sailing anarchists from around the globe…..!

It was a rough start on Acciona EcoPowered….a hardware piece from the KARVER headboard car broke leaving the main sail happily swinging free from the halyard and the headboard at the top of the mast……The story might have finished here but I had to go up to get the headboard with a very bad sea and gale behind me.  To cut a long story short I had to go to the leeward side of Tenerife, climb the mast, get the headboard, and exchange it for a new one…….all in all losing me nearly 400 miles of racing.

I’m now in the southern hemisphere with its typical trade winds, squally conditions and typically frustrating as I cannot get on the rails; the winds keep fluctuating left and right, up and down…..I’m starting to make some south finally and not so west. The energy systems are working really well, I’ve had my batteries 100% charged in the afternoon everyday for the last 3 days…….the system works. In the south I will have to combine it with the hydros but it’s no problem. It is really good not having to start an engine to charge the batteries in these conditions where it is 39 degrees inside the cabin…… I will keep you posted!!


While Boissieres floundered around averaging 5 knots for more than a day and a half, losing more than 200 miles by being further west, Sanso came screaming through maintaining 8-9 knot averages on his crossing, to become one of the fleet’s biggest winners in the doldrums. Another benefactor of the doldrums is young Tanguy de Lamotte, the 34 year old Vendée rookie who is still putting together an amazing race on his three-generation old Lombard design. Tanguy is sailing in “Acciona’s” wake as this 4-boat strong third group exits the doldrums.
Look for Bertrand de Broc to put the hammer back down after a sub-stellar doldrums crossing. The veteran skipper had been flying until following Boissieres into a massive hole in the doldrums, allowing “Acciona” and “initiatives-couer” to make massive gains and slip by. Expect Bertrand to pass two boats in the next week.

Alessandro charging at the back of the fleet

You’ve got to love what Alessandro di Benedetto is doing onboard “Team Plastique” at the back of the fleet. On a 15 year old boat with the only fixed-keel in the fleet, Di Benedetto took advantage of 18-knot broad-reaching conditions from the Cape Verde Islands to the ITCZ, posting up the fleet’s best 24-hour runs on two days, and gaining back some 300 miles on the leaders and more than 500 back on Boissieres. With a position even more easterly than Bubi and Lamotte, Alessandro is in the doldrums now. A speedy crossing will see him retain some or most of the miles that he has re-gained in the past few days. Not only has Alessandro been sailing his old boat near her full potential, but his infectious enthusiasm and energy for the race are contagious when watching his videos.

Gutek officially retires

Polish skipper Zbigniew “Gutek” Gutkowski has retired to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. The previous generation Finot/ Conq design (ex-Hugo Boss) had been plagued with problems since Day 1, and most recently had sustained autopilot failures which reported in his crash-gybing and badly wrapping a gennaker around his forestay. Sailing East to test both of his autopilots after updating the software, he had to resign himself to his inner thoughts:

Today I need to officially announce what I’ve been thinking about for days.. Being brave is not only about fighting, it is also about knowing where to stop. I know I did everything I could, working on my electronics issues for many days. I know my team and friends did their best as well. And I am extremely grateful for the huge support I got. But I can’t carry on like that. When there is big wind and when the boat is going over 15 knots the autopilot starts to live a second life, doing whatever it wants…. Having no autopilot means I can’t race, and if I can’t race, I have to retire.”

Beyou’s keel jack failure…

Jeremie Beyou, skipper of “Maitre CoQ”, has discovered what may be an explanation for his keel jack failure: “It probably happened as we were leaving the front off the Canary Islands. There was a 40-knot wind and a very rough cross sea. As I was going down after surfing a wave, I must have hit a UFO with the side of my keel bulb, because you can clearly see an impact there. This probably put an unusual pressure on the keel head. And then time passed and a couple of days later, the jack head broke because it had been weakened by the shock. After a thorough analysis of the part and discussions with experts, that’s te likeliest explanation”, says the two-time Figaro winner.

Sam Davies “hitch hikes” to France

Saveol skipper Samantha Davies explains “We’re only 24 miles away from Cascais and we’re in an area where all cargo ships are goig north. We thought maybe we could hitch-hike, as they’re probabaly all going to France… But despite our sign and our motivation, we haven’t been very successful. We’ll keep trying, though. Maybe Erwan (Saveol’s boat captain) should hide inside and I should wear a miniskirt, alone on the deck with my sign, I’m sure it would work better. We’ll see… Love, Sam.”

Stay tuned to Sailing Anarchy and our next Vendée Globe update, coming in just a few days as the leaders approach the Roaring 40’s and the Southern Ocean!

-Ronnie Simpson