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

Barely two days into a new year, this thrilling seventh edition of the Vendée Globe hasn’t skipped a beat. Continuing to deliver incredibly close and exciting racing, major drama, human struggle and some major controversy, this race is peaking with a two-boat match race around Cape Horn, the controversial disqualification and subsequent appeal of Swiss sailor Bernard Stamm, Alessandro di Benedetto facing major autopilot problems and Alex Thomson prepping for his first solo rounding of the infamous Cape Horn amidst a major blow with treacherous waves and strong currents.

Stamm’s disqualification….. and appeal

In a bit of news that has stirred a major controversy on the SA forums and around the sailing world (starts halfway down page 23 of Vendée thread), Cheminees Poujoulat skipper Bernard Stamm has been disqualified from this Vendée Globe race after receiving outside assistance while attempting to save his boat as it was dragging anchor in the Auckland Islands. Here are the facts as we know them, which have been slightly clarified and expounded upon since Sailing Anarchy last reported on this event on December 28:

At 2000 hours on December 23, Bernard noticed that the Russian research vessel Professor Khromov had anchored behind him, and 30 minutes later he noticed that the anchor on Cheminees Poujoulat was dragging. With the research vessel anchored behind him, Stamm’s Open 60 was effectively dragging towards the much larger research vessel. With Stamm considering the research vessel a stationary object, as it was anchored, Bernard proposed to tie up to the research vessel over his VHF radio. Professor Khromov happily agreed, and Bernard went down below on Cheminees Poujoulat to start the diesel, turn on his electronics and auto-pilot and begin preparing for the side-tying of the two boats. When Stamm returned on deck, a seaman from the Russian research vessel was on the bow of Cheminees Poujoulat helping to recover Bernard’s anchor. Bernard reportedly did not request this assistance, but received it nonetheless. Once the anchor was up, the two men secured Cheminees Poujoulat by tying it up alongside the Russian vessel. Once this was complete, the Russian seaman returned to his RIB and Bernard explained the nature of the Vendée Globe race that he was competing in.

After receiving the information from Stamm, the Race Committee filed a protest against Stamm for a breach of NOR 3.2. After a 5-member jury convened, they decided that Stamm had indeed breached NOR 3.2 on 2 occasions, one for side-tying next to another vessel and another for receiving help in doing so.

NOR 3.2 states:

  1. During the event, a competitor cannot have any material contact with any other ship or aircraft. A competitor cannot be provided with any supplies in any way possible.
    A competitor can put into port, mooring or anchoring by his/her own means but cannot receive any outside assistance, except for medical assistance strictly limited to the terms of the article 3.3 below. The competitor cannot dock or come alongside another boat.

The major controversy comes in the decision by the international jury (2 French, 1 Briton, 1 New Zealander, 1 Spaniard) to disqualify Bernard, as opposed to just giving him a time penalty. In the interest of journalistic integrity and lack of bias, I won’t elaborate on how incredibly upset and pissed off I am at the decision, i’ll let the skippers do it for me. An impassioned Jean Le Cam reported:

“I’m wound up like a clock. For me, Bernard acted as a good sailor, he did everything to save his boat and he is penalized!

It is as if a man finds himself at the edge of the cliff, he may fall, there is someone who extends his hand and he should answer him: “Well, no, because it’s the rules, so please don’t help me” and he falls off the cliff!”

Mike Golding added:

“To preserve the fundamental ethos of the Vendée Globe we have to live by the sword and die by the sword. Part of the lure of the race is that it is without assistance and so places the ultimate premium on self-reliance…..I think I can see the thinking behind the decision. The rules are the rules and all that. But I think when you know all the story about Bernard and you know the situation he is in now…..I think it just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like the right thing….. I think everyone in this race, and everyone of his followers and the followers of the race will be really upset by the prospect of a seemingly heartless jury, making a decision that perhaps they had to make.”

An upset Jean-Pierre Dick elaborated:

“I just woke up and I heard about Bernard Stamm’s disqualification. I find it outrageous; I am shocked by this announcement. The jury’s decision seems totally disproportionate to me….. I want the jury to re-consider it’s decision.”

It’s quite incredible to watch all of the competitors, in unison, weigh in with nothing but love and support for the disqualified Swiss sailor. Winner of both the 2003 Around Alone and the 2007 Velux 5 Oceans, Stamm now finds himself disqualified in this, his third unsuccessful attempt at completing the Vendée Globe. After retiring in 2000-01 with autopilot problems, Stamm came back with a new sponsor in 2008-09 with Cheminees Poujoulat. Anchored in the Kerguelen Islands to effect repairs, his anchor drug and the boat ended up on the rocks. Stamm was forced to retire. With a new boat in 2011, Stamm was sailing doublehanded when struck an un-identified floating object in the 2011 Transat Jacques Vabre, holing the brand-new Juan K designed Open 60. Taking on water, Stamm and crew-member Jean Francois Cuzon were forced to get airlifted to safety. Renting a fishing trawler, the team went back and recovered Cheminees Poujoulat and towed her to port. And now, after fighting to stay in this race with hydrogenerator (mounting) problems that have persisted since the first week of this race, Stamm now finds himself disqualified. One can only imagine the devastation and mental anguish that must be plaguing the veteran Swiss skipper.

Again showing the kind of heroism and tenacity that make the Vendée Globe what it is, an irrepressible Bernard Stamm has vowed to stay in this race. He will file an appeal and at this point, he firmly intends on sailing across the Pacific, around Cape Horn and back to Les Sables d’Olonne. Regardless of the jury’s decision, Stamm is sure to be the recipient of a large and gracious welcoming committee. Another incredible story line in this latest edition of the Vendée.

Gabart and Le Cleac’h back in the Atlantic

After 52 days, 6 hours and 18 minutes at sea, 29-year old Vendée Globe rookie Francois Gabart passed the longitude of Cape Horn, while sailing just two and a half miles away from the shore. Just 1 hour and 15 minutes later, Armel Le Cleac’h and Banque Populaire rounded the iconic Cape five miles further out, ensuring the leading duo’s passage in to the Atlantic Ocean. With this passage, Francois Gabart and MACIF have taken an incredible 4 days and 8 hours off the existing Les Sables- Cape Horn record set by Michel Desjoyeaux in the 2008-09 race. Considering that Desjoyeaux started 41 hours late and still finished in 84 days and change, the pair are running about 2 and a half days ahead of Desjoyeaux’s actual pace, still threatening to complete the race under the mythical 80-day mark.

With the highest concentration of ice being both east of Cape Horn and south of Staten Island, both MACIF and Banque Populaire chose to take the safest route rather than the quickest route. Hugging the shore relatively close after rounding Cape Horn, the pair sailed through the 12-16 mile wide “Le Maire Straits” which lie between Tierra del Fuego and Staten Island. Each throwing in a pair of gybes, it was the second-placed veteran Le Cleac’h who offered that this rounding of Cape Horn was more difficult than four years ago:

“This is the second Cape Horn rounding of my career but unfortunately, this time, the conditions are much tougher than four years ago. I can see Cape Horn on my radar but I have no visual contact, there’s too much fog.”

Expect Hugo Boss and Virbac-Paprec 3 to continue making gains for the first couple of days after Cape Horn. Both Thomson and Dick will have a more direct route than the leaders which will have to make a wide rounding of the Falklands. With fickle weather ahead of the leaders, this could allow the top 4 boats to re-compress onto one weather system. The long-term implications of that could be huge. After watching the top 5 park up in the doldrums and virtually re-start on their way down the Atlantic, the chess match back up the Atlantic should be a good one. Stay tuned for our next update this weekend! -Ronnie Simpson.