so not over

Ronnie Simpson’s Vendee Globe report is brought to you by Bruce Schwab Energy Systems

This seventh edition of the Vendée Globe may have crowned a champion and filled out a podium, but it is far from over. As the champagne stopped flowing and the hangover wore off from celebrating Francois Gabart and Armel Le Cleac’h’ historic achievement of a sub-80 day match race around the world, an exuberant and utterly grateful Alex Thomson crossed the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne in third place to close a chapter in what has become one of the greatest sailing stories of all time.

Behind him, another remarkable and captivating story unfolds as Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac-Paprec 3 have tied to a mooring off the Spanish coast to wait out a Bay of Biscay gale and beat out a battling pair of Jean Le Cam and Mike Golding for 4th. With nine boats still fighting for position and Bernard Stamm unofficially approaching Les Sables d’Olonne’s famed channel and a hero’s entrance, this Vendée Globe is worth savoring until the very end.

Jean-Pierre Dick moored in San Ciprián, Spain waiting for weather window

Jean-Pierre Dick’s legacy continues to grow. The two-time Barcelona World Race champ and three-time TJV champ has covered close to 2,000 miles of open North Atlantic Ocean since losing his keel nearly two weeks ago before hooking up to a mooring in the Spanish port of San Ciprián, which lies on the northern coast of Spain, well inside Cape Finisterre. Now just 291 miles from sailing into the history books as the furthest that any boat has ever voyaged since dropping a keel, Dick plans to leave his mooring on Sunday morning local time (before you read this) and re-start his journey. With the remnants of a passing front dissipating, Dick should see some light air before a 15-20 knot westerly fills in, clocking to northwest just before his arrival, offering up what should be pleasant conditions for the Nice based skipper who has now become quite accustomed to sailing his keel-less Open 60. Using his engine briefly to pick up the mooring, Dick moored by the transom before using a series of ropes and sheets to rotate Virbac-Paprec 3 180° and diving on the boat multiple times to inspect her hull, missing keel and mooring lines.

With tourists, locals and Spanish media all showing up to see the stricken racing yacht that had sought refuge in their local port, Dick made two signs that said “Do Not Touch the Boat”. A consummate professional, Jean-Pierre has done an incredible job of staying focused and resolute in reaching the finish line in Les Sables, but the pictures show the price that he has paid. He looks tired and fatigued, more so than he has looked at any point during this race. He is due in on Monday.

Le Cam and Golding still battling… again.

Along with the leading duo of Francois and Armel, there is one other pair of skippers that have remained engaged in battle since the very start of this Vendée Globe and that is the Franco-British pair of Jean Le Cam and Mike Golding. The two elder statesman and two kings in this fleet, affectionately known as “King Jean” and “The King of the South”, are now negotiating a complex Azores High, and they’re going about it in very different ways.

The Englishman Golding on Gamesa is taking the more direct route around the bottom of the high which entails a lot of upwind sailing before reaching to the finish in what could be heavy conditions. The Frenchman Le Cam on Synerciel is taking a completely opposite route around the high, going above it, which will entail more miles and some light-air sailing before blasting into Les Sables d’Olonne on a fast, downwind run. With highly differing strategies, the two are gaining an increasing amount of NW-SE separation with Golding finally overtaking Le Cam in the rankings last night. The gap is now 67 miles in favor of Golding, but that is sure to change as Le Cam turns the corner and Golding is stuck going upwind. Be it by luck or by weather routing, the final outcome of this 84 day old battle will be decided by how the high evolves and by the effect of an incoming low.

If the high goes north or expands, Golding should get fifth. If the high remains stable and does what it’s supposed to, then Le Cam will re-claim fifth and beat Golding to the finish by 3-8 hours, as is currently predicted. The final battle of this “war”, as has been repeatedly claimed by Le Cam and Golding in their thoroughly entertaining battle throughout this race will serve as the closing to what has been one of the best sailing rivalries in history, dating back to the ’04-’05 Vendée where Le Cam beat out Golding by less than a day to claim second place.

Middle of the fleet battling single-file up the Atlantic

Beating and close-reaching up the northeast trades, Swissman Dominique Wavre is at the head of an international trio that includes France’s Arnaud Boissieres and Spain’s Javier Sanso. While it hasn’t seen as much play as the Gabart/ Le Cleac’h battle or the Le Cam/ Golding battle, this has been a thrilling three-way battle that has raged unchecked for weeks now. With no tactical options to exploit in the NE trades, the finishing order will all come down to how each boat handles the Azores High. A brief explanation of the challenges and routing dilemmas created by the Azores High is offered up by Anarchist Javier “Bubi” Sanso, who sails at the tail end of the pack in ninth place:

“The winds are a bit ahead to the Azores high, then it is complicated. It seems like the guys in front of me are going to be going under the high, but I think I am a little bit behind them and so I might need to go a little bit above or through the centre, maybe if it goes to the left a little I will be able to go to the right. So I don’t know. It is changing every time, changing. It is not very well defined yet. It is complicated.”

Behind the 3-boat pack is Bertrand de Broc on Votre nom Autour du Monde, who is currently stuck in light-air while nearing the end of what has been a very long and problematic race while adjusting to a new boat (ex-Brit Air). Slowing down to a crawling 5 knots for more than 24 hours, he has finally re-emerged into the breeze and is close reaching at 11 knots, while Tanguy de Lamotte is limping along at 9 knots as he exits the doldrums and begins to reach the NE trades, which will have a lot of north in them, creating what will be a long upwind beat that may last all the way until the turns the corner at Cape Finisterre more than 2,000 miles away.

Sailing a damaged boat with a depleted sail inventory and a crash-damaged rudder, a determined Tanguy is heroically persevering back to Les Sables in what has been an incredible effort since day 1 in his 15-year old Marc Lombard design. As has many times been the case during this Vendée Globe, the last placed boat, Team Plastique, skippered by Alessandro di Benedetto has turned in the fastest daily runs in the fleet on 2 days this week, sailing his ancient fixed-keel design through a front that offered up 40 knots of breeze and a menacing, breaking sea. The Team Plastique skipper is estimated in Les Sables d’Olonne between February 16-18, well under a month after the champion Gabart, creating what will be the most compressed fleet in Vendée history.

Stay tuned over the next week as the bulk of the fleet will be finishing with (likely) Jean-Pierre Dick on Monday and then 5 boats between Wednesday and Saturday!
-Ronnie Simpson.