break dance

The inaugural Vendée – Arctique race, the first major ocean race since the COVID pandemic began, has thus far lived up to the hype and delivered the kind of excitement and close racing that legions of yacht racing starved fans around the world have been waiting for. After a thrilling breeze-on start from Les Sables d’Olonne, the fleet – all with reefs in the mainsail – has sailed through some very solid upwind conditions from a passing low before now entering a light spot that could compress and re-shuffle the fleet. 

This first low-pressure system of the race has taken it’s toll however, with it just being announced that Armel Tripon on the recently repaired and relaunched L’Occitane has turned back towards La Trinite sur Mer with structural damage near the bow of his new Sam Manuard designed IMOCA. Believed to be related to the original collision that saw the boat repaired in record time to make the start of this race, there is reported damage to two longitudinal stringers on the starboard side.

Though details are scarce at this point, the team has added that they had planned to reinforce this area more after this race. A sad ending to a race that started with an incredible flash of speed for the new Manuard design, which saw Armel roll over the two leaders – to windward, no less – and then hold onto that lead until the first turning mark before being overhauled by Charal.

At the front of the fleet, 39 year old Thomas Ruyant has been sailing a masterful race on his new Guillaume Verdier designed boat LinkedOut and must be considered a very serious contender for the upcoming Vendée Globe. The Mini Transat, Class 40 and Figaro champ is consistently at the head of the pack though several other boats are not far behind and challenging for the lead including fellow Mini ace and last year’s Transat Jacque Vabre winner Charlie Dalin on APIVIA, 3-time Figaro winner and Volvo winner Jeremie Beyou on Charal and that two generation old orange boat which can never be counted out; PRB with skipper Kevin Escoffier. 

Generally leading the second pack and currently in 5th place is the renowned Franco-German female skipper Isabelle Joschke, the first female to ever win a leg in the Solitaire du Figaro. Her 2007 model VPLP boat MACSF –  perhaps best known by it’s original identity as Marc Guillermot’s SAFRAN – is no doubt quite old but Isabelle has consistently shown an ability to hang on to the front runners, and not just in this race. With a few solid results and guidance from team manager Alain Gautier, a previous Vendée Globe winner himself, Isabelle could be a real dark horse pick for a podium spot in both this race and in the upcoming Vendée Globe.

One of the biggest stories of the race thus far certainly has to be that of Sébastien Simon onboard Arkea Paprec, one of the pre-race favorites. The first Juan K designed IMOCA to be launched since this one, Arkea Paprec has had a penchant for breaking foils in rather unremarkable conditions, after breaking one on delivery to the TJV start last year and then finishing the job during the race itself.

Going back to the drawing board and coming back with an entirely new foil design, it must be extremely disheartening for Sébastien and the team to break their starboard foil just hours into this race, in rather unremarkable conditions. “For around 3 hours we were heading upwind on a port tack, sailing at almost 17 knots. There was a little bit of sea. The J3 was in place and 1 reef in the mainsail. I just happened to head inside for a bite to eat, when I heard a huge crack. The boat went down, the foil had just broken… I’m frustrated because I didn’t intend to push the boat’s limits’, Sébastien told reporters shortly after arriving back in Port-La-Forêt.

The boat certainly looked very quick, and was showing enormous upwind potential. Unfortunately, 3 broken foils in 2 races doesn’t bode well for a non-stop around the world race. From pre-race favorite to pre-race liability, the question must now be asked, has Juan designed another shitter?

The fleet is negotiating a light spot as of this writing, which shouldn’t last long before another low comes across the course and gives these new foilers a chance to strut their stuff in some heavy running conditions; much more indicative of a Vendée Globe race course. Beyond that, the weather scenario looks highly complex with many begging the question of how they will get to Iceland. – Ronnie Simpson.