big league

It’s safe to say that Kevin Escoffier’s debut appearance in the Vendée Globe didn’t quite go according to the plan. While showing good pace and fighting hard for the lead entering the Southern Ocean, his IMOCA 60 PRB famously broke in half off of a wave and plunged into the deep.

Rescued at sea by the unflappable Jean le Cam, the 40 year old Breton skipper was perhaps down for the time being, but certainly not out. With a CV that includes a Trophy Jules Verne victory onboard Banque Populaire V and a win in the last Volvo Ocean Race with Dongfeng, it would almost certainly only be a matter of time before opportunity again came knocking. 

A former head of Banque Populaire’s design office who has proven his merit within the organization over more than a decade of working together, it was only fitting when the team announced yesterday that Escoffier would be Armel le Cleac’h’ co-skipper on the soon-to-be-launched Maxi Banque Populaire XI. Expected to launch within the next 1 to 2 months, the team will immediately begin sea-trialing and optimizing the new 32 meter beast before working up to their first major race; this November’s Transat Jacques Vabre.

After the ill-fated Maxi Banque Populaire IX which capsized twice and ultimately met it’s demise while being towed upside down through rough seas, having the experienced engineer, skipper and preparateur Kevin Escoffier onboard will be invaluable during these initial days with the new boat.

Just hours after Banque Pop announced their co-skipper, the conspicuously silent Sodebo team announced that they would also be participating in this November’s Transat Jacques Vabre. Having been reportedly mulling over whether or not to compete in the race or take another crack at that other TJV (the Trophy Jules Verne) again, Thomas Coville and company have now officially announced their participation, once again with co-skipper Jean-Luc Nélias.

The same duo that won the race the last time the Ultimes competed in 2017, Coville and Nélias should make a formidable duo onboard Sodebo Ultim 3, especially after a solid season of sailing and testing which concluded in a failed Trophy Jules Verne attempt this winter. Likewise, their round-the-world sparring partner Maxi Edmond de Rothschild has recently announced their 2021 program which also includes the Transat Jacques Vabre after a spring time re-fit that will include all new foils and appendages.

With Banque Populaire, Edmond de Rothschild and Sodebo, as well as Yves Le Blevec’s Actual Leader 2 (ex-MACIF) all planning to be on the starting line in Le Havre on 7 November, perhaps the biggest question that remains is whether or not M101 will be in attendance or not.

The boat, currently still owned by MACIF and under construction at MerConcept’s facility in Concarneau, is getting close to completion with the port ama arriving from CDK Technologies just yesterday. Reportedly funded through the launch and this summer’s initial sea trials, details from Francois Gabart and MerConcept remain scarce to this point. Likewise, we haven’t heard any news from Francis Joyon and IDEC Sport, nor from the Spindrift syndicate, who is reportedly doing a significant re-fit and modernization to Spindrift 2. – Ronnie Simpson.