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One month ago today, Sunday November 8th, 33 solo racers, 27 men and 6 women, took the start of the ninth Vendée Globe amidst an unprecedented health crisis. Today December 8th presents the ideal opportunity to take stock.

After 30 days of racing a press conference was held this afternoon in the Vendée Globe village, in the presence of Yves Auvinet who is President of the Vendée Globe and the Vendée Department, Lionel Pariset, who is the elected Vendée Globe delegate for the town of Les Sables d'Olonne and Jacques Caraës, the Race Director.

“For the first time in its history, the organization of the Vendée Globe had to face the challenge of a global health crisis. This unprecedented context forced all those involved in the event - organizers, sailors, teams, the public - to adapt so that the start would be given for the 33 competitors ready take on the round-the-world solo, non-stop, without assistance race. Despite these difficulties, the challenge has been met. After a month of racing the review is really excellent”, declared Yves Auvinet.

Today, almost one in two French people (49%) intend to follow the race according to the latest ODOXA - RTL - WINAMAX Barometer: it is better than the Tour de France cycling or Roland Garros!

Start Day, Sunday 8th November

The Start Live broadcast was carried on 41 TV channels (vs. 33 in 2016) and broadcast live in 190 countries (vs. 177 in 2016).

In France the live broadcast was transmitted by 13 broadcasters (vs 10 in 2016) with more than 4.1 million viewers in total watching the start (23% of cumulative audience share), notably on L'Equipe TV, France 3, BFM, and LCI.

Internationally, the race made a big breakthrough with 28 broadcasters (vs. 21 in 2016), notably in Great Britain, Switzerland, Spain, Germany and Japan.

Media coverage has grown significantly: With 192 million contacts generated, the media coverage of the start of the Vendée Globe is equivalent to a purchase of space representing 13.9 million euros with 16,239 articles published.

Digital media was also heavily used at the start with 1.39 million sessions and 5.48 million page views on the website. What is even more striking is that after 1 month of racing numbers are not dropping.

After 1 month of racing: interest in the Vendée Globe continues to grow!

The website, the app (application), social networks and digital platforms are generating much higher traffic than in 2016.

Website traffic:
31.2 million sessions for 1 month (vs 27.8 million for the 1st month in 2016)
170 million page views over the past month (vs. 122 million in 2016 over the 1st month)

Apps:
250K active users at the start and 445K after one month of racing (vs 441k users overall in the 2016 edition)

Digital platforms:

Over the month, 46.5 million cumulative views on Dailymotion, YouTube, Facebook.

After 1 month, the 2020 edition already has over 400,000 more fans than the 2016 edition!

Facebook: 379,426 subscribers (vs. 264,000 in 2016): + 44%
Twitter: 90,500 followers (vs. 54,000 in 2016): + 68%
English Twitter: 10,400 followers (created pre-start 2020)
LinkedIn: 9,520 subscribers (created in 2020)
Instagram: 168,000 subscribers (vs. 23,800 in 2016): + 606%
YouTube: 94,100 subscribers (vs. 12,000 in 2016): + 684%
The Vendée Live show broadcast on Infosport+ has clearly been successful on digital media (Facebook, Dailymotion and YouTube) with on average three times as many viewers as in 2016 (45,000 on average in 2016 / 130,000 on average in 2020).

Newsletter: 200,000 subscribers, or three times as many as in 2016 (66,000 in 2016).

The general public present in spite of lockdown rules and the health crisis

The free e-ticketing system enabled the Vendée Globe to reconcile the health and safety rules with the enthusiasm of the visitors. Between 17th October and 29th October, within the limits set by the health authorities, the village saw 15,000 visitors a day, remembering that only 5000 people were allowed at one time in the Village. In all, 200,000 people visited the Village.

As for the origin of the visitors, 2/3 of them came from the Pays de la Loire Region, with just over 40% of them from Vendée, with 1/3 from the rest of France and 1% from abroad.

Virtual Regatta, a huge success

The success of the virtual race confirms the penetration of the Vendée Globe into homes in France and abroad. 975,000 gamers registered, which is twice as many as four years ago (456,712 gamers in 2016).

The virtual race attracts people from outside of France with almost 20% in foreign countries representing 150 different nationalities, with in particular, people from the United States, Switzerland, the UK and Spain.

Finally, it has been an unprecedented success amongst schoolchildren: 4354 classes are taking part in the Virtual Regatta Academy rankings, which is almost three times as many as in 2016 (1600 classes in 2016).

The Vendée Globe, a genuine educational method for children and teenagers

Developed by the Vendée Department, Vendée Globe Junior offering new fun and educational tools, has been a resounding success. 6000 educational packs have been distributed with an updated website which has new features and this too has been increasingly popular: 2.8 million pages viewed, which is an increase of 373 % in comparison to 2016; 220,000 visitors, or on average 6000 visitors a day.

The race itself: Jacques Caraës, the Race Director, carries out a full appraisal

The composition of the fleet

In comparison to previous editions, and in particular 2016, the racers, in spite of COVID restrictions, have sailed more, and certainly more than four years ago. The selection process that was put in place (number of races and number of miles to cover to qualify) required the competitors to take part in races: The Monaco Globe Series, the Route du Rhum, the Bermudes 1000 Race, the Rolex Fastnet, the Transat Jacques Vabre and the Vendée Arctique les Sables d’Olonne. The boats have been well-prepared, even in the smaller teams. There has been a higher standard of preparation. There are also some highly innovative boats, which had not been tested in every set of conditions, such as in heavy seas sailing downwind. This means we will be able to carry out a thorough appraisal at the end of the race. For the new foilers, the Vendée Globe and the Southern Ocean have been a testing ground. In heavy weather, and in cross seas, the well-prepared traditional boats have managed to keep up a pace close to the foilers, as they are unable to use their foils all the time.

In the South, the chosen trajectory is also very important. The more experienced sailors, even in older boats, have managed to keep up the pace in the group of the 5-10 leading the race. In the end, it appears that the ability of the boats seems to be closer together than expected.

The weather

So far, the weather has not been easy. In the Southern Ocean, there have been some very active systems. The lows tend to deepen and move very rapidly. This has generated very untidy seas with huge waves. This has been a particularly difficult Vendée Globe. In the Northern Hemisphere they did not find the fast sailing they expected in the trade winds. Only the passage through the Doldrums was quicker than usual.

Retirements

Out of the 33 at the start, five boats have been forced out with damage. This is a proportion that is not that surprising unfortunately. We need to remember that the average proportion of boats retiring from the Vendée Globe is around 50%. For the moment, this has chiefly concerned the newer boats.

The gaps and race times

The gaps will perhaps be wider than in previous editions. The leaders are only in the middle of the Indian Ocean. When they enter the Pacific, the gaps will widen, which is hardly surprising. If we compare the oldest boats with the latest generation ones, the differences in speeds are huge, with some achieving almost double the speed of others.

Race times

It is always tricky to talk about a record in the Vendée Globe, as in a race like this one, you do not get to choose your weather opportunities and this means conditions have a major influence on performance. The boats can clearly perform better, but they may not improve on the reference time of 74 days (set by Armel Le Cléac’h, the winner of the last edition). It is still too early to make any predictions.

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One of the outstanding performances of this Vendee Globe so far has been by Louis Burton on Bureau Vallee II who, despite recent auto-pilot problems, is continuing to hold his own in the top-three on the boat that won the last race.

Up ahead of him, the fascinating battle between Thomas Ruyant on Linked Out in second place and Charlie Dalin, one better than him on Apivia, continues, night and day.

Dalin has been leading for 13 days and right now he and Ruyant are contending with wildly gusting winds and confused seas, about 750 miles northwest of the Kerguelen Islands - one of the windiest places on earth.

Of course Ruyant is handicapped by having lost his port foil. But the interesting aspect of the last few days is how steady the gap has been, given this shortcoming for the LinkedOut skipper and the fact that he has mainly been on starboard tack.

Thomas Ruyant is sailing without his port hand foilThomas Ruyant is sailing without his port hand foil

His team management say the key here is that Dalin himself has been having to slow his boat to cope with the sea and wind conditions, allowing Ruyant to stay in touch. The question is how long that can continue and whether Ruyant can remain in contention once the boats start climbing north again in the south Atlantic.

A few days ago Guillaume Verdier, who designed both boats, remarked that while Apivia is an all-rounder, Linked Out has been slightly more optimised for upwind speed and reaching with the Ocean Race in mind.

Marcus Hutchinson, the team manager for LinkedOut says, in reality, the differences are so small they are hard to factor into performance. "The boats are very, very close sisterships," he said. "The most significant differences are only of pencil-thin thickness."

Ireland's Marcus Hutchinson is Thomas Ruyant's team managerIreland's Marcus Hutchinson is Thomas Ruyant's team manager

Hutchinson says Ruyant is effectively sailing on two boats - an IMOCA 60 with a split personality. On one tack it flies, on the other it doesn't, while Dalin - whose foil package is his older V1 set-up - is racing a balanced boat.

"When they change gybes, probably this morning, Thomas will have to learn again how to sail his boat as a foiler," explained Hutchinson, "and without taking too many risks.

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After being rescued from his liferaft six days ago by fellow Vendee Globe competitor Jean Le Cam, PRB skipper Kevin Escoffier was plucked from the Indian Ocean by the French Marine National after jumping clear of his rescuer’s IMOCA 60 in a carefully choreographed manoeuvre early this Sunday morning some 360 nautical miles north of the remote Crozet Islands. Escoffier was quickly taken from a semi-rigid inflatable to board the 93.5 metres long (306ft) 2600 tonne Floréal-class frigate which has a complement of 84 crew.

The mission was accomplished swiftly and without setback around daybreak at 0210hrs this morning (Crozet is +4hrs UTC) Le Cam wished his passenger Escoffier well and continued on his race, lying in sixth position at 396 miles behind leader Charlie Dalin (Apivia) and 15 miles behind fifth-placed Ben Dutreux (OMIA-Water Family).

For his time and miles lost while out of full race mode, Le Cam will be granted a time compensation by the International Jury, as also will Boris Herrmann (Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco) and Yannick Bestaven (Maître Coq) who went to help in the search for Escoffier after his IMOCA suddenly split virtually into two when it buried its nose in a big wave.

Meantime Le Cam’s request for additional food to replace that required to feed shipwrecked Escoffier was granted and the 61-year-old Le Cam who enjoys fine food took a bag containing dry crisprolls, salted butter and fine Henaff Breton pate. Escoffier will be taken back to Reunion Island where the Nivôse is stationed and is due to arrive there next Friday.

Le Cam chuckled “I’m alone again. After two of us being aboard, alone again. Clack-clack-clack. There they go!"

“Kevin is in great shape, he is going to enjoy a hot shower," said Frédéric Barbe, captain of the Nivôse. “And so a great start to a beautiful day!"

At the top of the 29 boat fleet, Charlie Dalin, Thomas Ruyant and Louis Burton all gybed on to the new north-westerly breeze which heralded the arrival of the new, active low-pressure system. Burton had dropped a few miles to Ruyant and Dalin because of autopilot and other unspecified issues but he said today that the seas have evened out after a week of crossed, agitated waves. His autopilot issues had required him to helm his Bureau Vallée for long periods before finally effecting a fix in collaboration with his technical team.

Burton Burnt Out? Not really…..

“I'm pretty burnt out and I admit that I came close to having to abandon". Reported Burton this morning, now recovered to be back up to second, 13 miles ahead of Thomas Ruyant.

“Now the strategy is to try and stay ahead of the front. We are on it early. I have lost a bit of ground so I am not sure where I am but the idea is to go fast and as far as possible on this port gybe and either I manage to stay ahead of this front, which is going to be very strong and which would be good, or it go over us in about two days and then it will be a starboard gybe to just carry on the course. I have not seen the files from midnight, but those are 1800hrs show a transition that did not look great around the Kerguelen Islands. It could be pretty amazing if we can do it all on one tack ahead of the front, but there are going to be quite lot of manoeuvres. What I have to absolutely do is tidy the boat before I get some sleep. Having a mess just leads to more problems, accidents. I am then going to just go as fast as possible. I tell myself that the others must also have issues to deal with and you just have to hang in there.”

Options

Their dilemma, indeed that of all the lead group is a front which arrives next Tuesday, dark red spot on the weather maps yielding 45-50 knots and 7.5 meters wave troughs. Tomorrow they will have to make a choice.

"Either they go through the front and find themselves in the heart of the storm, or they slow down and the front will go faster than them", explains Sébastien Josse, Vendée Globe weather consultant.

Leader Charlie Dalin seems to be taking the more conservative option, as might be expected of a skipper with a 200 mile lead and a boat believed to be still close to 100 per cent of its potential as the fastest, newest most proven foiling boat which has already won last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre. He appeared to already have slowed down today Sunday.

Of this leading group of 11 skippers, all are wondering what to do. "I planned to tack around a bit," said Benjamin Dutreux (OMIA - Water Family), still impressive and keeping up with the race pace.

Some 450 miles further back to the west, smiles are back on the faces of Romain Attanasio and Clarisse Crémer. The 12th and 13th placed skippers – 16 miles apart - are finally finding stronger winds after light airs slowed them (over 15 knots since this morning) and they have had fun chatting on WhatsApp.

Attanasio skipper of PURE-Best Western Hotels & Resorts remarked: “I have really picked up speed. The boat is hitting the waves, there's a hell of a racket and what is good now is that this going to last for five days. When you miss a system and a bit surfing session during a transatlantic race you blame yourself but here on the Vendée Globe you're actually happy as it gives you a bit of a break! "

Respite isn't really on the menu some 600 miles further west. Alan Roura (La Fabrique), Stéphane Le Diraison (Time for Oceans), Armel Tripon (L’Occitane en Provence) and Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline - Artisans Artipôle) cross Cape of Good Hope today in succession after a spell of very light winds. They are seeing a very tough depression descending on them from South Africa from late today. "They will be stuck in front of the AEZ and have to go upwind as long as it does move further south," notes Vendée Globe meteorologist Christian Dumard.

"It is not looking like fun at all it really will not be really easy to manage," confirmed Alan Roura, guest of Vendée Live this afternoon.

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At around 0210hrs UTC at a location in the South Indian Ocean some 360 miles north of the remote Crozet archipelago, Kevin Escoffier (PRB) was successfully transferred from Jean Le Cam's IMOCA to the Nivôse, a French Navy frigate.

Escoffier was dramatically rescued last Monday by fellow Vendée Globe competitor Jean Le Cam after his IMOCA PRB broke in two when it nosedived into a big wave. The 35-year-old skipper from Saint-Malo had spent 11 and a half hours drifting in a liferaft before being picked up by 61-year-old five times Vendée Globe veteran Le Cam.

The evacuation of Escoffier - via a Nivôse rigid inflatable boat - went well, despite the big seas in the area.

Kevin Escoffier (PRB) (right) was successfully transferred from Jean Le Cam's IMOCA to the Nivôse, a French Navy frigateKevin Escoffier (PRB) (right) was successfully transferred from Jean Le Cam's IMOCA to the Nivôse, a French Navy frigate 

And so Jean Le Cam has resumed his race in solo mode. In a message to the Vendée Globe Race Direction, Frédéric Barbe the captain of the Nivôse, wrote: “Kevin is in great shape, he is going to enjoy a hot shower. We are heading for Reunion Island. It is the start of a beautiful day."

Nivôse is a Floréal-class frigate which has 84 sailors on board and its main missions are the surveillance of maritime areas under French sovereignty in the Indian Ocean (Reunion, Mayotte, the French Southern and Antarctic Territories) and the fight against illicit activities at sea. It is based in Port-des-Galets, on the west coast of Réunion island, Nivôse is 93.5 meters long, 14 meters wide and has a displacement of 2,600 tonnes.

Published in Vendee Globe

Each edition of the Vendée Globe, Cape Town, South Africa provides final safe haven for stricken solo racers to retire to, restore their mental equilibrium, to reflect on what should have been and to enjoy the safety and security of terra firma after nursing an injured IMOCA to port.

After nearly seven days and 1,800 miles since he announced his hopes of winning the 2020 Vendée Globe had been terminated by a broken starboard rudder, Alex Thomson arrived in Cape Town this morning. He will be joined over the weekend by the young Vendéen skipper, Sébastien Simon, who also announced he has had to give up the race because of damage to his starboard foil casing and his foil on the Juan K designed ARKEA PAPREC.

Of the 33 IMOCAs which started the race, four have now officially abandoned, CORUM L’Épargne, PRB, HUGO BOSS and ARKEA PAPREC.

Thomson said, “I’m still coming to terms with what’s happened, and I’m obviously utterly devastated that this is how the race has ended for us.”

“But, as I’ve said before, it’s in our toughest moments that we find our greatest strength. Now we have to pick ourselves up and move forwards, and I’ve no doubt that we can do that together as a team. Over the past week or so we’ve been reminded of just how difficult this race is. I’ve said it time and time again but there really is no sporting challenge in the world as tough as the Vendée Globe. I have such admiration for any skipper who takes on this race. My thoughts go out to those who, like us, have had their races cut short. And I wish the remaining skippers a safe passage and a good race. I’ll be watching closely.”

The British skipper has been forced into Cape Town in early December before. His first Vendée Globe ended with his retiral on 7th December 2004 after an area of his coachroof around the mast gave way due to a structural problem. And in 2006 he and Mike Golding arrived in Cape Town on December 3rd 2006 after Golding had dramatically rescued Thomson from his IMOCA in the Southern Ocean after he had to abandon it because his keel had failed. Golding’s mast broke not long after the rescue and the pair had to sail 1000 miles north under jury rig.

Britain’s Sam Davies is making steady progress north under reduced sail nursing her damaged Initiatives Coeur back to sheltered waters and this afternoon was about 80 miles south of Cape Town. After the best sleep since she hit a floating object which has damaged the structure round her keel, Davies admitted that the emotions were suddenly released as she was accompanied on her route by an albatross, “The sun came out too which helps to ease the aches and pains - I went and sat outside in the warm sun. And then suddenly found myself in floods of tears - and this is a bit weird for me, who never cries, to deal with all these emotions. I wasn’t even sure why I was crying - whether it was sadness for my boat and for my place in this race, or relief that my boat and I are safe? Or a mix of all these emotions? I’ve always felt that it’s stupid to cry when you are alone on your boat - nobody’s going to help you or hug you or reassure you so it’s pretty much a waste of time and energy. But at that particular moment I had no control over these emotions. I leant on the coach roof and looked out and there, right there, really close, unusually close, was the most beautiful albatross I have seen, gliding past silently and slowly. He was so close. Normally the albatrosses keep their distance but this was different, as if he could feel my emotion and wanted to help. He stayed close and gave me a wonderful display of effortless flight that was a welcome distraction. They say that albatrosses have the souls of sailors of the past and I can well believe that. I feel like I am being escorted to safety by these amazing creatures and I am grateful for their concern!”

Meantime, yesterday night, Romain Attanasio (Pure-Best Western), Davies’ partner was nervously crossing the exact same zone where she had her collision two days ago and where four years ago he hit something which damaged his rudder, requiring him to repair at anchor off Port Elizabeth.

“I am fully in the zone where Sam and Seb hit their OFNIs and it is exactly the same area as I did four years ago, the same spot same latitude, same longitude it is in the Agulhas current, there are all sorts of things in the water, objects, it is a zone which is a bit critical. I am reaching in quite a big sea and so I am on high alert. I have my eyes on OSCAR as much as possible, this camera system that surveys the route. You can’t see much in the water on the surface. So, it is not easy all this.” said Attanasio.

Conditions are still demanding for the fleet leaders who will shortly be able to angle more to the south east after passing the corner of the Antarctic Exclusion Zone. Led by Charlie Dalin (Apivia) with Louis Burton now just 140 miles behind on Bureau Vallée, they are still all struggling to set a good average speed in the typically big seas and gusty winds. A second, deeper low pressure is set to combine next week to provide very testing conditions which it is most likely the leaders will change their route to avoid.

The top ten now contains a fascinating mix of solo racers, six of them racing in the ‘big south’ for the first time, Charlie Dalin, Yannick Bestaven, Damien Seguin, Benjamin Dutreux. Isabelle Joschke and Giancarlo Pedote and still three non-foiling boats, those of Seguin, Dutreux and Jean Le Cam.

Louis Burton’s attacking force seems relentless, his wife Servane noting today on the Vendée Live English programme, “Louis never stops surprising me, but he has a mind of steel. When he went south he asked me, ‘will you still love me if I screw up?’

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After both hitting floating objects within hours of each other yesterday at the gateway to the Indian Ocean and sustaining damage to their IMOCAs the emotion in the voices of both Sébastien Simon and Sam Davies was a stark reminder of the cruel fates which are randomly dealt to even the best prepared and smartest Vendée Globe skippers.

Both are heading north towards South Africa out of the worst of the strong winds and big seas, sailing slowly north to shelter and assess their possibilities of repair. “I want to be able to continue my Vendée Globe”, said Simon, the 30-year-old from Les Sables d’Olonne who won La Solitaire du Figaro in 2018, close to tears. He has constant water ingress from around his foil box, while Davies damaged the longitudinal framing which supports the keel of Initiatives Coeur.

I hit something

She reported: “I was sailing at speeds between 15 and 22kts and I was actually just making a hot meal after the gybe and doing the stack and everything and it was just starting to get dark. I hit something. I did not see anything. I did not know what it was. It was pretty much dark when it happened. But it was as if I had run aground on a rock at the time. The boat speed went from 20kts to zero. The boat nosedived on the impact with the keel. I knew it was the keel. I heard a crack coming from there. I and everything else flew forwards, including my dinner which has repainted the entire inside of my boat. Everything moved. I went flying into a ring frame, luckily, because that could have been worse. It was really violent. But luckily, I have just hurt some ribs. It is not serious but really painful. But I stopped the boat, dropped the main, and went to check around the keel, the bearings and the bulkhead. The bulkhead, the main bearing bulkheads (which support the keel box) are intact as far as I can see. The keel bearings are intact. The longitudinal structure around the keel box is all cracked. That has taken the shock of the impact of when the boat moved, that is cracked on both sides.”

Vendée Globe Race Director a renowned former ocean racer Jacques Caraës empathised with the duo today. He explains: “Usually when you get to the gateway to the Indian Ocean, you go into another world, in another mode. You are reserved and back off. You have a more conservative attitude. Because the Deep South is a long tunnel, there is no other solution than to go to the end. And the exit is Cape Horn. There aren’t many safe havens. Psychologically, under these circumstances, it's hard."

Louis Burton in Second

Given the tenacity of his attack since arriving in the Roaring Forties, prepared to push his boat hard and work closer to the centre of the Southern Ocean low pressure systems, it is in retrospect maybe that Louis Burton jumping the Vendée Globe start gun back on Sunday November 8th shows a foretaste of what the 35-year-old from Saint Malo’s mindset is on this race.

Indeed, right now Burton, who is competing on his third Vendée Globe, might seem to have more in common with Alex Thomson than just Welsh roots. (Thomson was born in Cardiff, Burton’s father is Welsh and was formerly newspaper editor). Married to Servane Escoffier whose cousin is PRB’s Kevin Escoffier, Louis Burton is on his third Vendée Globe. He had to retire early in the 2012 race when he hit a fishing boat off the Portuguese coast and sustained damage to the rig of his IMOCA. He returned in 2016-17 and finished a solid sixth, sailing much of his race in relative isolation, but always sailing smart, smooth courses and looking after his boat.

And, like Thomson, Burton eschews training groups, the French ‘Pôles’, and so prefers to prepare in isolation with his tight-knit group of technical experts from his base in Saint Malo.

Near miss

Remarkably Parisian bred Burton, who went to the Breton Glenans sailing institution as a 15-year-old already served out seven hours of penalties early in this race, five hours sin-binned for jumping the start gun and a further two for a prop sealing incident, where his team did not send the required photo as directed. He also reported a near miss with another unmarked, fishing boat which had no AIS.

Looking relaxed and wearing a big smile Burton reported from his Bureau Vallée 2 that “conditions are a bit complicated and not very stable. There are periods of calm allowing me to get more sail back up and the speed up. I have to do a lot of gybes in heavy seas. I did one during the night with 45 knots of wind, so have to be very careful. The sea is nasty but apart from the sea state it’s not too bad. It’s nice to be in this position in the Indian Ocean. The advantage is that it allows me to manage things and watch what is going on with the other boats behind me.”

Davies and Simon are the latest victims of floating objects in the water. So, what might be the reasons for these multiple collisions with objects? Alex Thomson said in his final message that he thought it was discarded or lost fishing gear that knocked out his rudder. Ice is very unlikely as there is normally no ice drifting north of the AEZ (Antarctic Exclusion Zone) and Race Direction has recently confirmed again by email the positions of ice and it is all very much in the south.

But in the area south of the Cape of Good Hope the mixing sea currents stir up billions of tons of seawater, warm coming south from the Indian Ocean sliding along the coast of Mozambique and cold waters coming up from the Antarctic meaning a proliferation of sea mammals feeding. And it is very busy area for commercial shipping traffic. The seas are often very big, confused and chaotic due to the Agulhas current which throws up occasional rogue waves that can carry many containers and other material into the sea.

Le Cam Rendezvous with French Frigate

Caraës explained today of the plan for Yes We Cam! to rendezvous with the French frigate Nivôse is a Floréal-class frigate which is on duty in the Southern Ocean. The plan is very much weather dependent as well as contingent on Jean Le Cam’s decision on any required detour.

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Since 2008, CLS, Official Supplier of ice data for the Vendée Globe, has been using technologies and satellites designed and deployed by CNES (French National Center for Space Studies) and ESA (European Space Agency) to detect icebergs threatening the skippers' route.

This year, a dozen satellites, including Sentinels 1 and 3, and no less than 300 radar images will be used to detect these UFOs (Unidentified Floating Objects) that haunt any sailor sailing in the southern seas.

CLS radar imagery analysts have detected around 20 questionable icebergs in about 50 images in the Crozet and Kerguelen area of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF). Faced with these doubts, the Vendée Globe race management, after consulting with CLS teams, did not hesitate to raise the Antarctic Exclusion Zone by 5 degrees further north, lengthening this safety cordon by more than 400km.

The Antarctic Exclusion Zone is a virtual zone where the skippers are forbidden to sail under risk of encountering these icy monsters, a crossing that could endanger their safety but also cost them penalties.

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British Vendee Globe skipper Sam Davies informed her team that her IMOCA Initiatives-Coeur had struck a floating object at around 1900hrs UTC yesterday evening.

She is heading north this morning at reduced speed and will inspect her boat to assess the damage and discuss actions with her team.

Sam Davies is unhurt, according to official reports.

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Given that the Vendée Globe fleet started on Sunday 8th November in Les Sables d’Olonne with a record-sized fleet of 33 IMOCAs and there are still, technically, 31 tracked on the race course, it is not entirely unexpected to have no fewer than nine boats (and ten skippers) cross the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope today. But this is a unique, unprecedented statistic for a unique and ever more engaging edition of the solo non-stop round the world race.

Passing at 0230hrs UTC this Wednesday morning in fourth place was Sébastien Simon on ARKEA PAPREC. The 30-year-old Les Sablais skipper has been showing good speeds in recent days on the 2020 Juan K design. But no sooner was he into the Indian Ocean than he reported substantial damage to his starboard foil and its casing after hitting an object in the water at 0820hrs UTC this morning.

Water ingress

Simon slowed the boat which had some unspecified amount of water ingress, and had stabilised the situation, this afternoon making between eight and 12kts on port gybe racing towards the back of a low pressure system.

After ARKEA PAPREC crossed Good Hope the IMOCAs passed Good Hope like buses, Germany’s Boris Herrmann (Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco) at 1hr 4min after Simon, Jean Le Cam (Yes We Cam!) crossed 1hr 17 min after the German skipper, then Damien Seguin (Groupe Apicil) 42mins later, Yannick Bestaven (Maitre Coq IV) 3hrs 09mins after, Benjamin Dutreux (OMIA-Water Family) 1hr 50 mins later, Giancarlo Pedote (Prysmian Group) 2hrs 12 mins later, then came Sam Davies (Initiatives Coeur) 1hr 50m later. Isabelle Joschke (MACSF) crossed 1hr 4mins after Davies.

Confidence to attack

The proven reliability of the 2016-17 race winning boat, now Bureau Vallée 2, and the desire and confidence to attack hard seem to be the key to Louis Burton’s progress up the leaderboard. So far he has routed south, closer to the ice exclusion zone and so sailing less miles but always in stronger winds and bigger seas. The 35-year-old from Saint-Malo was seventh on the last edition of the race, blessed with a passage through the southern oceans mostly in relatively benevolent conditions thanks to a high-pressure system which he rode for weeks.

President of France

Rescued Kevin Escoffier and rescuer Jean Le Cam were called by Skype onboard Yes We Cam! by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron who congratulated Le Cam on his seamanship, saying,

“I was reassured by the news. I am a fan of Jean’s. So I wanted to say hats off to him. We are extremely proud of Kevin and you and for the whole ‘family’ and of what you did.” Said Macron

It is still planned to drop Kevin Escoffier on a French navy frigate the Nivose which could rendezvous with Yes We Cam near the Crozet or Kerguelens but this has not yet been confirmed by the authorities. If not it might be New Zealand before Escoffier could be taken off.

For all that the latest generation of high speed foiling IMOCAs are designed for top speeds of more than 30kts, now racing in the steep, short seas of the Indian Ocean, race leader Charlie Dalin has been through his biggest storm to date and today said he is having to learn how to slow his boat and manage it.

“ I am discovering something I have never had to do before.” said Dalin, “ I have to un-trim, detune my boat. I feel now 50% of the time I am trying to trim the sails and the foils and keel to go faster, and 50% of the time I am de-tuning the boat. I find myself looking for the brake pedal. The sea state in the Indian Ocean is really what is limiting my speed. Sometimes the boat accelerates in the surf and we go to 28-30kts and you don’t know how it is going to end. It is a really weird to way to think, ‘I have this wind strength, this wind angle is this and I have these sails up, and I have the foil set like this, but if I change all these settings I should slow the boat down, and slow the boat down.' I never had to do this before in my racing career.”

Lead of over 250 miles

With a lead of over 250 miles, Dalin admitted today he no longer routes his rivals, Burton tracking 165 nautical miles south of third-placed Ruyant, not because he doesn’t care but he considers it wasted energy when they are in different wind regimes, “ I have stopped routing them. Entirely. I have voluntarily stopped taking the GRIB files back to Thomas. I cannot do that. I don’t want to know what conditions he is going to have. There is not much point. We have different weather systems, we are a bit more than 12 hours apart, so there is not much point. I focus on my race, my course. And we will see how it turns out. I have given up. I don’t find it useful to do this.”

Published in Vendee Globe
Tagged under

After being rescued from his liferaft by fellow Vendée Globe competitor Jean Le Cam in big seas and strong winds the early hours of this morning some 840 nautical miles South West of Cape Town, South Africa, Kevin Escoffier has been recovering on board Le Cam’s appropriately named IMOCA 60 Yes We Cam!

The 40-year-old solo sailor, a member of a well known Saint Malo sailing family, had to abandon his IMOCA 60 PRB, within what he later estimated to be two minutes when his boat virtually broke in two after burying its nose in a wave while racing in five metre waves and 25 knot South Westerly winds. Escoffier only had time to grab his survival suit before being washed off the boat and clambering into his liferaft which automatically inflated.

Veteran 61-year-old Jean Le Cam, racing on his fifth Vendée Globe, answered the request of Race Direction to divert to try and pick up Escoffier whose boat’s emergency beacon had been activated at 1346hrs UTC.

When he arrived in the area some two hours later he located Escoffier in his liferaft but was then unable to manoeuvre and prepare properly to effect a rescue on time before losing sight of the liferaft in the big seas, strong winds and growing darkness.

Race Direction in Les Sables d’Olonne diverted three other skippers, Germany’s Boris Herrmann (Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco), Yannick Bestaven (Maître CoQ IV) and Sébastien Simon (ARKEA PAPREC) and drew up a search protocol using Meteo France’s MOTHY ( (Modèle Océanique de Transport d'HYdrocarbures) drift prediction programme and engaged the three solo skippers in a triangle search pattern. They had intermittent distress beacon signals which appeared to follow no pattern.

But it was only when he was directed close to a locator beacon position which coordinated with the predicted drift pattern that Le Cam spotted a reflected beam of light bouncing off a wave that he realised he had finally located Escoffier again. He plucked him from the liferaft at 0118hrs UTC this morning.

It was only when the two suddenly appeared together on a Skype video call which had been running constantly from Le Cam’s boat to a monitor in the Les Sables d’Olonne HQ that Race Direction suddenly realised the mission had been successful and Escoffier had been rescued.

A world renowned ocean racer may have been on only his second ever solo IMOCA race but Escoffier has won the crewed Volvo Ocean Race in 2018 on the Dongfeng team and was part of a successful Trophée Jules Verne round the world in 2012. He was key technical director of Armel Le Cléac’h Vendée Globe winning programme on the 2016-17 race.

Smiling and relieved as he spoke to the Vendée Globe English Live from on board Le Cam’s Yes We Cam he said:

“I’m doing pretty well, pretty well, much better than last night. Which I spent in a very bad bed and breakfast (laughing). It’s still hard for me to believe it, to believe that I broke the boat inside the wave at 90 degrees. I should have taken a picture for people to believe me. Just after the wave, the bow was pointing at 90 degrees from the stern of the boat, and all the water was coming forward. The water level inside rose very fast and I had a very short time to decide what to do.

“After, well then I’ve been thinking about getting on the life-raft and if I should have waited. But it’s done, it’s done. Should I have been trying to stay a bit longer on the boat? It might have been better for people to find me but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to stay the night on the boat. Because the water that was already above the deck level it was too dangerous. I was better in the life raft.”

“It’s unbelievable what happened. The boat folded up on a wave at 27 knots. I heard a bang, but to be honest, I didn’t need to hear that to know what had happened. I looked at the bow. It was at 90°. In a few seconds, there was water everywhere. The stern was under water and the bow was pointing up to the sky. The boat split in half in front of the mast bulkhead. It was as if she folded up. I promise. I’m not exaggerating. There was an angle of 90° between the stern and the bow.

“I didn’t have time to do anything. I just had time to send a message to my team. I’m sinking I’m not joking. MAYDAY. Between the moment when I was out on deck trimming the sails and when I found myself in my survival suit, barely two minutes had passed. It all happened extremely quickly.”

“I came out of the boat and put on my survival suit. I could see smoke. The electronics were burning. Everything went off. My only reflex was to grab my telephone to send the message and pick up the survival suit which I never stow away. I wanted to pick up the grab bag, but I couldn’t get to it with the water rising. I grabbed the liferaft at the stern. I couldn’t get into it as it was three metres under the water. The water was up to the door in the cockpit.”

He continued, “For me I was going to stay the whole night in the life raft, that was what I was thinking, it was okay for me, it was safer to switch from one to the other with less winds and less waves. I spent the night quite well, I mean I wasn’t comfortable, but in my head it was better, I was sure that the day after someone would be coming with less winds and less waves, and then I’d be able to get from the life raft to the boat. I had a bit of trouble sleeping during the night, I had been eating a bit and drinking the water I had on board. Close to the morning I heard a sail flapping so I got out, had my head out of the life raft and I saw it wasn’t dark anymore because of the moon, even with no sun we were able to see very well and I saw Jean just above me, at 100/200 metres from me, I asked him ‘Now, we’re doing it now?” and he said ‘Yes yes let’s do it now’ and he told me ‘I will come against you’ he wanted to have his boat parallel to the life raft but he was a bit too fast and it was 5 metres away, I don’t know exactly, where he threw me a line with a buoy at the end which I caught. And both of us pulled it to get the life raft as close as possible to his boat, and when I was close enough I jumped and caught the back of the boat.

“He said ‘Are you on board, are you on board Kevin??!’ he was very happy.

I said, ‘Yes I am on, I’m sorry to disturb your race, Jean.’ We had a big hug."

Race direction have discussed a plan to evacuate Escoffier on to the French Navy’s Nivôse a Floréal-class frigate at the Kerguelen Islands but this has yet to be confirmed by the authorities.

Meanwhile, the International Jury will convene in the next few days to discuss time compensations for the skippers whose races were put in parenthesis while they were engaged in the rescue mission. This process takes into account not only the actual time lost when the sailors were away from their race route, but also any significant changes in their racing conditions – wind and routing- caused by the delay.

Charlie Dalin continues to lead the race by 218 miles from Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) who crossed the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope at 1341hrs UTC. He was 14 hours and 30 minutes after Dalin’s passage last night. Louis Burton – who is Escoffier’s cousin by marriage – now lies third on Bureau Vallée 2.

Published in Vendee Globe
Tagged under
Page 5 of 21
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