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On a chill, grey November afternoon a drawn and disappointed Jérémie Beyou was touched by the size and warmth of the welcome afforded to the French Vendee Globe skipper on his premature return to Les Sables d’Olonne with his damaged Charal.

Forced to return 600 miles back to the start port after his IMOCA was damaged on the third day of racing, hundreds of local fans turned out to see the 44-year-old return down the famous channel. At a brief, carefully choreographed, distanced reunion with selected media, Beyou made it clear he wants to return to the race course if the damage to his boat can be 100% repaired.

“If technically it can be done, the plan is to go. That is the objective.” Stated an emotional Beyou beside his black and silver hulled Charal. “I really want to go, that is not the issue, I want to maintain this frame of mind. I will be 3,000 miles behind so it is no longer a race, but we will see.”

Underlining the urgency to have the boat ready as quickly as possible there was a diver in the water as the IMOCA docked to evaluate the underwater surfaces following the strike by a floating object, the cockpit was quickly covered to facilitate the composite repairs required and the damaged rudder was quickly removed.

“I am convinced that we will try and fix it, but the devil is in the detail. I see that everyone is here. The designers, the builders, all the experts and shore team will collaborate and so we will know within 24 hours. Then we will take a decision.”

The start line closes on Wednesday 18th at 1420hrs, ten days after last Sunday’s start.

“Stopping was brutal for me.” He recalled, his voice shaking at the memory.

“I hope Jeremy re-starts and I hope it is good for him. You just never know on this race.” Commented Mike Golding on the Vendée Globe LIVE show today. Golding was dismasted hours into the 2000-2001 race and restarted a week behind the fleet going on to finish seventh, setting several records in the Southern Ocean, some of which still stand today.

Foilers To Stretch?

At the top of the fleet Jean Le Cam (Yes We Cam!) still holds the lead by 21 nautical miles from Alex Thomson (HUGO BOSS) as the pair open the route into the Ne’ly trade winds.

“Everything is good on board with Alex. He has been resting a bit. He was quite happy through the low (Theta) really. He has seen plenty of big winds before, 50,60 knots, and so if there is a gain to be made he will go there. I think we will start to see the foilers dominate now a bit more. With the winds around 100 degrees true they should be quick for the next 4-5 days.” Commented Ross Daniels, Alex Thomson Racing’s Technical Director this afternoon.

Located furthest to the west, Charlie Dalin (Apivia) was the first to gybe followed by Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) and Kevin Escoffier (PRB). 150 miles to the southeast of them, Le Cam and Thomson gybed early in the afternoon on to a more favourable angle and more wind, and therefore a slightly more direct course.

“It's going to be a long gybe straight into the doldrums and the foilers, who haven't yet had the chance to show their potential, will finally be able to do it. We should fly" Thomas Ruyant added on Vendée Live, “We will get good reaching angles and start to accelerate."

But vigilance will be required, explains Sébastien Josse, with three Vendée Globe's under his belt: "It will not be a cruise with the force of the wind - 20 to 25 knots - and on the crossover of a sail choice between Code 0 and fractional gennaker."

Mainsail Damage For Kojiro

In the middle of the afternoon Kojiro Shiraishi’s DMG Mori Global One team reported a rip at the top of the Japanese skipper’s mainsail and damaged battens. After a gybe to exit the Theta depression, Shiraishi, 19th at 3pm, suffered an autopilot malfunction. During a 3rd gybe, his mainsail tore above the 2nd batten. His team commented: "The skipper is not injured and the boat is not in danger. We will be offering different solutions to repair the mainsail and continue the race."

Meantime the peloton has raced off and left a group of competitors in next to no wind, Ari Huusela (Stark), Miranda Merron (Campagne de France), Alexia Barrier (TSE - 4myplanet), Clément Giraud (Compagnie du Lit / Jiliti), Sébastien Destremau (Merci) and Armel Tripon (L'Occitane en Provence). "The corridor of wind between the depression and the front above has narrowed down, and they are in the heart of a windless zone and behind thate there is not much with either.” Christian Dumard, the Vendée Globe meteorologist explained.

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Passing the Azores, some 100 miles to the east of São Miguel island, Britain’s Alex Thomson leads the Vendée Globe fleet this afternoon on Hugo Boss. He moved south away from his closest rivals on the water early this morning, choosing a time when he thought they would be at their most tired, perhaps resting, to slide away.

Pacing himself against the newest generation of foilers like his HUGO BOSS, he is 13 miles up on Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) and Charlie Dalin (Apivia) as the lead group slide south on the western side of a low-pressure system, described today as a ‘baby low’ when compared with tropical low Theta which lies in wait for them from tomorrow Friday.

Five days into the race and the head of the fleet comprises a slightly unexpected mix of the latest foilers intertwined with older generation non-foiling boats, such as sailed by the wily 61-year-old Jean Le Cam on his fifth Vendée Globe and lying second to Thomson who is also on his fifth race.

Thomson has been no stranger to adversity over his 16 years chasing his holy grail, victory in the Vendée Globe. And so his message of solidarity today for French title favourite Jérémie Beyou, who had to U turn back to Les Sables d’Olonne with rig and rudder damage yesterday, came from the heart.

Dealing with his shattered ambitions of winning, founded on a four-year plan which included building a state of the art foiler Charal, launched one year ahead of the rest of the new boats, he spoke to the French media on a recording for the Vendée Globe LIVE show. Beyou’s pain was palpable today.

Beyou is expected to reach Les Sables d’Olonne on Saturday. His team will make an immediate evaluation of the repairs required and ensure they have the logistics in place.

Repairing man and machine

Sébastien Destremau has survived the stormy hours on his IMOCA MERCI, which he struggled to have ready on time for last Sunday’s race start. Last night, exhausted from the first few days he fell asleep and spent several hours asleep inside the boat heading northwards. His day was then spent tinkering on the deck and climbing the mast to untangle twisted halyards. The list of minor technical issues grows as sailors check the condition of their boats. Maxime Sorel also climbed the mast to retrieve a halyard.

After jumping the start gun last Sunday by a matter of seconds, Louis Burton completed his five hours penalty last night, losing more than 70 miles in the process. In addition to that the skipper from Saint Malo has had to mop up litres of oil (coming from his keel cylinder) spilled inside his boat before grabbing the grinder to repair a small crack on his bulkhead.

All of the skippers have been making sure they are rested as tomorrow morning they will have to tackle the big tropical depression Theta which blocks their way.

Theta, the 29th tropical depression of the year

It is front of mind for all the sailors. It's a big red ball sitting right in the middle of the map. The solo sailors will have to pass round it to the west. Those who come in too close could be severely punished, because this subtropical depression contains winds of 50 to 60 knots and waves of 6 meters. It’s name is Theta. And this is the 29th tropical depression of the year, a record in fact. Tropical and subtropical depressions are named after the letters of the alphabet, and with 21 letters from the Latin alphabet now passed, we switch to the Greek alphabet. Theta is the 8th.

“ Everyone has their own goal. For four years my life has been focused on trying to win the Vendée Globe. I’ve been giving it my all.” Beyou said, “ So when it suddenly comes to an end, it hits you hard. That’s why it took me so long before deciding to turn back. I could have taken the decision earlier, as dealing with the front meant there was collateral damage. It doesn’t feel good waking up to this.

Earlier in the day before the wind got up, the attachment holding the headsail clew came away. That damaged the bulkhead and ripped through the deck. While I was inspecting that, I saw a hole in the rudder that was half up but I told the team that I could cope. I went through the front, tacked and then the runner exploded after losing the gear at the top of the mast a few hours before. The runner was the final straw, so I changed route and turned back.

I haven’t seen what’s been going on around me for four years. My Dad was taken to hospital with a stroke a week before the start. I missed out on all that. So now, I’ll be bringing the boat home and dealing with that too.” Jérémie Beyou - Charal

Thomson, who as he noted today is ‘two from four’ for Vendée Globe starts and finishes, said,

“It is terrible news, and nobody would wish that on anybody, Jérémie has worked harder than anybody probably. He has done an extra year with his boat. He has a great team, a great technical director, he has done it all and he amazed the world when he brought Charal out. He was the first one flying in the sky, so I am devastated for him. I know myself how hard it is to pick yourself up and particularly going back to Les Sables d’Olonne and racing all on your own. But I am sure he will make the right decision. It will probably be governed by the damage and how long it takes to fix it. I guess the worst thing to do would be to set off in the knowledge that you can't do a proper 100 per cent repair and then you are on your own in the Southern Ocean. I feel for him, I feel for his team, I feel for the sponsors. Unfortunately, that is a thing that happens in this race. I am two out of four myself. I hate the feeling. I hate seeing it happen to someone else, particularly Jeremie.” Alex Thomson - Hugo Boss

“I'm glad I got off the ridge yesterday and I’m happy with my placement, not too north and not too south. At the moment we’re going around a small depression that is forming ahead of us, going around it from the north. There are four of us in this small group. There is a little more wind than what was forecast, it's moving pretty fast here! On the horizon is Theta, the tropical depression which is very strong. It will be the last big obstacle to deal with before we get a taste of the trade winds.

I was in the leading group yesterday evening and for part of the night. So much the better! It means things are going well for me. For the moment, I don't have a lot of worries and I hope I won't have any by saying so. I hope it lasts! I'm trying to find my rhythm between going fast and preserving the boat, space out the manoeuvres to avoid any risks. Since the beginning, we've been in pretty difficult conditions, we haven't yet been able to really use the potential of the foilers. I hope that once Theta has passed, we'll be able to take advantage of more favourable conditions to use the foils. I'm constantly restricting myself, braking in order to save my boat for later, but also to save myself up because the Vendée Globe is long! But I don't have both feet on the brakes for too long. Concerning Jérémie Beyou's damage, well I know all too well the commitment that our projects require – for the skipper, the team, the partners…It's years of work, of deliberation, and it's certainly something we wouldn’t wish on anyone. My stomach turned to knots when I heard the news. My heart goes out to Jérémie and his team." Charlie Dalin - Apivia

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The Vendee Globe Race has finally started to get serious after several days of faffing around in flukey winds off northwest Spain and Portugal in conditions so volatile that last night they'd a messy frontal system going through to provide everything from flat calm to 50-knot gusts in the space of half an hour. But now with the weather pattern becoming clearer with a low pressure area to the south of them moving west-east to pass between Madeira and the Canaries, the challenge is to place yourself northwest of this system in favourable winds.

This means that getting well west was the Number One priority for those who thought more in terms of strategy rather then tactics, and none did this more assiduously than Thomas Ruyant with the new foiler LinkedOut, whose shore manager is Marcus Hutchinson of Kinsale. At times LinkedOut was showing a best overall placing of third in her sometimes very solitary progress southwestward, while others took the short term gain of working local winds relatively close inshore off Cape Finisterre.

None did this more assiduously than Maxime Sorel with the veteran daggerboard boat V & B Mayenne, and he did it so successfully that for a day he was showing repeatedly as the overall leader. There's an enormous irony in this, as one of V & B Mayennne's previous manifestations was as Souffle du Nord, which was of course Ruyant's entry in the 2016-17 Vendee. She was doing very well in that, but was invalided out into New Zealand in a decidedly separational state. However, nothing daunted, she was re-glued with Kiwi ingenuity and finished back in Les Sables-d'Olonne on St Patrick's Day 2018 as Enda O'Coineen's Team Ireland Souffle du Nord, and soon afterwards was sold to Maxime Sorel.

Enda O Coineen's Team Ireland Souffle du Nord in 2018. Re-incarnated as Maxim Sorel's V & B MayenneEnda O Coineen's Team Ireland Souffle du Nord in 2018. Re-incarnated as Maxim Sorel's V & B Mayenne, she was showing as overall leader in the current Vendee Globe for more than a day

Thus while the hot favourites were trying either to keep a middle course as per former Crosshaven schoolboy Alex Thomson (his dad was a helicopter pilot out of Cork Airport at the time) with Hugo Boss, while Ruyant stayed doggedly further west, there was the old Souffle du Nord to the eastward staying persistently at the top of the leaderboard even if, like all good things, it was just too good to last.

The long-expected meandering front came in with so much peculiarity in in that at one stage it was shaping up to form a completely new low pressure area, which put everybody's strategy haywire for a while. But as things have been settling down today, there are certain boats of very sharp performance starting to emerge at the top of the leaderboard.

Thus now, four days after the gun was fired, we can finally say the Vendee Globe has really started - we have a race rather than a lottery. And it's Kinsale up against Crosser as they start facing up to the next tactical decision of whether or not to cut through among the eastern islands of the Azores, because staying on the right (or rather top left) side of that low is paramount.

And it's certainly time to get a move on. Yesterday afternoon, three days after the start, they still had to pass the point which Armel le Cleac'h with Banque Populaire had put astern after just two days in 2016 when he set the 74 day record which the stars reckon could be brought below 70 days this time round, and 60 was theoretically possible.

"The Kinsale Boat" – Thomas Ruyant's LinkedOut shortly after the start"The Kinsale Boat" – Thomas Ruyant's LinkedOut shortly after the start.

For now, though, it's definitely Game On with Alex Thomson in Hugo Boss first at 18.4 knots, Benjamin Dutreux second but only showing 11.1 knots, Thomas Ruyant still well west of Thomson and showing 16.9 knots in third place with LinkedOut, and Charlie Dalin right beside him with near-sister Apivia in 4th place at 15.1 knots.

Tracker linked here

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One of the Vendee Globe race favourites Jérémie Beyou is returning to the start port with rudder damage on his new IMOCA 60 yacht.

After last night reporting damage to one of his rudders having hit an object in the water and making a temporary repair, this morning a complete check of the boat has revealed the damage to be worse than it was believed. Beyou and his team, therefore, made the decision to head to Les Sables d'Olonne.

Third in the 2016, Vendee Globe, 44-year-old Beyou retired from both the 2012 and 2008 circumnavigations.

After suffering a succession of problems including rudder damage and a broken backstay after three days of racing, Beyou is more than 600 nautical miles from the French port where the solo, non-stop round the world race started last Sunday afternoon. He is expected back in Les Sables d’Olonne late on Friday. The race rules leave the start line open for ten days since the start, so until Wednesday 18th November at 1420hrs.

At 0915hrs this morning Vendée Globe Race Direction contacted Charal's team manager, Vincent Beyou, after noticing a change of course of Beyou’s black IMOCA on their race tracking system.

A few minutes later the team manager confirmed the solo skipper Jérémie Beyou had made the tough decision to turn around towards Les Sables d'Olonne.

Beyou, 44, third on the last edition of the Vendée Globe, was widely considered among the favourites to win, not least a key rival for British skipper Alex Thomson.

The French solo racer, launched his boat earliest of the newest generation of foiling IMOCA 60s and most recently confirmed his favourite status when he won the Vendée Arctique Les Sables warm up course in June.

The Charal team issued the following statement: “After an ideal start to the Vendée Globe being in the leading pack after two days of racing, Jérémie Beyou suffered problems on Tuesday afternoon."

Technical Director of the Charal Sailing Team, Pierre-François Dargnies details: “It started around 2pm on Tuesday when a sheet block tore off, which sprayed carbon all over the cockpit. Jérémie had to do a little repair, he got in the boat to get it all set up, and while he was inside the boat he hit something. In so doing the boat gybed it ended up on the other side. He then realized that the starboard rudder was damaged. He decided to wait for the passage of the front in last night to start the repairs on the rudder. He tacked this morning while waiting for the sunrise to be able to tackle this repair, but after a few hours later the starboard backstay (cable that supports the mast from the rear) broke suddenly, probably because the sheet block is quite close, beside backstay and the carbon shards must have sheared it."

After discussions with his team Beyou therefore took the decision this Wednesday morning to return to Les Sables d'Olonne to repair as quickly as possible: "With a torn off sheet block base, a damaged rudder, knowing that it is possible that the foil might also have been hit, and a broken runner-uphaul that is quite a bit for the third day of the race”, adds Pierre-François Dargnies who has put in place the logistics necessary to receive the IMOCA Charal, expected back in Les Sables d 'Olonne Friday at the end of the day.

"The ETA will depend on the speed and routing as long as he is on the port tack, as is currently the case he can go at more or normal speed, but on the starboard side, since he has no backstay he will have to go quite slowly. The good thing is that it is mostly downwind. As for the repairs, we have a spare rudder, so that's not a problem, and for the rest, everything will depend on the exact extent of the damage, we will obviously do everything to repair the boat in the best possible way, meet the deadlines to allow our skipper to leave ”.

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The Royal Ocean Racing Club in London has released a special edition of its Time Over Distance video series with Louay Habib talking to Alex Thomson just days before Alex and HUGO BOSS started the 2020 Vendee Globe.

This is Alex Thomson's fifth race and having come second last time, Hugo Boss is one of the favourites.

The interview was recorded live with Alex exploring the physical and mental strength required for the race, plus details of the radical IMOCA 60 design and the cutting-edge technology on board.

Published in RORC

Heading west this afternoon and encountering building winds, Vendee Globe skippers of the many of the faster-foiling IMOCAs are preparing themselves for an overnight pounding, set to last five or six hours, when they punch through an active weather front which is forecast to bring them 40-knot gusts and big seas.

The reward for looking after their boats and themselves as best they can tonight will be some faster, albeit bumpy miles in a more direct, southerly direction.

While 30-year-old Les Sables d’Olonne hometown favourite Benjamin Dutreux tops the afternoon classifications due to his more southerly position, some 50 miles north-west of the Ria de Vigo on the Galician coast, so also Nico Troussel on the new Juan K IMOCA Corum L’Épargne has broken from the other foiler and taken this southerly option which is considered to be safer.

Dutreux on OMIA-Water Family (which was built in Cowes as BT), Troussel, Maxime Sorel (V and B – Mayenne) and Jean Le Cam have led a southerly pack inside the Cape Finisterre TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme no go area).

Troussel’s option may be related to taking a more conservative safe option, sailing more miles but with the benefit of less severe winds, to safeguard his boat which is in its first race. But the 46-year old double La Solitaire du Figaro champion was renowned in the world of the Figaro for taking flyers away from the fleet and often coming out smelling of roses. Such gambles and big gains gave rise to rise to the expression ‘doing a Troussel’.

Troussel was lying fourth on the afternoon standings, almost 100 miles south-east of rivals Jérémie Beyou (Charal), Charlie Dalin (Apivia) and the hard-driving Kevin Escoffier on the older PRB who is just seven and a half miles off Beyou’s leeward quarter.

The worst of the conditions will be tonight between 0200hrs and 0300hrs for this foiling peloton with average windspeeds above 30kts and gusts over 40, but by the morning they should be able to tack into the NW’ly wind and make faster miles down the track, albeit still in bumpy seas.

Nothing comes easily on the Vendée Globe and after breaking across a ridge of high pressure the next big question for this group especially will be dealing with Theta, a tropical storm which crosses their path between Thursday and Friday (13th!). Routings today show a possible timing which would allow these quickest boats to pass the west side of it in the NW’ly wind, but this system is evolving rapidly and being caught in its path is worth avoiding.

After that, the tradewinds are still not established and current timings to the equator are some three days behind the record of 9 days 7 hours set by Alex Thomson who led the 2016 race across into the south Atlantic.

“You have to be wise. This is not where the Vendée Globe is won, but this is where it can get lost,” says Damien Seguin on the Vendée Live program this midday. The Paralympic champion was speaking after diving to free a fishing net which was caught on the keel of his boat. Meantime Arnaud Boissières successfully scaled the mast of his La Mie Caline to free his halyard hook and release his trapped gennaker, a welcome relief for the Les Sables d’Olonne skipper on his fourth successive Vendée Globe.

Having had a composite expert add an additional pad and repair the hairline crack at the top of his mast Fabrice Amedeo is expected to head back out to restart at the Nouch buoy this evening.

“The plan is to leave this evening around 22:15 to rejoin the race, well to start really as we never really got going before!” said Amedeo.

It looks like being pretty nasty out here this evening and there could well be some damage in the fleet… I have got everything prepared with sails ready. The deck has been cleaned up and everything inside is tidy. Aboard the boat, everything is fine. I have managed to get some sleep. I haven’t eaten much, but I have been drinking a lot and I feel better. I’ll try to send you some videos and photos between now and this evening… if I manage it.

"I know that taking the southern option would maybe position me well for the short term and the gain is still there and it is a nice surprise to still be doing well close to the Galician coastline. Jean Le Cam and I crossed paths yesterday, and today again, it is great. We spent quite a lot of time together when preparing for the race at the boat shed and now we are here again here crossing paths. I feel fine after my dive this morning. I am dry and have had some food and a nap. Now I am going to tidy the boat a bit and then going to get another nap in to prepare for the storm tonight. We have had an intensive start to the race with lots of manoeuvres and we have to take care. It is not here that you will win the race, but you can lose it" Damien Seguin (Groupe Apicil)

RANKING 14:00 (French Time)

  1. Benjamin Dutreux, OMIA – Water Family at 23,866 miles to the finish
  2. Maxime Sorel, V and B Mayenne, at 1,2 miles to the leader
  3. Jean Le Cam, Yes We Cam !, at 4,5 miles to the leader
  4. Nicolas Troussel, CORUM- L’Epargne at 6,5 miles
  5. Damien Seguin, Groupe APICIL, at 9,1 miles
  6. Sam Davies, GBR Initiatives Coeur, at 39.9 miles
  7. Didac Costa, ESP, One Planet One Ocean, at 43.1 miles
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Vendee Globe Day One: France’s double Paralympic gold medallist and 2017 winner of the Tour Voile Damien Seguin leads the 33 boat Vendée Globe fleet as the early rankings favour a leading group of older generation IMOCAs as they race southwestwards across the Bay of Biscay towards Cape Finisterre.

While the fastest latest generation foiling boats worked a more northwesterly route last night and in the first part of the morning, Seguin, Maxime Sorel (V and B Mayenne) and veteran Jean Le Cam (Yes We Cam!) hold a small advantage on the afternoon ranking. But they are expected to lose out as they sail for longer in a north-south zone of lighter winds.

Seguin, who was born without a left hand, has scored successes in pretty much every different inshore and offshore discipline, including Class40, before taking on this Vendée Globe on the boat which Eric Bellion raced to ninth place last time. He has been helped in his round the world preparations by veteran Jean Le Cam, who was some seven miles behind the talented and competitive 41-year-old race leader.

After the excitement, indeed for some the sheer euphoria, of finally being on the solo round the world race course, the first full day of this Vendée Globe has offered a few hours of lighter winds allowing the skippers the chance to rest, to take stock, to work through their jobs list and to prepare for a moderately nasty front which will bring strong winds and steep seas during the night of Tuesday into Wednesday.

Nico Troussel on the Juan K designed Corum L’Épargne continues to be quickest of the fast foilers which are racing on the same angle this Monday afternoon some 50-60 nautical miles to the west and making similar speeds in the sunshine and lighter airs in the high-pressure ridge.

Troussel, a double winner of La Soltaire du Figaro, was more than seven miles ahead of Britain’s Sam Davies who has been going well on her Initiatives Coeur. Neither skipper seemed to have suffered the first night niggles – small technical problems – which cost miles. Both Jérémie Beyou (Charal) and Alex Thomson (HUGO BOSS) snagged fishing gear on their various appendages. The British skipper had a night-time battle with his J3 headsail when a sheet detached. Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) reported he lost 15 miles when a sail unfurled.

“These things are minor just now. In a few days they will look back and think them nothing much but some of them come from not having been sailing for a while” commented Seb Josse on the Vendée Globe LIVE show this lunch time in Les Sables d’Olonne.

Josse has been working closely as a part of a dream team getting Corum ready, trying to ensure the May 2020 launched design is as reliable as possible,

“We worked a little bit like Alex Thomson, on our own not doing the races but we sailed as many longer race like passages as we could, trying to break things, which we did and repaired them.” Explained Josse.

Speaking of Tuesday’s strong winds the race’s weather expert Christian Dumard reports, “Gusts in excess of 40 knots are forecast with cross seas and waves building to 5 metres on Tuesday night. The whole fleet will be changing tack to head towards the SW in the NW’ly air stream ahead of the ridge of high pressure. Winds will become lighter as they advance towards Spain. For the leaders, it is going to be important to find their way south without getting becalmed in these calmer conditions. The precise moment at which they change tack will be crucial. There is therefore the choice now of diving south with a higher risk of getting stuck in light airs off Spain, along with the disadvantage of reaching the front after those further west, but on the other hand, conditions will be quieter by then. Those who decide to go further west are less likely to be caught in the light airs, but face a more violent front with the risk that entails for their gear. No doubt, they will all be seeking out their own personal compromise between the fastest route, no doubt be tougher on the boat and the skipper and a trajectory to the south, which is likely to be kinder to both.”

Speaking live this morning Alex Thomson said “The next big thing will be crossing this front. There is this light patch off Finisterre so I would prefer to be further West, but I am not and then we will be sailing towards the front which will be interesting. Last night I saw 2.5m waves average when we will be looking at 4.5 to 5m waves so my hull fibre optics were getting close to their limits last night. So, I am not sure I am going to belt into this too fast, if I can I will try and get a bit further south and avoid the worst of that.”

Damage at the top of his mast added more frustration for Fabrice Amedeo who is expected to return to the race course tomorrow morning after making a U-turn and arriving back at the race dock in Les Sables d’Olonne on this morning’s 0700hrs tide. A fast pitstop has not been possible after effecting the replacement of a gennaker hook (lock) after additional problems surfaced.

"Jérémie Beyou (Charal): The first hours were nice there was a flat sea with 20 knots of speed but things have become a bit more complicated now, I think something caught in the keel in the middle of the night. I think I’ve lost a bit of time. You get back into the swing of very quickly – the set up and the routine comes back quickly, afterwards it’s not easy to get into your sleep and physical rhythm. It’s not going to be easy but we’re waiting for the first ridge- we are going to get wind this afternoon. There will be a bit of difficulty with the storm tomorrow which is a bit worrying."

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When the ninth edition of the Vendée Globe solo non-stop race around the world starts from Les Sables d’Olonne on the French Atlantic coast today at 1302hrs French time, the usual, huge partisan local crowds will be absent. The global pandemic has robbed this year’s record entry of 33 skippers of the usual 350,000 visitors who, every four years, flood into the smart seaside resort to bid a noisy farewell to the round the world heroes, with memorable farewell messages such as 2016’s ‘All you need is globe’. The strict national lockdown means the skippers’ Sunday morning departures down the famous Les Sables d’Olonne channel into the open Atlantic ocean will be in relative silence.

The massive online, digital audience will be presented to the departing skippers only by personal messages flashed up on giant screens.

But with a whole host of records expected from solo ocean racing’s pinnacle event, a huge global following will certainly hang on every minute of this edition, following the race on the widest range of multimedia platforms, entranced by this most engaging edition yet.

During these difficult times, running the race at all is in itself a triumph over adversity. The extraordinary human adventures the race always delivers this time will more than ever light up the lives of its millions of followers.

Leaving the dock live


Race Start live

Who will win the Vendee Globe 2021?

There is no outstanding favourite to win. Eight new build, latest generation foiling IMOCA 60 footers have been launched over the last two years representing four different design studios. They reflect a wider diversity of cutting edge design ideas than ever before from a bigger range of designers. 2012’s winner Francois Gabart says, “There is a 95 per cent chance the winner will be one of these.”

Hydrofoils which ‘fly’ the 7.5-tonne yachts have grown more than twice the size of the ‘chicken wing’ foils which first appeared on the 2016-17 race. Consequently, top speeds are up to 35 knots and daily 24 hour averages are expected to top 600 nautical miles. Estimates from the top skippers competing suggest 2016’s record of 74 days 3 hours 35 minutes should be lowered below 70 days.

Four sailors stand out having built up the sought after combination of speed and reliability, gained through thousands of training and racing miles. As soon as he had finished third on the last race Jérémie Beyou launched a programme aimed at winning in 2020-21. The VPLP designed Charal was first of the 2020 generation boats.

Already in the water in August 2018, the three times winner of La Solitaire du Figaro, 44-year-old Beyou won the preliminary Vendée Arctique race in July, led the Transat Jacques Vabre race before being snared in the Doldrums and finishing third. His boat has done the comprehensive miles to maximise reliability and optimise for high average speeds.

Hotly fancied British challenger Alex Thomson came off second best to winner Armel Le Cléac’h in 2017. Thomson has put his faith in a radical VPLP designed HUGO BOSS designed purely to win the Vendée Globe. The 46-year-old from Gosport has only started one race since the boat was launched in August last year, the Transat Jacques Vabre which he was forced to abandon after damaging, and ultimately cutting away the keel.

But the British skipper’s programme is enriched by many innovations and singular technical choices that many insiders consider should give him a winning edge, if the boat proves reliable enough and the skipper lucky enough to finish the race in good condition.

Among the key technical advances, Thomson races the boat entirely from inside using a panorama of screens linked to an array of exterior cameras. His team have developed their own autopilot artificial intelligence system and they have an exclusive sail development programme.

But Thomson worries that the new boats particularly those less proven than his, may not be reliable enough: "I think none of the teams have done as many miles as they would have liked to. None of the teams have sailed (with the new boats and newer, bigger foils) in conditions like we will see in the Southern Ocean. I worry and sense it will be a war of attrition, most certainly. We have eight new boats and a couple of them are very, very new. It is hard to see how they have prepared enough in that timescale. We believe it takes a year and it has taken us a year. It is hard to see how the ones with less miles will get around the world with less problems."

Charlie Dalin may be a first-timer on the race but the 36-year-old, who grew up enchanted by the ocean racing giants – men, women and their machines – who mustered every two years for the Transat Jacques Vabre on the docks of his home port of Le Havre - has a dream programme with Vendée Globe winning potential.

A Southampton trained naval architect in his own right, Dalin’s IMOCA Apivia is designed by a small team led by America’s Cup-winning architect Guillaume Verdier and the campaign is managed by 2012 winner Francois Gabart’s company MerConcept.

Apivia won last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre and was second in the Vendée Arctic and Dalin is the tip of Michel Desjoyeaux, the only skipper to have won the Vendée Globe twice.

“ For me he is the best guy because he's the only one I know who did four consecutive podiums on La Solitaire du Figaro (ed note, annual French multi stage offshore championship). That is indicative of his very high ability. And what he has shown since the beginning he got his IMOCA up to this high level. "

Normandy’s 39-year-old Thomas Ruyant had to retire from the last race when his boat was nearly split in two in a collision with a floating object west of New Zealand. He is back and widely fancied for the podium with a second Verdier design which has been cleverly optimised. He led at the midpoint of the Vendée Arctic race and is considered a skipper with real talent and staying power and fire in his belly stoked by the disappointment of his abandonment.

Britain’s Sam Davies, fourth in 2008-2009, is the standard-bearer for a record entry of six female skippers. Over the four years since the last race she has worked tirelessly to improve and optimise her 2010 launched Initiatives Coeur.

The 46-year-old French-based Englishwoman draws on the accumulated experience of more than 25 years of every type of ocean and offshore racing, not least leading Team SCA on the 2014-15 crewed Volvo Ocean Race round the world. Even armed with the latest generation foils her boat will not match the top speeds of the newest generation but her experience and stamina will ensure she should be poised to profit if the newer boats falter.

There is strength in depth all the way through the 33 strong fleet, and more than ever – from front to back – the races within the race will be more engaging than ever. Davies has a tight group of 2012 race vintage boats to contend with including Germany’s 39-year-old Boris Herrmann (Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco) and 40-year-old Frenchman Kevin Escoffier (PRB). It would not be a surprise to find any one of them on the podium in the middle of next January.

The skippers' ages range from Switzerland’s Alan Roura who races his second Vendée Globe at the age of 27 to 61-year-old Jean Le Cam, back for his fifth consecutive Vendée Globe. The ages of the boats has never been greater 23 years span Alexia Barrier’s 1998 launched TSE-4 MyPlanet which is starting its seventh round the world race and the latest foiling flying machines.

Nine nationalities are represented among them Britons Pip Hare, 46 years old from Poole who sails Medallia on her first race and Miranda Merron, 51, who lives in France, also competes on Campagne de France. Japan’s 53-year-old Kojiro Shiraishi has a cutting edge, new foiler DMG MORI and he is looking to complete a respectable race.

Barcelona fireman Didac Costa, 14th in 2017, returns at 39 years old for a second Vendée Globe on OnePlanet-OneOcean which started life as Ellen MacArthur’s Kingfisher. It will be Costa’s third racing circumnavigation in five years on the famous IMOCA 60 footer which will celebrate its 21st birthday in February.

Italian Giancarlo Pedote, 44, has progressed up through the classes from Mini 650 in 2013 to now take on the world’s toughest solo race on Prysmian Group, his pathway mirrored by 57-year-old Finnish airline pilot Ari Huusela who races STARK.

Weather for Race Start

Conditions for Sunday’s 1302hrs start time off Les Sables d’Olonne look set to be close to perfect 12-15 knots of wind from the south-east should ensure flat water for a fast sprint off the start line to one passing mark seven miles from the start line.

The fleet will then reach almost due west at high speeds into the first night as the breeze heads, progressively rotating south then south-west as a front arrives. It will bring strong 25kt winds with gusts to 40 and seas of 4.5 metres.

Then at the back of the front they will be able to race south in a decent northwesterly breeze. The complex question is passing across a ridge of high pressure and light winds before a second front arrives for the leaders on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Germany’s Herrmann sums up: " For sure it’s a complex weather situation and we will have to throttle back a bit. It would be easy to make errors as some features are not very detailed on the files, so the thing is to see how much the fleet sticks together. But it is for sure not the classic situation you imagine for years and years, beating hard heavily west or we reach to Cape Finisterre then getting downwind, no this time it is much more upwind work. I think, yes, you can lose but there are not many easy gains and you can certainly damage your boat early on in the second front. If the leading pack sticks together I feel the race will really start in the trade winds."

All 33 Vendée Globe Skippers Have a Clean Bill of Health

All of the 33 skippers set to take Sunday’s start of the Vendée Globe have been given a clean bill of health, all passing the PCR Covid-19 tests which were taken 48 hours before the start. It will therefore be a complete 33 boat entry which will start at 1302hrs French Time on Sunday.

No positive Covid-19 tests and no cases among contacts means the 33 skippers, 27 men and 6 women, have escaped the sword of Damocles which has been hanging over their heads for some weeks.

Any skipper with a positive test would not have been allowed to start. So it is a huge relief for the solo sailors and for all involved in these projects, some of which have been operating for four years.

Yves Auvinet, President of the Vendée Globe said: "The health protocol put in place by the Organisation has enabled the entire fleet to be kept safe for the start tomorrow. I would like to thank the skippers and the teams for respecting this system which was restrictive but nevertheless necessary in the current period. "

Published in Solo Sailing
Tagged under

Make no splash, leave no trace, tame the turbulence, and THEN JUST FLY…..That's the thinking which underlines the very latest manifestations of the IMOCA 60, which are expected to lead the fleet of 33 sailing machines in the 24,296 miles Vendee Globe 2020 once they've got themselves clear of tomorrow's start of the Races of Races off Les Sables d'Olonne.

It's a quadrennial race in which - since its insouciant introduction in 1989 with just 13 boats - there has been a combined completion rate of only 53% of starters getting back to the finish. Yet knowing what they have been heading for in the past - with the first serious drubbing often experienced as they try to get out of the Bay of Biscay in November weather less than a day on their way – perhaps we should completely re-think that, and say it's little short of miraculous that as many as 53% of the lone skippers have made it all the way round south of the Great Capes and through everything that five oceans can throw at them.

The course of the Vendee GlobeThe course of the Vendee Globe, which sees its biggest fleet start tomorrow. The shaded area along the foot of the map indicates the big winds of the Roaring Forties and the "Furious Fifties".

They may be lone skippers, but while it all started as something of a leap into the dark, it has so captured public imagination - with more than 2 million signed up followers, and counting rapidly – that it is now big business, with endless scope for imaginative advertising and promotions. The top stars are backed by so many technical specialists that it's an industry in itself which is so focused yet complex that to clarify it all, many observers are simply wondering if the 2016-2017 record of 74 days and 3 hours set by winner Armel le Cleac'h in Banque Populaire can be brought below 70 or even 60 days, while in theory 50 days is within the realms of possibility.

Thus although there'll be veteran boats starting tomorrow which have done several circuits and are hoping – by enabling their skippers to put in a competent performance – to provide the stepping stone to new state-of-the-art boat for 2024, inevitably most attention will focus on the boats with the very latest thinking, where the R & D and design and build teams have had to tread a careful line between having he time available to test their new boat thoroughly, while not being so early on the scene that other teams can draw on their most novel ideas for use in their own slightly later new boats.

new-generation Charal revealed that the IMOCA 60 concept had made a significant design advanceThe appearance of the new-generation Charal revealed that the IMOCA 60 concept had made a significant design advance

The latest machines aren't really boats as most of us know them. For if you're someone whose dreamship is a fine looking vessel with a real bone in her teeth when she's making best speed, please look elsewhere. Conspicuous bow-waves are considered very bad news indeed in an IMOCA 60, as excessive bubbling foam and white water is evidence the boat is being unnecessarily slowed. So too is a roaring quarter-wave, while as for a reassuring gunwhale with – God forbid –anything remotely resembling a bulwark around anything resembling a deck up forward, forget that too.

The latest boats are more like torpedoes which go through the water with minimum fuss, while above sea level the entire design is aimed at providing minimum obstruction to sheeting spray which in its power is definitely like the sea poet's whetted knife, for now it would give your face an almost instant exfoliation job for which you'd pay through the nose – if you still had one –in a cosmetic clinic.

All this is further compounded by the development of foils, which have leapt several generations since the last race just four years ago. In Ireland our experience of foils in action has come almost entirely from the Figaro 3s, for there were times when Pam Lee and Cat Hunt were undoubtedly being helped on their way by the foils on the Figaro 3 Iarracht Maigeanta with which they successfully established a new two-handed Round Ireland last month.

For sure, the hull was being lifted enough to provide more speed potential, but those Figaro 3 foils are very conservative, for even by the time they'd been demonstrated in use, some of the more off-the-wall Minitransat boats had developed foils which regularly lifted the hull comfortably clear of the water.

Minitransat boat Sea-Air in 2017 was demonstrating prototype foils The Minitransat boat Sea-Air in 2017 was demonstrating prototype foils which successfully lifted the hull completely clear of the water

By contrast, as this video painfully reveals, the foils on the Figaro 3 seem to provide a performance which is reminiscent of a farmyard hen trying to fly:

Even four years ago, some of the Vendee Globe IMOCA 60s were at a much more advanced stage than this. But everyone was understandably nervous about becoming reliant on one relatively small carbon foil trying - in effect - to hold an entire 60ft boat aloft with only a tiny bit of assistance from the lee rudder, and the drawbacks in this were underlined when Alex Thomson in what was then the latest Hugo Boss broke one of his foils relatively early in the race, and was reckoned to have done very well indeed to have taken second place with just one-and-a-half foils.

But now for 2020 there's been a quantum leap in foil development and their relative importance, with the frontline boats using foils which are exerting three times the lift of the most advanced foils of 2016. Thus we're becoming accustomed to seeing vids of IMOCA 60s flying along with the hull entirely clear of the water, finely balanced on one seemingly slim foil in a miraculous way which some might say is reminiscent of Melania Trump advancing in stately style in skinny jeans and seven-inch heels………

Watching an IMOCA 60 get up on the foils is akin to observing a swan taking offWatching an IMOCA 60 get up on the foils is akin to observing a swan taking off. It takes time, and there seems to be so much effort involved that it can't possibly succeed… 

IMOCA 60 get up on the foils…..but then it happens, and all is graceful flight

Be that as it may, the speeds which are now regularly possible means that protection from the razor-like spray and the waves sweeping as unhindered as possible over the boat has become such an essential for the lone sailors that Alex Thomson (he's one of ours, he spent some childhood years in Crosshaven) is now more or less completely enclosed in the latest Hugo Boss - he has become "him indoors".

But it would be stretching it a bit to say that this is deck saloon sailing. Yet all his key controls and main vision forward are inside at the forward end of this low-slung, streamlined coachroof, to which the regular deck access is through a small aft-sloping hatchway and smaller doorway with the mainsheet track across between them, after of which - where other boats might have a rudimentary cockpit - the only concession to a cockpit is a slight dip in the deck right aft to provide a foot-rest when he does need to be a hands-on helmsman.

Hugo Boss from astern. With all controls within the cabin podHugo Boss from astern. With all controls within the cabin pod, the cockpit is no more than a slight dip in the deck right aft…….

the sole access hatch requires considerable agility……while the sole access hatch requires considerable agility, and is a whole world away from the traditional user-friendly companionway of a proper cruising yacht

With the speeds which these boats attain, air turbulence along the deck is an increasingly significantly factor, and in order to minimise this, the mainboom is slung as low as possible, such that it's reckoned the next-generation IMOCA 60s will follow the current crop of America's Cup boats in having a deck-sweeping gaiter under the mainsail in order to complete the end-plate airflow-smoothing effect.

All of which means that anywhere outside the relative safety of the control pod is a hazard zone, so any excursions on what passes for a deck are something to be avoided if at all possible. Thus the preparatory work in making the rigs fail-safe has been prodigious, and the programme for deck action, should the sailor have to go out there, has also been carefully thought through, and meticulously trained up.

Alex Thomson in Hugo Boss's "deck saloon", with all sail controls to hand under coverBusy day in the office. Alex Thomson in Hugo Boss's "deck saloon", with all sail controls to hand under cover

When we look at the numbers in this pillar event's relatively short history, it's fascinating to put it in the context of the global socio-political situation of the time. The countdown to a realistic Vendee Globe challenge is a minimum of two to three years - assuming you're starting with personnel who are already well experienced in the event - so we see that while tomorrow's race has the largest turnout so far, the previous biggest turnout was 30 boats in 2008.

The planning towards each campaign in that would have been well under way by 2006-2007, when the world economy thought it was booming. But when the race actually started, many economic setups ashore had already fallen off a cliff, yet the race had enough inbuilt oomph not only to take place, but to give everyone a very welcome distraction from the global financial disaster.

Participation history:

  • 1989-90: 13 boats at the start
  • 1992-93: 15 boats
  • 1996-97: 15 boats
  • 2000-01: 24 boats
  • 2004-05: 20 boats
  • 2008-2009: 30 boats
  • 2012-2013: 20 boats
  • 2016-2017: 29 boats
  • 2020-2021: 33 boats

So now we come to November 2020 with its new set of acute world problems, yet 33 boats and their skippers and support teams in Les Sables d'Olonne have gallantly come through total Vendee Globe Village COVID lockdown in order to start tomorrow in an event where the campaigns were initially being planned in days of relative serenity and modest though real economic growth.

But now the race is going off as a vitally-needed source of absorbing interest at a time when much of the pandemic-ridden world has seen economic collapse and driven itself semi-bonkers by trying to imagine that video games are real life, and that Zoom conferences are a form of socialising.

Oh for sure, we'll be following on a Race Tracker which could seem at times like a video game were it not for the reality that we know is out there on the oceans of the world. And with this varied fleet, there is going to be a stream of remarkable and very real human stories:


  • Jérémie BEYOU : CHARAL
  • Charlie DALIN : APIVIA
  • Sébastien DESTREMAU : MERCI
  • Clément GIRAUD :
  • Isabelle JOSCHKE : MACSF
  • Jean LE CAM : YES WE CAM !
  • Sébastien SIMON : ARKEA – PAPREC
  • Maxime SOREL : V and B – MAYENNE

We'll get to know many of them much better in the days and weeks ahead, but who are familiar already?

Fifth from the top is Jeremy Bayou, whose Charal has been in commission for just long enough to give every confidence, though the more gloomy observers reckoned he was starting to show his hand too early, and others would be scouting for ideas. But then the pandemic started its remorseless spread, and other finely-timed campaigns started to slip in their schedules as specialist manufacturers had to go into lockdown. Suddenly the Charal campaign was starting to look very sensible, even if the cancellation of keenly anticipated trial events upset training schedules.

Finally, in some desperation the Vendee organisers arranged a COVID-free race to the Arctic and back in July which provided some comparative performance figures to go on, and while – as discussed in our Sailing on Saturday last week on Marcus Hutchinson and Thomas Ruyant with LinkedOut – it was LinkedOut which led at the turning point on the Arctic Circle, at the finish it was Charal first 50 minutes ahead of LinkedOut's near-sister Apivia (Charlie Dalin) with LinkedOut 20 minutes further astern.

In September LinkedOut took delivery of a new but very-delayed set of foils from pandemic-plagued manufacturers Persico in Italy, and the word is that their performance has proven very satisfactory indeed. But of course, that is performance as rated against a set of their own figures, rather than in competition with other boats.

And therein lies the wicked special attraction of this year's Vendee Globe Race. The top boats may well represent a significant design and technical advance on the frontline boats of 2016. But in the end, guessing who'll do best is based on past showings and reports of speed figures based on isolated individual sailing rather then relative performance during 2020 against other boats in a proper racing situation.

Charlie Dalin's Apivia is a near sister of Thomas Ruyant's LinkeOutCharlie Dalin's Apivia is a near sister of Thomas Ruyant's LinkedOut, and took second in the Vendee Artique race.

Thus inevitably Alex Thomson – with five participations including a third and second in the most recent editions, plus a massive budget – finds himself in the tense-making situation of being the pundits' favourite. But in a challenge of this scale and duration, it's really anybody's bet among several boats, and others we'd know of in Ireland who have the benefit of well-resourced campaigns with new or fairly-new generation boats include Jeremy Bayou, Charlie Dalin, Clarisse Cremer, Boris Hermann, Jean le Cam, Thomas Ruyant and Nicolas Troussel.

The latest generation of IMOCA 60s have a significantly improved windward performance over the boats of four years ago, but it may well be they have a weakness of very light airs, so with a probable light air start in southerly winds tomorrow off Les Sables but with fresher sou'westers in the Atlantic to the northwest of Spain, it's expected the newer boats will go as fast as they can to stronger winds further west again, while some of the older boats may take their chance to make a break down the coast of Spain and Portugal.

Either way, with 33 demanding big boats milling around, and with even the most experienced skippers in a state of high tension, simply getting the Vendee Globe 2020 cleanly away tomorrow is a good first marker for an almost impossibly demanding course. Thereafter, the world in all its wonder and challenges is beckoning.

Published in Vendee Globe
Tagged under

Marcus Hutchinson has been having a good Autumn in his role as a sort of benign marine Svengali with an Irish flavour, operating largely behind the scenes at the sharp end of the French big-time offshore racing scene. But it would miss the sense of his way of working to suggest that he has a finger in several important pies, as that would imply a certain messiness in his modus operandi.

On the contrary, it's better expressed by saying that he has some very sensitive fingers on several important pulses, and when push comes to shove, he has access to the resources and knows which buttons to activate, and levers to pull, in order to achieve optimal results.

Thus he has been long-established as an effective go-to man if you're a rising offshore star, and wish to get into the pressure-cooker which is the Figaro Solo circuit. Leading on from that, he was a key facilitator in providing the Figaro 3 boat with which Pam Lee of Greystones and Cat Hunt recently established a very solid Two-Handed Female Round Ireland Record.

Round Ireland two-handed record holder Pam Lee of Greystones at the helm of the Figaro 3 Iarracht MaigeantaRound Ireland two-handed record holder Pam Lee of Greystones at the helm of the Figaro 3 Iarracht Maigeanta, whose use by RL Sailing for the successful record challenge was facilitated by Marcus Hutchinson

Their sense of reassurance in Uncle Marcus's very positive confidence in their ability to do it shone through in almost every progress report they filed, and they certainly didn't let him down in a great achievement which brightened the entire Irish sailing scene in a time of otherwise gathering gloom.

But the Figaro circuit is relatively straightforward in that it involves One Design boats. It's in another area of special Hutchinson interest - with the leading-edge development class which is the IMOCA 60 and the Vendee Globe at the apex of its increasingly high-profile programme - that we find we're definitely in jungle territory with some very big beasts on the prowl.

Yet here too the word is that Marcus is one of those who have control over a veritable warehouse in Brittany of IMOCA 60s of varying vintages, such that when some ambitious talent reveals that they harbour notions of having a go at the Vendee Globe, starting with an initial campaign with mid-range "affordable" boat in order to aim towards a full-blown campaign the next time round, the usual test is the seemingly harmless question: "Have you sat down for a coffee and a bit of a chat with Marcus?"

Marcus Hutchinson in "protective manager" mode, responding to questions at a Vendee Globe press conferenceMarcus Hutchinson in "protective manager" mode, responding to questions at a Vendee Globe press conference

A contemporary and friend of super-sailor Gordon Maguire when both were learning the ropes while growing up in Howth (later they won the Half Ton Worlds together), his complex career since has included a yacht design degree from Southampton, a stint in the Rob Humphreys design office where he produced his own Quarter Tonner Quest which is still competitive and much-admired in Dublin Bay, then he edited the RORC Magazine Seahorse while continuing to build his own already extensive offshore experience, and in time he got involved in the French short-handed scene with sundry legends – there's no other way to put it – until he and his wife-to-be Megan (she's from New Zealand) found themselves running the Communications Office for the America's Cup when the contest was Spanish-based for some years in Valencia.

There were many other projects and campaigns, but it was the high-powered French solo and double-handed scene which seemed to best fit his multiple organisational, technical, and sailing talents which – when allied to his engaging manner and apparently unflappable nature – made his input so much in demand that though he and Megan and their two daughters have made their home in Kinsale, where he tries to relax with a spot of sailing with the local Squib fleet, he actually spends much of his time in France. He would have been completely cut off from the home base with the latest increased limitations has his daughter Mea – on her transition year – not been able to join him before the shutters came down completely.

With the buildup to the 2020 Vendee Globe start on November 8th and its record fleet of 33 Imoca 60s developing to its climax in Les Sables d'Olonne, the atmosphere is trebly spooky, as the fabled Race Village – normally a three-week focus of ultra-crowded uber-sociability – has been a high-security very socially-distant bubble since Thursday, with the strictest possible limitations.

the Vendee Globe Village has become a spooky placeNormally a scene of heightened sociability, since midnight on Thursday the Vendee Globe Village has become a spooky place.

The latest wave of COVID-19 was clearly about to hit France in overdrive, but the authorities were acutely aware of the morale-boosting benefits of getting a major sporting happening like the Vendee Globe successfully up and away. So both sides kept closely in touch - with Marcus involved as Team Manager for Thomas Ruyant's Advens-LinkedOut campaign – and the word from the authorities was that if everyone involved with the Vendee Globe went along with the strict lockdown conditions which came into force at Port d'Olonna on Thursday night, then the authorities would do everything they could to make sure the fleet got away.

With high-profile professional stadium sports already being recognized as vital safety-valves for an increasingly oppressed locked-down population, it was reasonably argued that a continuous trackable event of the Vendee Globe's epic proportions would be a real mental tonic for people already somewhat jaded by last winter's crop of eSailing contests. Ingenious and all as they are, they cannot remotely bear comparison with the Vendee Globe's mixture of high-level sport, personal drama, and live transmissions from far at sea beamed into a population in the Northern Hemisphere which would be otherwise sinking into a sepulchral gloom with low resistance to infection.

At the moment, therefore, it's all systems go. So how come that this time round, Marcus Hutchinson is the Team Manager for Thomas Ruyant's Advens-LinkedOut campaign with one of the newest boats in the fleet? And come to think of it, who on earth are Advens and LinkedOut when they're at home?

"The Deal in Lille". The association of Marcus Hutchinson and Thomas Ruyant may have something to do with a boat sale deal in Lille in northern France struck by Enda O'Coineen (left) and Thomas Ruyant"The Deal in Lille". The association of Marcus Hutchinson and Thomas Ruyant may have something to do with a boat sale deal in Lille in northern France struck by Enda O'Coineen (left) and Thomas Ruyant

Well, as with many complex stories at the off-the-wall end of international Irish sailing, you don't have to dig very far until the name of Enda O'Coineen comes up. Back in the previous Vendee Globe in 2016-17, Enda ended up in New Zealand with his Kilcullen Team Ireland dismasted. And also retired damaged in Kiwi-land was the lone sailor whom the French refer to the Northerner, as Thomas Ruyant's base is remote indeed from glamour spots of the French yachting scene, for it's in the no-nonsense department of Nord where he had managed to persuade 50 businesses to put up the money which produced Souffle du Nord, a competitive IMOCA 60 which was very much in the hunt until the determined Ruyant craft was damaged in the Southern Ocean, and did well to get to New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Marcus Hutchinson had his own problems, as the boat he was managing had ended up – after being right in the frame in the race – in a wounded state in one of the Pacific islands. All personnel were okay, but with the technical and repair side of the Vendee Globe so Europe-centred, there were considerable logistical problems if the three boats were going to be restored to racing order.

The Kiwi Transformation… the 2016-2017 Vendee Globe, Thomas Ruyant's Souffle du Nord arrived in a damaged state in New ZealandThe Kiwi Transformation… the 2016-2017 Vendee Globe, Thomas Ruyant's Souffle du Nord arrived in a damaged state in New Zealand. When she finally sailed away again after major repairs, she'd become Team Ireland Souffle du Nord, and Enda O'Coineen was in command

Doubtless, there are other versions of this story, but we do have a photo which proves that Enda O'Coineen popped over to Lille in the heart of Ruyant-land in order to buy Souffle du Nord. He knew he could get her repaired in New Zealand, where she re-emerged as Team Ireland Souffle du Nord to provide Enda with a mount to successfully complete his round the world odyssey, while the other two boats were shipped back to Europe to join that ghost fleet of IMOCA 60s which is always available to be re-commissioned as economically as possible for the next edition of the Vendee Globe.

Team Ireland Souffle du Nord (foreground) was raced by France's Thomas Ruyant and Ireland's Joan MulloyIn a two-handed IMOCA 60 series in Monaco, Team Ireland Souffle du Nord (foreground) was raced by France's Thomas Ruyant and Ireland's Joan Mulloy, and won

Meanwhile, Team Ireland Souffle du Nord had some final moments of glory under that name when she was raced by Thomas Ruyant and Joan Mulloy in the high-profile IMOCA 60 two-handed regatta at Monaco, and won. This was a stylish exit, as The Northerner was already working towards his next Vendee Globe campaign, searching out backers among the rising companies in the far north of France. But although Marcus Hutchinson was now focused on other things including the Figaro Solo and the family business – the Vivi Trading Company – in Kinsale, where he also does consultancy work with Rob Doyle Yacht Design, by 2018 he was already back in the Imoca 60 maelstrom with an input for the Thomas Ruyant campaign, and that soon became the full role as Team Manager and an increasingly hectic schedule with the boat being built in Northern Italy in a city called Bergamo.

It's a picturesque place with some remarkable high-tech industries in the classic North Italian style, but by the time it leapt into world headlines in January 2020 as the world's Number One COVID-19 hotspot, the new Ruyant IMOCA 60 was well away from basic construction with Persico Marine in Bergamo, and had moved to Lorient for finishing before testing in the Atlantic.

Maiden sail, with initial prime slot given to key sponsors AdvensMaiden sail, with initial prime slot given to key sponsors Advens. Photo Pierre Bouras/TR Racing

Thomas Ruyant and the new boat in LorientThomas Ruyant and the new boat in Lorient, with the re-styled livery giving prominence to LinkedOut, although the campaign continues to be under-written by Advens. Photo: Pierrre Bouras/TR Racing

Initially, the main sponsors were simply Advens, the Boulogne-based cybersecurity outfit. But their top honcho Alexander Fayeulle became an enthusiastic supporter of Jean-Marc Potdevin's new not-for-profit social organisation LinkedOut, which has been doing some very worthwhile work in France for those at the bottom of the employment ladder who would not be able to access the high-powered networking strength of LinkedIn.

The upshot of it all was a re-direction as the 2020 season – such as it was – got underway, with the Ruyant boat appearing in attractive new livery in which LinkedOut are freely given the kind of promotional space they formerly wouldn't have dared dream of.

And on top of that, the new Volvo Super 60 type boat – designed by Guillaume Verdier who had previously designed the Class 40 with which Ruyant had won the Route de Rhum – was showing great promise. For although ambitious plans for a two way Transatlantic Race for the Vendee Globe-preparing IMOCA 60 fleet had to be abandoned in the face of the pandemic, a shorter race to the Arctic was sailed in July, with LinkedOut leading for much of the way, and placing a close third at the finish.

However, the team hadn't been happy from an early stage with the performance of the foils, but though a re-designed set had been ordered from Persico for delivery in May, the pandemic shutdown meant they weren't available for installation until September, so trialling has been minimal, but the initial performance indicators are good.

Nevertheless, as with many other teams, the pandemic-induced delays will mean that the race itself is going to be part of the testing process, a situation made even more acute by the lockdown on the Race Village and those within its bubble. Access to outside experts is thereby curtailed, and consequently there was some urgency in getting LinkedOut to sea on Thursday for some test sailing while outside specialists could still be on board.

The Vendee Arctique Race in July saw LinkedOut leading at the turn west of Iceland, and she was close third at the finishThe new foils do the business……LinkedOut riding high and fast in the Bay of Biscay on Thursday. Photo: Pierre Bouras/TR Racing

All went well, but as Marcus Hutchison observed to Sailing on Saturday on Thursday evening:

"As ever, the abiding impression is how astonishing it is that just one person – admittedly a very special person – can race these fantastic machines single-handed right round the world. There were five of us out today, the wind was 20 to 30 knots, there was a good three to four metre sea running, so even with five, moving sails around and the many other tasks were often sheer brutal hard labour.

And yet one person has to be prepared to do it all alone when they sail away on Sunday week. Most of the drone vids we'll see will show the boats with everything properly set up, tearing across the ocean seemingly without effort, and the lone skipper – if he or she is even visible – apparently relaxed as if it's all happening by magic. I can assure you it doesn't happen by magic – it's sheer hard grind both mentally and physically, right from the very moment when the notion of a new campaign begins to take shape". will be featuring more stories on the upcoming Vendee Globe 2020 in the countdown to the start and during the course of the race. 

This cloud building over LinkedOut off Les Sables d'Olonne on Thursday afternoon would put even the toughest mariner in a thoughtful frame of mindWith the start of the Vendee Globe 2020 just eight days away, the weather predictions are starting to become more precise even though the North Atlantic is in an extremely volatile mood. This cloud building over LinkedOut off Les Sables d'Olonne on Thursday afternoon would put even the toughest mariner in a thoughtful frame of mind. Photo: Pierre Bouras/TR Racing

Published in Vendee Globe
Page 8 of 21
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