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Alex Thomson Leads Vendee Globe Fleet

12th November 2020
Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) managed by Ireland's Marcus Hutchinson Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) managed by Ireland's Marcus Hutchinson

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

Published in Vendee Globe
Afloat.ie Team

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The 2020/2021 Vendée Globe Race

A record-sized fleet of 33 skippers will start the ninth edition of the Vendée Globe: the 24,296 nautical miles solo non-stop round-the-world race from Les Sables d’Olonne in France, on Sunday, November 8 at 1302hrs French time/1202hrs TU and will be expected back in mid-January 2021.

Vendée Globe Race FAQs

Six women (Alexia Barrier, Clarisse Cremer, Isabelle Joschke, Sam Davies, Miranda Merron, Pip Hare).

Nine nations (France, Germany, Japan, Finland, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, and Great Britain)

After much speculation following Galway man Enda O’Coineen’s 2016 race debut for Ireland, there were as many as four campaigns proposed at one point, but unfortunately, none have reached the start line.

The Vendée Globe is a sailing race round the world, solo, non-stop and without assistance. It takes place every four years and it is regarded as the Everest of sailing. The event followed in the wake of the Golden Globe which had initiated the first circumnavigation of this type via the three capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn) in 1968.

The record to beat is Armel Le Cléac’h 74 days 3h 35 minutes 46s set in 2017. Some pundits are saying the boats could beat a sub-60 day time.

The number of theoretical miles to cover is 24,296 miles (45,000 km).

The IMOCA 60 ("Open 60"), is a development class monohull sailing yacht run by the International Monohull Open Class Association (IMOCA). The class pinnacle events are single or two-person ocean races, such as the Route du Rhum and the Vendée Globe.

Zero past winners are competing but two podiums 2017: Alex Thomson second, Jérémie Beyou third. It is also the fifth participation for Jean Le Cam and Alex Thomson, fourth for Arnaud Boissières and Jérémie Beyou.

The youngest on this ninth edition of the race is Alan Roura, 27 years old.

The oldest on this ninth edition is Jean Le Cam, 61 years old.

Over half the fleet are debutantes, totalling 18 first-timers.

The start procedure begins 8 minutes before the gun fires with the warning signal. At 4 minutes before, for the preparatory signal, the skipper must be alone on board, follow the countdown and take the line at the start signal at 13:02hrs local time. If an IMOCA crosses the line too early, it incurs a penalty of 5 hours which they will have to complete on the course before the latitude 38 ° 40 N (just north of Lisbon latitude). For safety reasons, there is no opportunity to turn back and recross the line. A competitor who has not crossed the starting line 60 minutes after the signal will be considered as not starting. They will have to wait until a time indicated by the race committee to start again. No departure will be given after November 18, 2020, at 1:02 p.m when the line closes.

The first boat could be home in sixty days. Expect the leaders from January 7th 2021 but to beat the 2017 race record they need to finish by January 19 2021.

Today, building a brand new IMOCA generally costs between 4.2 and €4.7million, without the sails but second-hand boats that are in short supply can be got for around €1m.

©Afloat 2020

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