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Armel Le Cleac'h is "Real" Winner of Vendee Globe 2020-2021

26th January 2021
Armel Le Cleac'h winning the 2016-2017 Vendee Globe in January 2017, and setting a new 74-day record that now stands for another four years Armel Le Cleac'h winning the 2016-2017 Vendee Globe in January 2017, and setting a new 74-day record that now stands for another four years Credit: VG

While most of us may think the actual winner of the current Vendee Globe will emerge in the next day or two from among the ranks of Charlie Dalin, Boris Herrmann, Louis Burton, Thomas Ruyant, and Yannick Bestaven as they fine-tune their downwind progress in the Bay of Biscay towards the finish at Les Sables-d'Olonne, it's arguable that the real winner is already comfortably ensconced at home in Brittany, and has been since last Saturday.

For last Saturday afternoon saw the leaders of the mighty race miss the record of 74 days 3 hours and 35 minutes set by Armel Le Cleac'h with Banque Populaire VIII on January 19th 2017. Yet at the time, the '20-'21 leaders were still struggling to find the optimum route through the obtuse bit of ocean between the Azores and Iberia. And while it's probably going to be the most exciting finish ever seen in the race, it won't be a new record.

Yet with eight completely new boats in the fleet of 33 IMOCA 60s with their foil development moved several generations forward since 2017, a new record in a four-yearly event of this nature should be a natural part of the outcome. Certainly, before it all started, Alex Thomson of Hugo Boss was suggesting that they all should be aiming to get around under 70 days and that even 60 days was theoretically possible.

But the global pandemic meant that preparation and testing of the newest boats - and any new gizmos fitted to older craft - was limited, such that among the race-exiting breakages were those sustained by Hugo Boss.

Armel Le Cleach celebrates his third overall victory in the Figaro Solo, September 2020Armel Le Cleach celebrates his third overall victory in the Figaro Solo, September 2020

That said, in the early stages of the race, the tracker charts showed the relative position of Banque Populaire VIII back in 2016. They clearly indicated that while the current fleet was having a messy time getting down the Atlantic, four years earlier Armel Le Cleac'h had been steadily going like a train – and a fast train at that. Thus his daily positions started being embarrassingly far ahead of the current fleet, and by the time he was looking to show nearly a week ahead down in the Southern Ocean, the postings of his relative position seemed to disappear from any tracker charts we could access.

Back in December 2016 and January 2017, Le Cleac'h had his own difficulties with contrary wind patterns in getting northward along the east coast of South America. But even though this stage in '20-'21 saw the current leaders making lots of knots in a drag race, they still weren't able to cut Banque Populaire VIII's performance down to size, and now it's well beyond them.

So this is a good time for Breton sailing. And it's arguable that Armel Le Cleach – now 43 – is the most accomplished single-handed offshore racer currently operating anywhere in the world at the sharpest end of the sport. For although he opted out of the Vendee Globe 2020-2021, he threw himself instead into the full maelstrom of the Figaro Solo 2020. And he was the overall winner of that too – for the third time.

Thus if he's not feeling very relaxed at the moment, then he certainly should be. And meanwhile the Battle of Biscay – or should we call it the Grind of Gascony – is being played out to its final stages – Tracker Chart here

Published in Vendee Globe
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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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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