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Following France's national lockdown measures announced by the President of the French Republic last night as part of the fight against Covid-19, the Vendée Globe Race Village will be closed to the public from Friday, October 30th.

The start of the Vendée Globe will take place as planned on Sunday, November 8th at 1:02 p.m. local time, but behind closed doors without spectators.

It will be broadcast live on vendeeglobe.org and on many television channels.

The Vendée Globe 2020-2021 remains a symbol of our strong will to carry on, despite the difficulties our country is facing, and whilst of course, respecting the health measures as set by the State, said Mr Yves Auvinet, President of the SAEM Vendée and the Vendée region.

Published in Vendee Globe
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The impressive scale of the record-sized fleet of IMOCA 60 yachts which will take the start line of the ninth edition of the Vendée Globe solo race round the world on Sunday, November 8th was obvious today in Les Sables d’Olonne, France when Yves Auvinet, President de la SAEM Vendée and the Département de la Vendée officially opened the 'Start Village'.

Unfortunately, there are no Irish competitors this edition despite various efforts over the last four years but as WM Nixon reports today, Marcus Hutchinson, who was much involved in recent days with the Magenta Project Female Two-Handed Round Ireland Record, will be right in the thick of things in Les Sables d’Olonne. 

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People have been unobtrusively getting on with sailing in many places during the pandemic, determinedly maintaining social distance afloat and ashore, reducing their interaction with outsiders to such a minimum it's almost non-existent, and doing it all thoughtfully, with properly-located face coverings.

Where racing has been held, it has been kept low key, and the traditional après sailing became so restrained that many folk, having got in their evening race or mini-cruise or whatever, simply decided to go straight home rather than use the carefully-planned compliant catering which the clubs have worked determinedly and with vision to provide.

Amongst club officials meanwhile, the central thinking is that each club should keep to itself, each boat should keep to itself, and each sailing family should stay within family limits. It's the complete opposite, in other words, of the Hockey Union, which seems to have been penalising clubs because some team members have refused for health reasons to travel to matches at other clubs.

Michael McCann's Etchells 22 on her way to winning the Royal Cork's evening raceThe sense of well-being and feelings of good health induced by evening racing like this is beyond measure. Michael McCann's Etchells 22 on her way to winning the Royal Cork's evening race of Thursday, July 9th 2020. Photo: Robert Bateman

Who got Covid-19 through sailing?

Fortunately, the nature of our sailing is such that a comparable situation doesn't arise. The result is that the sailing community has managed to maintain such a high level of good health that incidences of COVID-19 within it seem very rare indeed, often to the point of non-existence. But instead of making such sweeping assessments based on personal observation and hearsay, Afloat.ie would like to put the record on a more substantial footing, so if you know of anyone in sailing who currently has, or has experienced, COVID-19, then please let us know.

Of course, we don't want names – that would be a gross intrusion on privacy, and probably illegal. But if we could get some sort of ballpark figure (if it exists), it would give substance to the arguments of many club officers, who feel that the National Authority has gone too far in declaring that even the humblest club racing is now verboten, and who feel instead that our beloved and exceptionally healthy sport – of which club sailors are the backbone – deserves much the same treatment as that meted out to golf.

The problem, of course, is that while sailing is a peaceful and often solitary pursuit without paying spectators, it is a high visibility activity. Even the smallest boats popping out for a quick race in the bay will be seen – albeit with scant genuine attention – by very many people. And if one sector of the population is finding its activities restricted in the severest possible way, it's only human to strike out and make sure that everyone else has to endure the same restrictions, and preferably worse.

Dun Laoghaire Water Wags on Lough ReeDun Laoghaire Water Wags on Lough Ree. Casual observers will not be aware of the details of sailing, but they'll certainly know it's going on. Photo: Cathy Mac Aleavey

Despite all this, we've had a truncated but interesting sailing season in Ireland in 2020, and at the time of writing this it's still developing, with Pam Lee and Cat Hunt in the process of setting a new women's two-handed round Ireland record (Record established in a time of 3 days 3d 20h 29m 28s subject to ratification - Web editor). Looking ahead, if allowed there are also prospects of late Autumn and early Winter leagues among people who have come to a fresh realisation of just how much sailing means to them.

It's all controllable within a very defined club bubble, but special challenges arise when a major international event comes up on the agenda, and those involved think they can just about run it provided the countdown and the participants have all been careful beyond diligent in preparing themselves and their crews.

Middle Sea Race's impressive turnout

Today's Royal Malta Rolex Middle Sea Race really has bent over backwards to be pandemic-fit. But even in Malta, there are Middle Sea-proven boats and crews who wouldn't dream of taking part. Despite that, the entry of 71 boats with crews from 21 countries is an impressive turnout, and there seems to be a basic underlying feeling that the race must take place as scheduled at 11 o'clock local time today (Saturday), not least for the morale of Malta and the good of world sailing.

This may all sound a bit high-flown for a specialised sporting event, but the Middle Sea Race can happen with no detrimental effect on preventing the spread of COVID-19, it will further improve the health of those taking part, and it will do us all no end of good simply to know it's taking place.

The Podesta family's First 45 Elusive 2The Podesta family's First 45 Elusive 2 on her way to winning the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2019. Photo Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

So we find every bit of Irish interest that's going. Even the defending champion. the Podesta family's First 45 Elusive 2, has a tenuous connection to us. The late Arthur Podesta, the father of the remarkable Podesta siblings Maya, Christoph and Aaron, took a best result of third overall in the Middle Sea Race with the first Elusive, which was an earlier First 45 – a sister-ship of Cormac Twomey's Sarah J which won the Dingle Race in 1997 and 1999 – which had originally been taken out to the Mediterranean by John Sisk of Dun Laoghaire.

Thus we need to claim a bit of Elusive 2, as our key offshore sailors in Malta - Barry Hurley and Brian Flahive who have many outstanding offshore achievements between them - are sitting this one out, though they have been getting in a spot of sailing by both being at the sharp end of SB20 racing in Malta.

Another serious contender that rings a bell is the hugely individualistic Lombard 45 Pata Negra, the vehicle of dreams for many Irish offshore successes. She's chartered this time round by Andrew Hall of Pwllheli and the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association.

Jean-Pierre Dick's JP 54 The Kid took line honours in the Malta Coastal Race on Wednesday, and placed third overall Jean-Pierre Dick's JP 54 The Kid took line honours in the Malta Coastal Race on Wednesday and placed third overall

And though Honorary Irish Sailor Jean-Pierre Dick (he was up at The Park, don't y'know) put down a marker for line honours with his JP54 The Kid in Wednesday's 30-mile Malta Coastal Race, the formidable talents of Nin O'Leary of Crosshaven have been shipped aboard the Dutch-owned Maxi 72 Aragon, a Reichel-Pugh design. And there's nothing Nin enjoys more than making a luxury performance cruiser sail much faster than anyone thought possible.

So there's an Irish lineup of sorts, and doubtless once the fleet finally crosses the start line, we'll find that there are others of us among the crews, for there's also representation in the multi-hulls with northerner Mikey Ferguson crewing on the MOD 70 Mana

Nin O'Leary's Middle Sea contender AragonNin O'Leary's Middle Sea contender Aragon - her CV already includes winning the RORC Transatlantic race.

Vendee Globe in November

The pace is then ratcheted with the Vendee Globe getting underway in November. Theoretically, it’s the perfect lockdown event, as it's all about isolation. But there is the problem that if anything happens to one of the contenders, they might have to put into some remote little island which would be just rife for infection from all sorts of novel viruses and bacteria. But that’s an unlikely enough scenario, and either way we can be sure that Marcus Hutchinson, much involved in recent days with the Magenta Project Female Two-Handed Round Ireland Record, will be right in the thick of things in Les Sables d’Olonne, even if they are going to try and run the legendary village oo socially distanced lines.

 The hundred footers make their start in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. Until the pandemic struck, three of them had hoped to be racing in European waters this summer. Photo: Rolex/Carlo BorlenghiThe hundred footers make their start in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. Until the pandemic struck, three of them had hoped to be racing in European waters this summer. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

Sydney Hobart holds out

Beyond that, the focus will swing to the southern hemisphere, where the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia are determinedly holding out on being able to stage the annual Sydney-Hobart race on December 26th. If it does happen, defending overall ace is our own Gordon Maguire, and the likelihood of top navigator-tactician Adrienne Cahalane – originally of Offaly – being in some key role in the fleet can be taken as read.

America's Cup selection stages

Meanwhile, December will see the first selection stages of next year's America's Cup being raced in New Zealand. New Zealand has of course been the poster-girl for national avoidance of COVID-19, so the anti-viral tests which boats and crews being shipped out to Auckland have had to pass are of the most demanding and rigorous type.

New Zealand has been under almost total outsider-exclusion for quite some time now. Thus the chink of light which may be allowed in by the America's Cup is surely welcome, as the prolonged period of virtually total isolation seems to have resulted in the distinctive Kiwi accent becoming even more different from English as she is spoken elsewhere than it was already. Unless some outsiders get in there quite soon, it's only a matter of time before there won't be anybody who can understand a word they say……..

Auckland, the City of a Thousand SailsAuckland, the City of a Thousand Sails, where the total pandemic isolation of New Zealand is resulting in the development of a strange new dialect of English

Published in Vendee Globe

It was a tough night off Ireland in the Vendee-Arctique- Les Sables d'Olonne as an international fleet of racers navigated the West Cork coast.

During their second night at sea, on their way from Les Sables d'Olonne to Iceland, the fleet has been closing on the southwest corner of Ireland with the leaders coming within a couple of miles of the coast near Kinsale in a bid to get out of the worst of the weather.

It has been a long hard beat into the northwesterly wind which has been hitting 35 knots in the gusts. Throughout, the leader has remained the Frenchman Thomas Ruyant on LinkedOut (managed by Ireland's Marcus Hutchinson), the boat named after a charity supporting the homeless.

Thomas Ruyant Linked OutFrench sailor Thomas Ruyant on LinkedOut Photo via IMOCA Global Series

 

He has set a tough pace for the leading group which has settled into a collection of four boats with Charlie Dalin on Apivia this morning in second place just one-and-a-half nautical miles behind, then Jeremie Beyou on Charal (+2.5) and Kevin Escoffier on PRB (+3.9) in fourth place.

At a position about 45 miles south of the Fastnet Rock on starboard tack, Ruyant was pushing his foiler ahead at 14 knots with about 800 miles to go to reach the IOC UNESCO waypoint off the southwest tip of Iceland.

"Ruyant was pushing his foiler ahead at 14 knots with about 800 miles to go to reach Iceland"

The last 24 hours have seen a second boat return to port with Damien Seguin following the earlier example of Sebastien Simon (ARKÉA PAPREC) deciding to head for Port-La Forêt on board Groupe APICIL.

Seguin discovered that his alternator mounting had completely sheered off in the upwind conditions that were battering his boat and realised he would not have enough power to run his onboard systems without being able to use the engine.

"I quickly looked at what I could do and realised that unfortunately, I couldn't fix it at all," said Seguin who has never retired from a professional race before. "It seemed very difficult to continue like this upwind without being able to re-charge the batteries on board, so I made the decision with the team to return to Port-La-Forêt," he added.

Seguin was just south of Brest this morning on his way home but had not retired from the race.

Published in Vendee Globe
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Alex Thomson has returned to the water onboard HUGO BOSS, the boat which he hopes will lead him to victory in the 2020 Vendee Globe.

Thomson who has strong links to Cork Harbour and is a former Afloat Sailor of the Month now has less than five months to go until the start of the round-the-world endeavour, dubbed the Everest of the Seas.

Thomson and his team - much like their competitors in the IMOCA class - were unable to train on the water for some 9 weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the easing of lockdown restrictions in England, however, the team have been able to return to the water to commission the yacht, before re-commencing their training.

The news comes as organisers of the Vendee Globe this week confirmed that the race - which takes place just every four years and is considered the pinnacle event in the offshore sailing calendar - will indeed go ahead as planned on 8th November from Les Sables-d’Olonne in western France.

With less than five months to go until the start of the round-the-world endeavour, Thomson has made clear the team’s sole focus over this period will be maximising their time on the water and optimising the performance of the HUGO BOSS boat.

Over the coming weeks and months, Thomson and his crew will train offshore in a bid to further develop and enhance the performance of the HUGO BOSS boat, which launched in the summer of last year after more than two years in design and build. Thomson will also complete his solo 2,000 nautical mile passage, a final qualification requirement for the Vendee Globe.

“We feel in really good shape” he continued. “Of course, like all the teams, we’ve lost time on the water but that was out of our hands. The team has adapted well and we’ve really made the most of this period. Now it’s about putting the knowledge we’ve gained - and projects we’ve worked hard to develop - to the test. We’re now a few days into our training and I’m very pleased with the decisions that we’ve made so far. HUGO BOSS is performing very well indeed!”

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The Visually Impaired Sailing Association (VISA-GB) today announced that Pip Hare the respected sailor and Vendee Globe competitor has become the Patron of the Association.

VISA-GB is unique amongst disabled sailing charities because the majority of its board of trustees are visually impaired sailors who give a significant amount of their time to create opportunities for others with a visual impairment, to experience the freedom of offshore sailing. The majority of the crew on VISA-GB boats are normally visually impaired and play a full role in sailing and running the yacht.

Eddie Kitchen, chairman of VISA-GB said of Pip’s appointment: "All of us at VISA are thrilled that Ocean racer, and lifelong sailor, Pip Hare has agreed to be our Patron. Our charity will benefit from her enthusiasm, knowledge and determined attitude that will see her on the start line if this year's Vendee Globe race. Pip embodies much of what we stand for, there are many that think we chase impossible dreams, but our blind and visually impaired members are determined not to allow a lack of sight to stop them enjoying and benefiting from sailing. As our figurehead we know Pip will encourage us to achieve our ambitions.”

He added “I also know that Pip will help us to deliver our message to all in the visually impaired and blind community and that VISA-GB will continue to empower our sailors, encourage all to learn new skills and enjoy their participation in our great sport."

When asked about her new role Pip said "I was delighted to be approached by the Visually Impaired Sailing Association with a view to become their Patron. Having met some of the
VISA-GB sailors in 2019 I was extremely impressed by their approach and felt it matched my own. By empowering the visually impaired sailors to manage the complete boat trip it created a wonderfully positive approach to sailing. My own goals have been achieved by the same single-minded determination I saw in these sailors, and I found it inspirational. By
making sailing more accessible and fully inclusive I firmly believe we can make our sport open to all. I am pleased to accept the post of Patron and ambassador for VISA-GB and look forward to supporting and helping them achieve their goals."

With a full programme of events planned for 2021, VISA-GB hopes to have over 100 visually impaired sailors on the water, both cruising and racing. They are currently planning for a circumnavigation of the UK to offer a taste of life on the water to the visually impaired in all corners of the country. Trustees and members will be following and supporting Pip on her adventure in the Vendee Globe.

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Preparations for the start of the next Vendee Globe are going ahead in an uncertain context in terms of public health and the economy. The Vendee Council and the SAEM Vendee are doing their utmost in conjunction with all the partners, skippers from the IMOCA Class, their sponsors and public authorities to ensure arrangements for this ninth edition of the Vendee Globe go smoothly.

Maintaining the start date of 8th November for the race is the goal and everything is being done to achieve that.

In terms of racing, nothing prevents the race from starting on 8th November, as long as the national authorities allow that to be the case. However, for the Vendee Globe, which is a popular event and belongs to the local people, the presence of the public is important for us.

The organisers are therefore studying every possible situation to be able to welcome the public at an event like this in the economic and public health context, the evolution of which is hard to predict. The decision to keep Race HQ in Les Sables d'Olonne throughout the whole race will in fact help to ensure a maximum number of people can fully enjoy the Vendee Globe adventure.

At the same time, the Vendee Globe organisers are working in conjunction with the IMOCA Class towards the goal of adapting some of the deadlines for the skippers, in particular, the final date for registrations which has been pushed back until 1st September and the organisation of a preparatory solo race this summer.

A race from Vendee-Arctic-Les Sables d'Olonne to take place in July

At the same time, the Vendee Globe organisers are working in conjunction with the IMOCA Class towards the goal of adapting some of the deadlines for the skippers, in particular, the final date for registrations which has been pushed back until 1st September and the organisation of a preparatory solo race this summer.

With sailing gradually starting again, the IMOCA Class has been working over the past few weeks on organising a preparatory race, which was initially scheduled for June. In agreement with the Vendee Department, the headline partner for the event, the IMOCA Class proposed a race starting from off Les Sables d'Olonne on 4th July. This will be a solo race taking the sailors up past Iceland and into the Arctic Circle and then down to the Azores with a return to the start location planned around ten days later.

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Vendee Globe solo round the world race boss said this week a 'final decision' will be made about the November start of France's 'Everest of sailing' next month due to COVID-19 concerns.

Yves Auvinet, chairman of the SAEM Vendée told France 3 Television on Tuesday (May 5) that a decision will be made in collaboration with the IMOCA class and  SAEM Vendée around June 15.

A qualifying race is scheduled to start in the French Port of Les Sables-d'Olonne on July 4.

Although the Round the World race is entirely solo and unassisted, thousands of spectators are involved in November send off from Les Sables-d'Olonne and as Afloat reported previously, Auvinet said in April “The technical and sporting preparations for participants have been severely impacted by this unprecedented crisis". 

The latest interview (in French) is below

Two solo transatlantic races initially planned for the Globe Series championship this spring should have allowed some skippers to qualify and others to test their monohull after winter modification work but were cancelled.

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The health crisis that has shaken society for the last month is forcing those who are involved in the worlds of sports and business to adapt amidst this period of uncertainty. The French President’s address on 13th April did, however, lay the foundations for an exit strategy from this global pandemic and suggests a possible recovery period from the middle of July. As things stand today, the Vendée Globe is to remain on course with the race due to start from Les Sables-d'Olonne on 8th November.

Yves Auvinet, president of SAEM Vendée said: “The technical and sporting preparations for participants of the solo non-stop yacht race around the world without assistance have been severely impacted by this unprecedented crisis. We are very aware of this. For several weeks now, SAEM Vendée has been in very regular contact with skippers and all the key players of the Vendée Globe, to discuss these issues and propose solutions. Our aim is for the ninth edition of the race to start on the 8th November in the best possible conditions, while remaining very attentive to developments of the situation.

The two solo transatlantic races initially planned for the Globe Series championship this spring should have allowed some skippers to qualify and others to test their monohull after winter modification work.

The IMOCA class and the department of Vendée, a major partner in the race, are working to finalise an alternative to the New York - Vendée Les Sables-d'Olonne, a dress rehearsal before the Vendée Globe and therefore an essential race allowing for the skippers to prepare. Its format will be revealed soon.

Meanwhile, the Vendée Globe organisers are keeping a close eye on the health crisis linked to Covid-19 and any repercussions it may have.

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Following the spread of the Covid-19 Coronavirus, the SAEM Vendée in France has decided to cancel the press conference for the Vendée Globe which was scheduled to take place in Paris this coming Tuesday 10th March.

The organiser of the Vendée Globe round the world race is applying the precautionary principle in compliance with the government’s recommendations which prompt to limit broad public meetings in a confined space whenever possible.

The next major press conference will take place on the 17th of September, at the Palais-Brongniart in Paris.

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