Indian Summer Sunday Marks One Week To Sunday’s Start
At 1302hrs today (Sunday), exactly one week before the start of the eighth edition of the Vendée Globe solo, non stop around the world race, the pontoons of the race dock for the 29 IMOCA race boats are awash with humanity. Tens of thousands of visitors have filed along the pontoons in the unusually warm sunshine, desperate to see the solo skippers while they are enjoying their final days on land before next weeks.
The Indian summer is set to end before the fleet sets sail south. Long term weather predictions for next week’s start suggest winds from a perfect direction, the North West around 15-20kts and a return to more seasonable temperatures.
Dutch skipper Pieter Heerema, skipper of the new VPLP-Verdier design No Way Back remains cool and calm about his impending departure on his first round the world race. This afternoon he was giving the crowd some impromptu entertainment, checking his rig climbing system. “Everything is under control. We have a few little things to do. But I can’t wait to get going.”
Rich Wilson, the veteran US skipper of Great American 4, was taking time out from his on board preparations for a final training ride on his bike. “Managing yourself through the last week is critical. I know a lot more from last time about making sure I am rested and building up my energies and managing my time and commitments,”said Wilson, who has long since cast his postal vote for the US Presidential election.
Nandor Fa, skipper of Spirit of Hungary – looking to his third Vendée Globe starts – is content to be splicing his running back stay. “It’s not that I don’t trust anyone else to do it. It is that I enjoy doing it and everything is good. I am in the best shape to start a race that I ever have been. I am starting to think about how I want to be getting off the start line. With 28 other IMOCAs out there on the start line and thousands of spectator boats then the absolute priority is to be getting away safely and in good shape.”
Meantime Alex Thomson, the British skipper who finished third in the last edition of the Vendée Globe returned to Les Sables d’Olonne. His team completed a remarkable refit of his latest generation IMOCA Hugo Boss last winter after it had to be salvaged from the Atlantic off Portugal following a capsize during the Transat Jacques Vabre race exactly one year ago. The boat was relaunched in April after being virtually rebuilt – including the addition of considerably more carbon composite structure – whilst not seeming to lose any speed potential. Proving that he has the speed to potential to win this Vendée Globe, Thomson led for much of this summer’s New York – Vendée Transatlantic race.
Ross Daniel, technical director for Thomson’s Hugo Boss IMOCA explained today: “Reliability has always been a top priority for us. Sometimes it is hard to see it that way because everyone wants to go lighter and faster, going faster first and then thinking about reliability second. The two go hand in hand for us, more so because of our history over precious years, and now I think we have gone further than the other new boats. The boat was built late, delivered late. (A year ago) The boat was under water, submerged, there was no mast, there was a lot of damage to the deck. We knew that when we relaunched in April we had just six months to the Vendee Globe. We chose to add additional structure and not have to worry about it, then letting Alex get to know the boat, learning how to get the most out of it. So we have added a lot of structure inside and we really have had no problems at all. The hull after doing 12,000 miles is immaculate. I have no concerns at all about that boat going around the world at all.”
Skipper safety remains the highest possible priority for Race Direction. The challenge requires safety and rescue arrangements corresponding to the risks they are taking. Skippers on the course race with the knowledge they can be called on at any moment to help fellow skippers, and race officials are all ready to respond to any incident.
The Vendée Globe skippers are well informed about the dangers and procedures. Alone at sea, often hundreds of miles from the nearest potential rescuer, the skippers must know how to react in critical situations. Each sailor has to take part in medical training courses, but also a World Sailing survival course, during which they find themselves in the water in their survival suits. Competitors must have first aid diplomas and offshore medical certificates. In addition to these courses, additional classes and training sessions are organised by the organisers of the Vendée Globe.
Back on 9th September a briefing was held including practical advice from not only rescue services but fellow skippers who have experienced dangerous incidents, like Paul Meilhat (injured in the Transat Saint Barth/Port-la-Forêt in 2015) and Bernard Stamm (who had to abandon his boat at sea in later 2013 in a storm). These and other sailors learnt how the Australian, New Zealand and South African rescue teams operate, using different methods from in France.
To set sail from Les Sables d’Olonne, the boats have to respect class rules to guarantee that the competition is fair and safe. Righting tests are carried out to be certain that the boats can be righted by using the canting keel. “IMOCA rules change from edition to edition to improve safety,” explained Guillaume Evrard, one of the Race Directors. “Since Jean Le Cam capsized off Cape Hornin the 2008 race, each skipper must make it clear where to pierce the hull to rescue the skipper if he is trapped inside. In the last Vendée Globe in 2012-2013, several competitors had keel and mast problems. Since then, these parts have become one-design.”
Safety checks are also carried out by the French Sailing Federation on the Vendée Globe pontoon in Les Sables d’Olonne. Measurers and assistants ensure that the right safety gear is aboard each boat and that the monohull is suitable for the race.
This year in the Vendée Globe, there will be an exclusion zone around Antarctica instead of the Ice Gates. Race Directors are working in close collaboration with CLS, a subsidiary of the French Space Research Centre – CNES. This company supplies them with data concerning the ice drifting up from the south using various sources, including satellites, radar and altimetry.