For all the advances made in IMOCA 60 design and safety, when it comes the Vendée Globe solo nonstop race around the world, there’s still an element of Russian roulette to the event, especially in the Southern Ocean portion of the race—and the 2016-17 installment has been no exception.
By the time this issue hits newsstands, the winner will presumably already have arrived in Les Sables d’Olonne, France. However, at press time, the battle was still very much raging in the world’s roughest and most remote waters, and several broken and battered boats were in the process of either falling by the wayside or being nursed along despite serious damage.
First and foremost among these was British sailor Alex Thomson aboard Hugo Boss, who seemed unstoppable until he collided with an unidentified floating object in the South Atlantic that destroyed his starboard foil. This, in turn, meant he could no longer plane effectively on port tack, which allowed second-placed Armel Le Cléac’h of France aboard Banque Populaire VIII to quickly overtake him. The good news for Thomson was that Hugo Boss is designed to be able to continue to race without a foil, and he remained within striking range of Le Cléac’h as the two boats sped across the Indian Ocean.
Soon afterward, 2004 Vendée Globe winner Vincent Riou aboard PRB was forced to retire after hitting another submerged object that damaged the axis of his canting keel, showing that the event’s superstars are as subject to the whimsy of fate as the also-rans. And in case the point hadn’t been made sufficiently, third-placed Sébastien Josse aboard Edmond de Rothschild, one of the pre-race favorites, had barely repaired a damaged rudder before his port foil blew up while blasting along in 35 knots of wind and heavy seas.
Other victims included Japan’s Kojiro Shiraishi, who was forced to divert to Cape Town, South Africa, after his Spirit of Yukoh lost its rig, and Kito de Pavant, who had to abandon his Bastide Otio after he struck something at speed a little farther west of that. For the popular de Pavant, who was rescued by the 360ft research and supply ship Marion Dufresne, the loss was an especially bitter one as this was the third Vendée Globe in which he’s been forced to retire, and his stated goal had been to simply finish in one piece this time around.
On a more positive note, a little over three weeks after the start videographers aboard the French frigate Nivôse commandeered the ship’s helicopter to capture footage of both Hugo Boss and Banque Populaire VIII at full speed in the heart of the Southern Ocean, a first in the race’s 27-year history.
“I had about 25-30 knots, and the sea state was really horrible—very gray, bloody freezing, so it was a nice distraction for the helicopter to come,” Thomson said afterward. “I think I was averaging 21.5 knots, so top speed was possibly 28, and down as low as 17 probably… It was good to have some other people around.”
For the latest on the race and to see some of Nivôse’s footage, visit sailmagazine.com/racing
Photos courtesy of Marine Nationale/Vendee globe; Yoicki Yabe; Anne Recoulez/TAAF; Kito de Pavant/vendee globe