A little over a week into the 2012-13 Vendée Globe, with the doldrums still ahead of much of the fleet, and already the field of 20 has been reduced by five, with a sixth looking to be in serious trouble. [Ed note: Since our e-newsletter went out the “sixth” sailor, Polish skipper Zbigniew Gutkowski, has withdrawn as well.]
Although the terrors of the Southern Ocean are what typically come to mind in this storied, solo, round-the-world event, trawlers have proved to be the greatest threat thus far, with Louis Burton aboard Bureau Vallee and Kito de Pavant aboard Groupe Bel both coming afoul of fishing boats within a week of the start.
The other victims included Marc Guillemot, whose Safran lost its keel after colliding with an unidentified object the first night after the start; Samantha Davies, whose Savéol was dismasted in a 40-knot squall; and Jérémie Beyou aboard Maître CoQ, who experienced a breakdown of the hydraulic ram controlling his boat’s canting keel.
All five sailors escaped physical injury, but the emotional toll has surely been a terrible one, as is evident in a video report Davies sent in shortly after her dismasting.
Others having trouble include Polish sailor Zbigniew Gutkowski, whose Energai has been plagued with a host of technical issues that appear to place his effort in serious doubt and already have him trailing the leaders by over 1,500 miles.
“I have a couple of issues with the boat’s electronic and electric systems. The main issue is that my autopilot is not functioning the way it is supposed to, and it’s been like that since start day, so I can’t sail at speed at all,” Gutkowksi recently reported. “The autopilot issue is that it can’t keep to the true wind angle, which is essential in racing, so I am trying to fix it now... The next problem is with the keel operating system, so I can’t move the keel in a normal way when I need to correct the boat’s position. So that’s the next case I need to sort out.”
It’s difficult to image how Gutkowski will be able to survive in the Southern Ocean with these kinds of serious problems plaguing his boat.
Meanwhile, at the front of the pack, French and Swiss veterans Armel Le Cleac'h aboard Banque Populaire, Vincent Riou aboard PRB, François Gabart aboard Macif, Jean-Pierre Dick aboard Virbac Paprec and Bernard Stamm aboard Cheminees Poujoulat all set a blistering pace down to the doldrums only to have British sailors Alex Thomson aboard Hugo Boss and Mike Golding aboard Gamesa reel them as they struggled through the calms that plague that region. At this point, with the three months of sailing ahead of them, it’s still anybody’s game, and the race promises to be a brutal, long-distance slugfest.
For more, visit vendeeglobe.org/en
Photo courtesy of GREGORIO CUNHA/DPP/VENDEE GLOBE