Things have now stabilized in the 2012-13 Vendée Globe, following an early spate of collisions and dismastings that forced over a third of the fleet to retire before it even reached the equator. However, the remaining 13 competitors are still finding themselves pushed to the limit as they contend with both breakages and the extreme weather conditions that mark the Southern Ocean.
British sailor Alex Thomson aboard Hugo Boss has hit a floating object that tore through one rudder mechanism and a hydrogenerator blade. Repairs to the rudder tie bar took 15 hours, and Thomson, now sailing with only one hydogenerator, has a limited power supply, forcing him to cut off communication with the outside world.
“The repair to the tie bar seems to be holding up well, although it is currently on the windward unloaded side, so I won't really know if it will hold until it is fully loaded while sailing on starboard,” Thomson reported. “If [the repair] should fail, I have various other options available which will take more time. So in terms of finishing I don’t see this as a real problem.
“I am getting used to the lack of comms onboard,” Thomson added. “I certainly miss speaking to my wife and the team, but we still communicate via email so it is not the end of the world.”
Also suffering from a collision was Javier Sanso of Spain aboard Acciona 100% EcoPowered, who now finds himself sailing with a 40cm chunk missing from his starboard rudder. Fortunately, the damage has been limited to the rudder’s sacrificial “crash area,” so that it remains serviceable.
Meanwhile, aboard Cheminées Poujoulat, Switzerland’s Bernard Stamm was forced to perform some self-dentistry work, filing and temporarily filling one of his molars in the rough conditions. “I broke a tooth, and I'm now missing about a third of a molar. The broken part is bared, I need to take care of that immediately,” Stamm told one of the race’s official physicians shortly after the accident.
Despite the brutal circumstances, the fleet has been pushing itself harder than any Vendée Globe fleet in history, with Frenchman Francois Gabart aboard Macif leading the way. Gabart, who at 29 is the 2012-13 race’s youngest skipper, recently shattered Jean-Pierre Dick’s 24-hour speed record of 515.6nm, which was set on Dec. 1, when he sailed 545.3nm in 24 hours at an average speed of 21 knots.
Gabart sailed nearly 11,000 miles in 34 days at an average speed of 14.9 knots, which is 0.9 knot faster than the record speed set by Michel Desjoyeaux, winner of the 2001 and 2009 Vendée Globes. Gabart, however, says he is focused only on his overall race, and that breaking records is for him only incidental.
“I don’t feel very concern[ed] with the records,” Gabart says. “I don’t look at them because from one race to another, the weather conditions change, just like the route changes and the boats.”
For his part, Desjoyeaux says that the secret to Gabart’s record-breaking speed is his sail wardrobe. “I know why Francois is so fast. He has a [blast reacher], which is an improvement of what I had four years ago. We are sure now that Armel does not have the same sail. [The sail] works on the angles that [Gabart] had when he broke the record, so around 120 degrees with around 35-40 knots of wind, with ideal conditions of swell and sea.”
The 2012-13 Vendee Globe thus far: BY THE NUMBERS
Since November 11, when 20 intrepid skippers set out from Les Sables d’Olonne, France, seven have dropped out and the youngest among them, 29-year-old Francois Gabart, sailed a record-breaking 545.3 nautical miles in 24 hours aboard his Open 60 Macif. Some other numbers to consider:
Youngest Skipper to sail a Vendee Globe: Ellen MacArthur, 24, in 2000–2001
Oldest Skipper to sail a Vendee Globe: Jose de Ugarte, 62, in 1992–93
Average length of sleep sailors get per 24 hours: 5 hours
Previous ratified 24-hour record: Single-handed (Alex Thomson): 468.72 mi/24h, an average speed of 19.53 knots (2003)
Current 24-hour record: Single-handed (Francois Gabart): 545.3mi/24h, an average speed of 21 knots (2012, awaiting ratification)
Macif’s LOA: 60ft
Macif’s Mast Height: 95ft
Macif’s Beam: 18ft 7in
Macif’s Sail Area Upwind: 3,659ft2
Macif’s Sail Area Downwind: 6,135ft2
Macif’s Displacement: 16,975lbs
Macif’s Sail Area-Displacement Ratio: 88.63
Macif’s Displacement-Length Ratio: 35
Photo courtesy of Vendée Globe/Jean-Marie Liot