The Vendée Globesolo round-the-world race is off to a fast start, following a spectacular sendoff in sparkling conditions this past Sunday.
Not surprisingly, given the robust conditions out on notoriously rough Bay of Biscay, the newest generation of IMOCA 60s with their cutting-edge lifting foils has surged ahead, with Britain’s Alex Thomson aboard Hugo Boss essentially sailing head-to-head against Armel Le Cléac'h aboard Banque Populaire.
Right behind them as they venture out onto the open Atlantic are Jean-Pierre Dick aboard St. Michel-Virbac and Vincent Riou aboard PRB. All four of them of them have been reveling in the conditions, in which peak winds of 30 knots have allowed them to consistently hit boatspeeds in the low 20s.
Ten to 20 miles back is another group of newer boats with more conventional daggerboards, doing it’s best to chase them town, while a third group comprised of even older boats has coalesced a few miles behind them.
Thus far, the highly curvaceous appendages being employed by the leaders—which bear a greater resemblance to those found aboard multihulls than typical monohull sloops—appear to be paying off. However, it’s early days, and only time will tell how they will fair in places like the doldrums or the Southern Ocean.
In all 29 skippers were at the start the of quadrennial 24,000-mile classic, including not one but two Americans: 66-year-old U.S. sailor Rich Wilson aboard Great American IV, a veteran of the 2008-09 Vendée Globe, and 32-year-old Conrad Colman aboard Foresight Natural Energy, a native of New Zealand who moved to the United States when he was 15.
As was the case in his first Vendée Globe, when he finished 9th in the 2008-09 edition in which scarcely a third of the fleet made it back to France, Wilson will be sharing his racing experience with thousands of schoolchildren around the world via the same “sitesALIVE” website his first time around.
How exactly the oldest skipper in the fleet will be able to manage filing reports and fielding 10 questions a week from his young followers remains to be seen. But with tens of thousands of offshore miles under his belt in a variety of settings, if there’s one thing Wilson has plenty of its toughness.
“I believe the Vendée Globe is a human adventure first, and then a competition, because even for whoever wins the race, it will be a difficult human challenge first,” Wilson says. “No one will have a smooth, uneventful voyage. It is a mental, emotional, and physical challenge without equal.”
As for Colman, while this may be his first Vendée Globe, he brings a wealth of experience to the event, having competed successfully in the Mini Transat, the Class 40 section of the Route du Rhum and the 2014-15 doublehanded Barcelona World Race, in which he finished seventh overall aboard the IMOCA 60 Spirit of Hungary. He also won the doublehanded Global Ocean Race in 2011-12 aboard the Class40 Cessna Citation.
For the latest on the race, visit http://www.vendeeglobe.org.