We pick out some of the skippers worth following closely in this year’s Vendée Globe, the world’s toughest sailing race
Not for nothing is the Vendée Globe referred to by many as the toughest race in the world. The singlehanded, non stop, solo race around the globe regularly sees fewer than half the 30 or so boats, which set out every four years to compete for the title, finish.
Anyone who has taken part in the race will tell you that merely getting across the finish line is achievement in itself. The 2020/2021 edition of the race has been no different with many of the front runners dropping out due to breakages and/or gear problems.
But who are the sailors still at the front of the field and which of them has the skill and determination to take cross the finish line first in the Vendée Globe 2020/21?
Extremely close at the front
Sometimes the Vendée Globe can be more-or-less sewn up as the leader re-enters the tricky northerly passage through the Atlantic. And sometimes things can be very tight. This edition of the race have seen extremely light weather for the leading boats off the coast of southern Brazil, which has allowed those behind to catch up.
As such, as the racers enter the final stretch of the round the world epic there are many names in with a chance of winning. The top six boats are all within 100 miles of one another. Any sailor would tell you that any one of them may win.
As things stand the top six are: Charlie Dalin – Apivia; Louis Burton – Bureau Vallée 2; Thomas Ruyant – LinkedOut; Yannick Bestaven – Maître CoQ; Damien Seguin Groupe Apicil; Boris Herrmann – Sea Explorer – Yacht Club de Monaco.
A rookie in this race, but a well-fancied one, Dalin has a new Verdier design which proved an even match for Charal during the Arctic Race, where Dalin was second.
A naval architect by trade, Dalin’s IMOCA is more radical than Ruyant’s, with an almost entirely enclosed cockpit, and was built with the expertise of François Gabart’s MerConcept project management team.
With a reputation for being both talented and meticulous, Dalin is well-equipped particularly in close racing, having a solid track record of podium places in the hyper-competitive Figaro.
Though Dalin is a rookie he has acquitted himself extremely well in this edition of the Vendée, leading for signification portions of the event. However, he has not escaped damage either as he took damage to his port foil in December 2020 while leading the race and dropped back for a time, but remained in and around the top three. Recently Dalin has official retaken the lead as he, Thomas Ruyant and Louis Burton clawed back many miles on the leader Yannick Bestaven. These four are locked in a four-way battle for the lead at present and any one of them could come out on top.
Boat: Bureau Vallée 2
Louis Burton is following a textbook pathway going into his third Vendée Globe. Having completed the 2016 race on one of the older and heaviest boats in the fleet, which he sailed to an impressive 7th, this time he has acquired the former Banque Populaire VIII, the foiling winner of the last race.
Burton has been having a good race and was consistently near the front of the field. However, persistent problems with his autopilot caused him issues in the later stages of the Southern Ocean and resulted, ultimately in a wipeout gybe which caused damage to his headsails and mainsail track.
He managed to find shelter in the lee of the tiny, remote Macquarie Island in the Southwestern Pacific to effect repairs. These went well and Burton has been on something of a charge ever since. From looking like he might struggle to make the top ten while repairing his damage, Burton now looks to be a real contender for the Vendée Globe win.
Ruyant is an experienced ocean racer with a new, fast boat, and as such was a clear podium contender from before the start. Having retired from the last Vendée Globe after his boat began breaking up near New Zealand, Ruyant commissioned a brand new Verdier design before he had sponsorship secured.
The gamble paid off, and he now has a fully funded campaign and promising new foiler: LinkedOut. He took the early lead in the Vendée-Arctic Race, before finishing a close third to Charal and Apivia.
Ruyant has delivered on his early promise and made impressive progress throughout the Vendée, maintaining a top three position for much of the race to date. However, he did suffer a collision with something underwater in the south Atlantic and had some severe foil damage as a result.
In a situation reminiscent of Alex Thomson in the previous edition of the Vendée, Ruyant was forced to cut away much of his Port foil and has continued on without it. He has been making decent progress even with his now compromised boat and continues to challenge for the lead as the fleet enter the final stages of the event.
Boat: Maître CoQ
After an aborted attempt at the 2008/09 Vendée Globe, with Yannick losing his mast just hours after the start in the Bay of Biscay, the La Rochelle based skipper moved back to the Class40 circuit.
Since 2008, Bestaven has taken two victories in the Transat Jacques Vabre in Class 40, and fourth place in the Route du Rhum in 2014. Having secured sponsorship from Maître CoQ, Yannick managed to purchase the first foiler designed by architects Verdier – VPLP for the Vendée Globe 2016 – formerly Morgan Lagravière’s Safran.
Bestaven has always been known for his autonomy. In 2001, he won the Mini-Transat on a boat that he’d built himself with the help of Arnaud Boissières who actually finished third. For this 2020 edition of the Vendée Globe, he is his own shipowner, responsible for the project from start to finish.
This all-round knowledge of a well-sorted (if not absolute latest generation) boat has certainly contributed to a Vendée which has gradually moved from impressive to standout and he led the fleet back into the Atlantic having moved up into first just south of Australia and is still fighting hard within the leading pack of four boats.
Boat: Groupe Apicil
There have been a string of outstanding performances in this edition of the Vendée Globe from skippers sailing older generation IMOCA 60s. In part they have been able to keep up thanks to proven designs that offer good reliability. On top of this, this edition of the race has been slower than many expected with unfavourable winds for the latest generation of foilers to really show what they can do in the downwind conditions they are increasingly designed to favour. As such it may not be a surprise that several boats without foils have managed to cling on to the front of the fleet.
Due to the age of his boat and his position as a Vendée rookie, Seguin was not seen by many as a podium contender heading into the race. However, the multiple dinghy champion and Paralympic medallist (Seguin was born without the use of his right hand) has shown himself a quick study upon moving to solo offshore racing.
In the build up to this race he enlisted the help of veteran Vendée racer Jean Le Cam in helping to get his Finot-Conq designed boat up to speed – and to simplify systems onboard to tailor the boat for his unique needs. Seguin has sailed smartly and alongside mentor Le Cam is part of the leading field outright and a frontrunner on the foil-less boats.
Jean le Cam
Boat: Yes We Cam!
Jean Le Cam (King Jean as he is nicknamed) has put in an impressive race and was part of the leading field consistently early on. Not only did Le Cam show that age and experience can get you to the front of the field in an older boat, but he lost time (which will be reduced from his eventual finishing time) performing a dramatic rescue of Kevin Escoffier on PRB when his bow broke off, quickly sinking his boat and leaving the Frenchman adrift in a liferaft.
Le Cam is on his fifth Vendée, understands the strengths and weaknesses of his boat well, and has not been afraid to take a different route to the leaders – one that better fits his boat’s performance. The definition of a wily old(er) Frenchman, you sense there is still plenty to come from him during the tricky return north up the Atlantic.
Arguably the benchmark boat of the fleet, Beyou’s Charal has had the most thorough race testing of the new IMOCAs.
Beyou’s solo career includes podium places in all the major offshores, winning the Figaro Series in 2005 and 2014, the TJV in 2011, and the Transat New York-Vendée in 2016. This is his fourth Vendée.
He has retired from two races, while in the last edition he finished third, behind Alex Thomson and winner Armel Le Cléac’h.
However, shortly after the start of this edition Beyou suffered a series of incidents which lead to a great deal of damage onboard Charal. Beyou was forced to turn around, return to the start where he and his shore team could effect repairs over a period of days before he crossed the startline once more and set off alone.
After such a delay, Beyou stood little chance of winning the Vendée Globe but his determination to continue shows his character. He is currently essentially seeing how much of the fleet he is able to pass before getting to the finish line and is up into the mid-teens.
Davies returned for her third Vendée Globe, this time competing against her husband Romain Attanasio. Despite being persistently asked about childcare arrangements for their son, Davies is much more enthusiastic to talk about the technical development work she’d done to her ten-year-old boat, which includes some of the biggest foils in the fleet and an innovative new autopilot system.
Initiatives-Coeur also benefits from the class’s ‘grandfathering’ rule, which allows Davies greater freedom with rig choices and sail plans. With enormous experience, Davies has clearly taken control of her campaign and is passionate about both the performance modifications and the charity it represents. But above all she desperately wanted a competitive result to assuage just missing the podium in 2008 and dismasting in 2012.
For Davies it was not to be, however, as her boat suffered significant damage following a violent collision with something underwater, which fundamentally damaged the structure surrounding her keel. Davies put into Cape Town where she was able to repair the her boat – though with outside assistance and so ending her assault on the Vendée.
She has since returned to the course in part to support the work done by her title sponsor, Initiatives-Coeur team, which combines sport with humanitarian work in the form of supporting the non-governmental organisation Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque.
The association enables children suffering from heart problems who come from underprivileged countries where it is impossible to get operations, to come to France where they are hosted by a family and receive treatment.
Additional reporting from Toby Heppell.