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Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d'Olonne Race update: Switching things up a gear!

by Ed Gorman 5 Jul 19:52 BST 5 July 2020
Onboard during the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d'Olonne Race © Eloi Stichelbaut-polaRYSE / PRB

Each mile devoured since Saturday at 15:30hrs local time has brought the Vendée - Arctique - Les Sables d'Olonne fleet closer to the teeth of the first low-pressure systems set to roll over the solo sailors, who now number 19 in total after the regrettable retirement of Sébastien Simon (ARKEA - PAPREC), victim of a broken starboard foil on Saturday evening.

Sébastien Simon made his retirement official this Sunday morning. On Saturday, four hours after the start in Les Sables d'Olonne, whilst making headway at 17 knots in around twenty knots of breeze, "fairly under-canvassed, under J3 (small headsail) and one reef in the mainsail", his starboard foil gave up the ghost. The Vendée-based skipper immediately set a course for his port of registry, Port-la-Forêt, to assess the damage, the situation and its consequences.

"Continuing would have caused us to lose out on 15 days in what is expected to be a major repair and assessment period, explains the skipper of ARKEA-PAPREC. I don't want to rush the repairs so I've opted for this decision (retirement), though inevitably it's tinged by a great deal of regret."

One of the consequences of this incident is that in order to qualify for the Vendée Globe, Sébastien Simon still has to sail a 2,000-mile course singlehanded. Indeed, the Vendée - Arctique - Les Sables d'Olonne was the perfect opportunity for him to complete this additional qualifying passage. Instead, he will now have to agree on a replacement course with Race Management for the Vendée Globe, which must be completed by 15 September 2020.

Hunkering down and deciding on the best course forward

Powering up towards Fastnet in single file, the head of the race has been setting a hellish pace upwind in quite heavy seas, with the wind set to build over the course of the night. The lesson? The new foilers have made serious progress on this point of sail, despite it seeming rather unnatural for the curves of their foils.

Leading for the most part, with the exception of a counter-tack to hug the limits of a TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme), Thomas Ruyant is posting a masterful performance on LinkedOut. 6 miles astern, Kevin Escoffier is proving that you can still sail a creditable race on one of the older generation boats. In fact, his PRB was launched in 2009 according to a VPLP - Verdier design, but Vincent Riou constantly optimised her before handing over the helm to the skipper from Saint Malo.

Jérémie Beyou (Charal) and Charlie Dalin (Apivia), are hot on the heels of the top duo, accompanied by Isabelle Joschke whose MACSF, a 2007 VPLP - Verdier design, she too boasting a pair of foils, is proving to be a force to be reckoned in close-hauled configuration (read below). Ahead of all the contenders, a looming depression will require a decision to be made on the route forward. Would it be better to carry straight on in the Celtic Sea and target the centre of the low-pressure system, which is forecast to involve 25 to 30 knots of breeze and a 3.5-metre sea, or to put in a speedy tack once the front shifts round and hunt down milder conditions to the west?

The weather models are not entirely in agreement, but it would seem to indicate that any gains made from the riskier option would not really be enough to make it worthwhile.? Added to that, with four months to go until the ?Vendée Globe, limiting any risks would seem advisable, the benefits unlikely to be great in any case, and a mechanical glitch certainly not a thrilling prospect for anyone. Armel Tripon (L'Occitane en Provence) has already made his decision. This afternoon, the flamboyant black and gold IMOCA that dazzled the competition on Saturday's start line has already hung a left. It's a wise option as the sailor from Nantes has to complete the Vendée - Arctique - Les Sables d'Olonne to qualify for the Vendée Globe and it may be that the painful example of Sébastien Simon had an impact on the subtle balance between short-term aims and long-term goals...

Quotes from the boats:

Isabelle Joschke (MACSF)
"It's been a fantastic start to the race! I got off to a good start, my boat really went well in the fairly quick upwind conditions. It's wet, lively and we haven't had to make too many manœuvres. The first night was positive for me. I'm racing flat out and I'm still in good shape, despite not having slept much, which is a good thing! I see it as a positive that I'm in the leading group. I'm delighted that my boat is able to rocket along in these conditions. It's a nice surprise!"

Yannick Bestaven (Maître CoQ IV)
"?Okay... okay. It's been a bit lively since the start. There's a fair amount of breeze, which is fluctuating, but things are going pretty well. I'm not very pleased with my start: I decided to change sail at the last minute so I got off to a poor start, but I've managed to get right back into the thick of the action. My position suits me nicely. I'm behind the modern foilers, which are quicker than me. And I'm not unhappy to be near Initiatives Cœur: Sam Davies is a good reference in terms of performance."

Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Arts & Fenêtres)
"It's true! We're going to have 40 knots, on a reach, which are the conditions we'll encounter in the Indian Ocean this winter. It's an interesting opportunity, but I'm having to think about it. With just 4 months until the Vendée Globe, you can't be too gung-ho. In this race though, the challenge is to size up the competition and see how you fare in relation to the others. The main aims for me in the Vendée - Arctique - Les Sables d'Olonne are to have fun and to really get a good feel for the boat. If I make up ground on the others so much the better, but it's not serious if I don't. The speed differentials are so impressive between the latest generation boats and ours that there's no point deluding yourself. We're 3 to 4 knots slower upwind, 7 or 8 on a reach in certain phases. Even if we are able to catch up, which would be funny, they'll end up stealing a march on us again."

Samantha Davies (Initiatives Cœur)
"It was quick at the start! I soon found the right trim and it was time for lift-off. It's very, very bumpy. It wasn't easy to do the 'housework' and stow everything away after the start (sealing of the propeller shaft, stowing the race flags, putting the camera away, etc). After I'd tied everything up, I struggled a bit to get the boat sailing well through the water and finding the right angle, but it wasn't too bad. We were really getting shaken up and I had to think twice about making something to eat! In the early hours, we were sailing closer to the wind and it was less quick. I made the most of that time to make a maaaaassive dinner - which I ate in stages (800 calories is hard to swallow in one go!). I also managed to get in some 30-minute siestas, stretched out in my bunk. All's well aboard. I'm making the most of this short period of sunshine before the front rolls in, picking up the wind and the sea in the process this evening. I'm very happy to finally be racing on my beautiful boat at last and to really get the chance to test her (both of us) before the Vendée Globe this winter. I'm pleased to relaunch the 'one click for a heart' campaign for the children too.?"

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