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Indomitable Alexia Barrier's fighting spirit gets her across the Vendée Globe finish in 24th

by Vendée Globe 28 Feb 15:38 GMT 28 February 2021
Alexia Barrier - Vendée Globe © Jean-Louis Carli / Alea

On a perfect Sunday morning, with calm seas and just as the new dawn was breaking on 28th February, at 06 23 44 hrs UTC French skipper Alexia Barrier crossed the finish line of the ninth Vendée Globe off Les Sables d'Olonne to complete her race in 24th position of the 33 skippers who started the race on Sunday 8th November.

Racing the oldest boat in the fleet, the 41-year old Mediterranean skipper showed great stamina and tenacity to complete the 24,365 miles course in a passage time of 111 days, 17 hours, 03 minutes, her race always reflecting her great enthusiasm and her huge appetite for life.

Her race achieves her ongoing objective of publicising her wider concern for the environment, promoting better, sustainable practices, backed up by an extensive education programme for young people. Racing a boat launched in late January 1998 she extends the storied round the world racing history with completes the seventh lap of the planet for 'the Penguin' an IMOCA which was designed by Marc Lombard for Catherine Chabaud's Vendée Globe 2000.

Her ability to take on the Vendée Globe was only really cemented in September last year, two months before the start when TSE, a French solar energy company sign up at the last minute as her major sponsor. And so, beyond the challenge of the race itself, Barrier is committed to supporting scientific research and raising public awareness of the importance of ocean science in the protection of the seas and the sustainable use of marine resources.

As part of a partnership signed between the IMOCA Class and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, Barrier sailed with a thermosalinograph, a mini laboratory that allows her to collect water samples taking temperatures, salinity and CO2 from all along the course. She also deploys a Météo France buoy and an ARGO float.

After the start she is quickly into her rhythm. Regardless of the tough conditions of the first few days Barrier is always pushing hard and usually smiling and in harmony with her older boat. "It requires a lot of attention, trimming and adjustments and is very physical but dependable but I love my Penguin!" she said.

One day after her passage of the Equator, on November 26, Alexia turns 41 "There is no better way to spend a birthday than at sea" she said.

Her first time in the big south

Before the start Barrier spoke about the deep south, saying, "I'm really not making a big deal out of it, I'm just waiting to be there to experience it when I am there and take it all as it comes. We can't worry and predict about what lies ahead."

Even so as she approaches the Roaring 40s there, she has an air of slight trepidation, "I'm glad there are people around, that comforts me. We are competitors but we take care of each other. I hope we will stay together."

Such is the sunny outlook and positive mindset which always underpins her race, always happy to communicate and share her feelings, more than once entertaining with her singing and dancing with sheer joie de vie.

In mid-December as she passes South Australia, she said "I'm smiling, I'm starting to get used to the conditions."

At Christmas Barrier is tested with a very unwelcome gift, her starboard runner block explodes: "The mast went forward, and I thought in an instant it was all over. I immediately rolled my J2 and gybed I was terrified!"

She employed an ingenious way to check for any damage hoisting her Go Pro up the mast A few days later she reflects:

"I'm happy to be here, everything is going pretty well. There are much more serious things in life than breaking a block."

The skipper of TSE-4myplanet was not spared further challenges. The ten days approaching Cape Horn are particularly complicated with strong winds and big seas, an unrelenting challenges she described as "intense and violent."

But in spite of everything, she continued to rave about the adventure she is enjoying.

"Cape Horn... you finally feel like you really deserve it when you are there. And the South is a great experience: there are lights, clouds, absolutely fantastic sunrises and sunsets! "

Even under the worst conditions she shows typical perseverance and good humour. "I try to take on problems with a smile. You don't have to live them under a black cloud, you have to solve it and enjoy having solved it until the next one."

She is extra motivated by the little notes and photos she found in her food bags throughout this period. "I have lots of blue post-it notes and they are a bit more encouragement. I had prepared 50 photos, I draw one out at random every day and each one makes me smile. There are photos of my friends and relatives, photos of boats, of my Mini, more artistic photos, a photo of SOS Mediterranean."

Throughout her race, Alexia always repeats. "Competing in the Vendée Globe is such a privilege."

After Cape Horn and her deliverance from the south, the ascent of the Atlantic promises to be more serene, with a relatively benign doldrums, "I had 36 hours with squalls that made my life difficult but not for long."

But on February 15, a little over a week before the arrival at Les Sables d'Olonne she suffered a bad fall while changing her clothes and hurt her back.

Until today she has remained quite immobilised by the intense pain but true to herself, she pushed her injured body until she achieved her goal, completing the race wearing her big smile and with her head held high

"I am not fed up about my back I will soon have completed my Vendée Globe and that's all that matters." She said a few days before her finish.

Asked before the start "What is your main quality?" she replied instantly "My fighting spirit".

Completing her Vendée Globe today proves that is only but one of her many qualities but probably the one which served her best, getting her not just to the start line and the finish line.

Alexia Barrier's stats

She covered the 24,365 miles of the theoretical course at an average speed of 9.09 knots.
Distance actually traveled on the water: 28 170 miles at 10.51 knots on average

The Great Passages

Equator: 25th on 25/11/2020 22:08 UTC after 17d 08h 48min of race, 7d 08h 49min after Alex Thomson (HUGO BOSS)
Cape of good hope: 21st on 12/11/2020 05h51 UTC after 32d 16h 31min of race, 10d 06h 40min after Charlie Dalin (Apivia)
Cape Leeuwin: 25th on 12/27/2020 11:48 UTC after 49d 10h 28min of race, 14d 12h 22min after Charlie Dalin (Apivia)
Cape Horn: 24th 24/01/2021 21:55 UTC after 77d 08h 35min of race, 22d 08h 12min after Yannick Bestaven (Maître CoQ IV)
Equator (back): 24th 11/02/2021 22:35 UTC after 95d 09h 15min of race, 26d 03h 23min after Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée 2)

Her boat

  • Architect: Marc Lombard
  • Construction site: MAG France, Fontenay-le-Comte
  • Launched January 1998

She said:

"The support from the race doctor Jean-Yves Chauve was remarkable and I had so many messages, a lot of people were worried. There were so many kids who communicated with me they were really worried, and I sent them messages to reassure them, and the whole organisation did a big job on this and so I realised that more than ever the mind and the human body are incredible and they can hold out together until the finish line."

"Before the start, having to find the money to buy the boat and we fitted the keel just one month before leaving and I had to replace some sails, it was a big battle to be there at the start and I was thinking during the race that even if anything can happen, I was so happy to just be there in the race, that is what made me smile, these simple things to be still in the race all the time."

"I remember that nothing is impossible, you need strong will, you need to work hard, and you need to always be optimistic and then you can get through all the challenges, all the problems you face."

"This Vendée Globe was an extraordinary adventure; it was my first, but I am determined it will not be my last. As soon as the first boat finished this race, I was already thinking what boat I want for the next one. I still have to find some money to buy it. That search is continuing but I have some sponsors who will continue with us. That is already a great support. Having their trust is worth everything."

"I have to thank TSE who came on board in August. They came in at the last moment. Although we were locked down. For once I had told myself to calm down and stop looking, that was amazing. Someone called and offered us a partnership and that was really important to us. That enabled us to change the keel one month before leaving. We went to Michel Desjoyeaux's company, no one believed in us, just me and the team. I achieved this Vendée Globe thanks to my partners and this incredible team. And Catherine Chabaud is here and the Penguin which was built for her is the oldest boat in the fleet, she is 22 years old and has just completed her seventh circumnavigation is going to retire now because I think it is time now and deserves it. Maybe she will now be used for nice voyages but not another Vendée Globe. It is an incredible adventure and the think I take most from this Vendée Globe is that nothing is impossible."

"We were six female skippers at the start and inside or outside the race we all finished the course, all had the will even to restart it was very courageous to re-start for Isa and Sam. I think it is the beginning of something that should be the norm, that is having many more female skippers on the Vendée Globe. When I realised that Clarisse had beaten the record of Ellen MacArthur, I was very happy for her but it is a shame it took us 20 years to break that record. Girls we have to get budgets together and keep at it. Yes, this year there were more budget and more female projects, but it has to continue because it is incredibly positive to have these six female skippers finished and back here. It is inspiring for all the young girls who maybe want to start sailing or whatever it is they want to do; they have to tell themselves nothing is a question of gender it is all a question of will and motivation and determination just as for everything else."

"I knew this Vendée Globe would be difficult for me with this boat because I am used to competing at a very high level and competing for podiums but knowing I was leaving with an adventure project was fulfilling a childhood dream, that is what it was about, that is what I focused on even if I knew I could not win it. Finishing was the objective and also to meet the other science and educational objectives which I did with 4-MyPlanet contributing to UNESCO's programme and over 10,000 kids in France followed our programme. I was thinking through the race, what would I be doing, how would I be with a better performing boat. What would have happened. I thought about it and when the first boat crossed, I was thinking what boat I would like for the next race. So I want a new, more competitive project without losing the values of our partners and the values of biodiversity, education and health and continuing to share great adventures with many people."

"I feel like a spent a long time on the water because there was no beginning, not seeing land, not seeing anyone. It was a very particular adventure on this extreme race, the most extreme on the planet, you realise that your body and your mind can do amazing things, you are always pushing your limits but living in harmony with nature and wilderness."

Find out more...

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