Vendee report 11-4(am)
Well the weather is a bit less violent, but another front is on the way. There is talk in the Vendee Globe office of the possibility of postponing the start a couple of days. But they will play it by ear. It they can get the boats off of the pontoons I think they will go for it. One of the reasons for not wanting to start in excessive weather is concern about the spectator fleet. The last thing they need is a huge rescue operation to go through at the same time as the start!
This is a very exciting time, yet there is an odd feeling for me. Here I am supposed to be coming up with stories for Sailing World and Latitude 38, but I’m doing more interviews myself for French journalists! Francoise, the proprietor of the fantastic house where we are staying has been wonderful to us. Her neighbors, Marcel & Chantal, are Internet nuts and seem to have alerted their press contacts to my Vendee plans and our team’s ‘story’. They have volunteered to create a French version of our website and have already put some pictures of me on the website of the hotel. Sheesh! I don’t feel like I deserve so much attention for not making the race, but they love the fact that our team (as Americans) are serious about making the next one. It seems the French mentality is that they love stories of effort as much as stories of success. Maybe even more.
I haven’t said much on these updates about the skippers in this year’s landmark Vendee race. Part of the reason is that a lot of information about them is available on the Vendee race website. Also there’s the fact that many of them are such huge sailing superstars. But probably in the U.S. many of you don’t know a lot about them. This year there is a record 24 skippers. The most before was just 16 in 96/97. If you want my scoop on them, here are my picks as the top ones to watch. I’ll list them in roughly my order of likelihood of a top placing, but I change my mind every day. Hope I don’t jinx anyone!
Mike Golding, Team Group 4: British. This is the culmination of a multi-year-coordinated campaign to win the Vendee. Golding is the consummate professional skipper. He has won the BT global challenge and was leading the last Around Alone before he hit an uncharted sandbar. This team’s organization is incredible. Most of the other boats are scrambling in preparation but there is never anyone on Mike’s boat. It is all ready and I swear there isn’t one speck of dirt on this immaculate machine. As long he doesn’t knock off a daggerboard or rudder, Golding is my pick for this year.
Mark Thiercelin, Active Wear: French. Thiercelin has been at this for a while now and was second in the last Vendee (officially that is, Isabelle Autissier actually crossed the line in 2nd but had been disqualified for stopping to replace a rudder). He was leading the last Around Alone (after Golding crashed out and Isabelle flipped over) before losing his rig and handing over the lead to Giovanni Soldini. Perpetually 2nd or 3rd, it may be Thircelin’s time to break through. He certainly has the experience.
Michel Desjoyeaux, PRB: French. PRB wasted no time in replacing Isabelle after she decided she’s had enough capsizes. They went straight to the Euro ‘farm leagues’ and picked proven winner Desjoyeaux. This fellow has won the Figaro (a brutally competitive one-design singlehanded series), and a couple of transatlantic races. PRB is the newest open 60 and very radical. He has a very unusual type of rotating mast and also kick up transom rudders (coincidentally very similar to what Larry Tuttle has designed for our boat, which he did long before we knew PRB had them). Also there is a really cool around-the-boat traveler vang system. This would be my pick to win if things weren’t so new and if he hadn’t already broken his mast and boom….
Ellen MacArthur, Kingfisher: British. Ok, so maybe I’m a little enthralled with this one. But who isn’t? She has unlimited backing, a stellar design and construction team, years of planning, and a seemingly uncanny talent. Her victory in her very first Open 60 race, this years “1star” caused an explosive media frenzy. Ellen is possibly the biggest hero in Europe right now. No kidding, if you were here you’d see what I mean! The whole Kingfisher program has raised the bar on many levels. The big thing for Ellen I think is to not succumb to the pressure and push too hard. The Vendee is the ultimate exercise in pacing. This Cinderella story may come true.
Catherine Chabaud, Whirlpool: French. Actually the race within a race between Ellen and Catherine may overshadow the men in media attention. Catherine is near to Ellen in publicity exposure and has filled the shoes of Isabelle Autissier as the Great Frenchwoman Adventurer. Whirlpool is a really fast boat. Catherine was leading last years Transat Jacques Vabre (doublehanded to Columbia, see my website archives for a report at the start in Le Havre, France) before she fell into a hole at the finish and wound up second. She is the only woman to have officially finished the Vendee, in the 96/97 race she was last, but hey, she made it.
Also top picks: Thomas Coville on Sodebo, France. Roland Jourdain on Sill, France.
Damn! It’s 1am in the morning again. Add to list of things to do: I need to learn to type faster. Right after I learn French…. Attached are pics of Mike Golding and some interesting features on PRB. Check out the continuous furling spools and the strange ratcheting bowsprit tip!
Vendee report 11-4(pm)
By now you should have heard that the Vendee start has been postponed. The new start has been rescheduled for Tuesday 11-7. The reason for the delay is not the weather on Sunday, but that there is a major depression due in that evening before the boats get very far from the lee shore. The predictions are for at least 50kts. If any of the boats has a problem, it will likely be too rough to provide assistance or rescue.
The official position of the various team spokespersons I have talked with say that the skippers are unanimous in supporting the race organizer’s decision. However, I did hear a bit of (unofficial and unquotable) grumbling from at least one camp that wanted to get going as scheduled. The folks in the race organization office doing the website and press releases appear harried and tired. Press looking for the latest news constantly hound them. I think the poor gals are wishing they could go and hide.
In any case, there is such a flurry of cell phone calls to travel agents in Europe that Telecom France has likely already covered the sponsorship costs of “Voila.fr.” Voila.fr is the Internet division of Telecom France and is the sponsor of skipper Bernard Gallay. Which reminds me, I have yet to try to change my flight!!
At first the impression I had was that a lot of people thought it was a mistake to postpone if the weather was fine at the very start. After all, aren’t these boats supposed to take the worst the ocean can dish out? But the choice is probably wise. It would not be good at all for the fleet to get pummeled before they really get their sea legs. And if someone were forced up onto a nasty shoreline it would be truly dangerous. Keep in mind that in the really nasty stuff in the southern ocean they can maneuver to avoid a lot of the storms or run off if they get caught. At least they have a lot of ‘runway’ there. Here in the Bay of Biscay (a notorious piece of water), they would be trapped.
On a more fun note, today I met Sir Chay Blyth, the head of the Challenge Business group. They are the folks running next summers Atlantic Challenge as well as the BT Global and New World Challenge. He was very informative and is keen to get American entries in the Atlantic Challenge. This race will be a full-fledged international event! It is getting down to the wire for us to make this race, and we are completely ready to pick up the pace as support comes through. In case you didn’t know, Sir Chay Blyth (among other great achievements) was the first to sail solo non-stop westward (that’s the wrong way) around the world. Over 300 days! Just thinking about it is scary. Gives you an idea about how tough this bloke is! One of the best things about being here is getting to meet such exemplary sailors and adventurers.
Attached are shots of Sir Chay and me, and another of Fedor Konioukhov, the Russian skipper of “Modern University for the Humanities.” This guy has climbed seven of the world’s highest peaks including Everest (five solo!), been to the north pole three times and the south pole once. Oh, he’s sailed solo around the world three times too. Holy Guacamole!
Time to call United…Bruce