Saturday, November 5, 2016

Vendée Globe 2016 / The day before

The month long spell of unseasonable benevolent, summer-like weather is set to hold through Sunday, giving the 29 solo skippers who will start the Vendée Globe solo non stop race around the world the most favourable starting conditions for many years.

Crédit : V Curutchet

The day before the start is more often marked by dark clouds hanging around the race dock, if not literally then at least figuratively. Typically, Saturday’s emotional farewell gatherings are spirited and well meaning but usually in the full knowledge that the Bay of Biscay will deliver a kicking within the first 24-36 hours. But in light of a ‘to order’ forecast of downwind conditions off the start line giving way to fast, straight line reaching into the Portuguese trade winds, the mood around Port Olona in Les Sables d’Olonne was positively festive. Bathed in the warm Autumn sunshine which seems to have prevailed for days, the skippers’ miles were wide and genuine – rather than the usual forced grimaces – when they left the final weather briefing this morning. The fast reaching and running conditions are expected to immediately benefit the foiling IMOCAs which should be up and off, literally flying south in a straight line towards Finisterre where winds should lift and build to 25-30kts.

The party mood ashore, tens of thousands passing through the race village, spread to the race dock, which is closed to the public to allow the skippers space and time to share their last day on shore with those close to them, friends, extended family, sponsors and VIPs. Enda O’Coineen seemed to half of the Irish nation visiting at one point. Jean-Pierre Dick assembled his entire shore team on the deck of St Michel-Virbac for a photocall. Japanese skipper Kojiro Shiraishi showed continued patience and enthusiasm as his legions of friends and supporters from home took endless selfies and videos with the first Asian skipper to start the Vendée Globe. Alex Thomson looked cool and calm as he completed his lunchtime live stand up interviews with British TV media beside his Hugo Boss. Sébastien Josse is bright eyed, relaxed and ready as he quietly went about his final media commitments around the media centre. Sébastien Destremau took time out from his hectic final preparations – his faceOcean was crawling with technical shore team, friends and family early on – before a particularly poignant moment having his 1998 Finot design blessed. Conrad Colman and his team on the now renamed Foresight Natural Energy continued to re-brand his hull, sails and cockpit after finding a last minute sponsor.

As he came out of the last briefing to the skipper, Jacques Caraës, Race Director said: “The final briefing is always important. It’s the last time we get to talk calmly to the skippers. Tomorrow they will look very different. It’s very emotional. Alain Gautier helped us give them the final recommendations and we talked about Guo Chuan, (Chinese solo skipper who was trying to set a record across the Pacific from San Francisco to Hawaii) who was lost at sea (last week). That helps put things in perspective, but we mustn’t over dramatise it either. They all know that they are setting off around the world and it’s not going to be easy. I told them to enjoy themselves and reminded them that the Race Directors are with them 24 hours a day. Conditions will be fine for the start, so there isn’t as much to worry about. They will be setting off downwind, but that doesn’t stop them from needing to be cautious, as they will probably be sail changes. The leaders will be off Cape Finisterre in around 20 hours.”

Dock talk has been of a potential record to the Equator. Yesterday a time of six to seven days was being suggested but Alex Thomson played that down today. “Six or seven days to the Equator? It is possible but maybe not quite as quick but we will see more on the next weather models. It is looking good for the start, 13-18kts so that is great, beam reaching for the first few hours, going right and so getting wider – lifting. At the weather briefing this morning they were seeing 35-40kts at Finisterre. I don’t think we are seeing so much there. Then it is how you deal with the TSS – the traffic separation scheme which you are not allowed to go into. And then from there it is a rich get richer scenario. Everyone is dying to get south of the high pressure before it closes off.”

The scenario for the classically configured, non foiling boats is slightly different, as Foresight Natural Energy’s Conrad Colman explained: “In the forecast there is a ridge of high pressure which will extend from the Azores towards Portugal and that has the potential to cut the fleet. And so it is a three month race but it would be a shame to have the positions defined in the first three days. For the floating boats, not the flying boats it will be 24 hours to get to Finisterre and then the first 48 hours can be more important than the first few weeks. There is a lot of pressure from the start. The plan is to rest up now and be ready to come out swinging tomorrow.”

From Vendée Globe