Imoca Macif

The NY Vendée analysed by the experts

With the New York-Vendée-Les Sables d’Olonne race approaching its epilogue – Charlie Dalin is expected to finish on Saturday night – Tip & Shaft interviewed a number of experts to analyse this week’s racing, which has been marked by a very spread-out fleet and radically opposed options. We take a look at the situation with skippers Tanguy Le Turquais and Paul Meilhat, and the event’s weather consultant, Christian Dumard.

For this second edition of the last qualifier for the Vendée Globe 2024, our experts note that the skippers did not have had the classic downwind sailing scenario for a transatlantic race from west to east. “There was a very northerly high pressure system and no circulation of low pressure systems, so the sailors found themselves stuck and some had to take excessive routes, like that of Boris Herrmann (very northerly) or that of the group who passed to the south of the Azores,” analyses Tanguy Le Turquais. “It’s a scenario that can happen, but the fact that this situation lasts so long is a little rarer.”

The talweg which appeared in the path of the 28 sailors at the start of the race gave them a hard time. It’s extremely complicated to cross a trough like that,” explained Paul Meilhat, who returned from New York on a delivery trip following damage to his port foil during The Transat CIC. “The fleet was sailing in a northerly wind behind a front moving at 10 knots. When they caught up with this front, in which the wind shifted from north to south, there was a transition phase with weaker and very unstable winds, and here they had to keep going faster than an average of 10 knots, which is extremely complicated. However, the positioning may have played a role, as we saw that it went well to the north”, where Boris Herrmann (Malizia-SeaExplorer) and Charlie Dalin (Macif Santé Prévoyance) managed to extricate themselves from this situation.

Christian Dumard points out that “the unstable conditions, from fairly light winds to strong winds, forced the sailors to do a lot of manoeuvring. As a result, Boris and Charlie have perhaps been more on the attack and have made less headway in the squalls.” In particular, the latter was able to exploit the potential of his Verdier design in these conditions: “With its slightly tighter hull, it’s probably the most versatile of the recent boats, going fast upwind and in transitions, confirms Paul Meilhat. After this passage through the front, Charlie Dalin opted “for a very centred trajectory, which really suits him”. According to our consultants, this means that the sailor from Le Havre is now on course for a winning finish on Saturday night.

“Boris bet big”

After passing through the talweg, Boris Herrmann opted for a much more radical route, to the north of the high“As a spectator ashore, I found it thrilling, it put the game into play,” notes Tanguy Le Turquais. “But as a racer, I think he’s played a bit of poker because by deviating from the route for almost two days with so much uncertainty about the weather, he’s gambled big.”

For his part, Christian Dumard isn’t all that surprised by the route taken by the German skipper, as a lot of the routing indicated that the northerly route was the winner. But it could be very good or very bad, there was a lot of risk involved and the ridge of high pressure to get through was a bit complicated. But once in the eastern part, there was downwind sailing to get back down.” In fact, Boris Herrmann went very far north, 300 miles from Cape Farewell (southern Greenland), creating a lateral gap of 1,200 miles with the group of southerners on Thursday!

According to our experts, the skipper of Malizia-SeaExplorer has a comfortable lead over the group to the south of the Azores, and “with no breakages or technical problems, he should finish second on Sunday night, after a long tack on starboard tack and probably a gybe towards the finish”, concludes Christian Dumard.

Upwind battle for 3rd place

South of the Azores and the Biodiversity Protection Zone, a group of eight boats, led by Thomas Ruyant (Vulnerable) and Jérémie Beyou (Charal), winner of the first edition, as well as Sébastien Simon (Groupe Dubreuil) are battling upwind for third place – a group orphaned since Thursday by Sam Goodchild, who dismasted. “And it’s going to last right up to the finish,” says Paul Meilhat. It’s going to be a bit complicated to manage because there are 35 knots of wind at Cape Finisterre with some really nasty seas. They’re going to do a long tack to the north then ta change of tack in the anticyclone and find the layline to set a course for Les Sables d’Olonne.” While Christian Dumard confirms that there is “an invigorating passage around Cape Finisterre”, he wonders “whether they’ll get that far or head further offshore.”

And at this upwind speed, the most comfortable seems to be Charal, adds the weather specialist. This is confirmed by Tanguy Le Turquais: “Jérémie seems a little better equipped. His boat is more suited to upwind sailing than Thomas Ruyant’s is. But they both seem to be at 100%, and both of them are not going to give up. And behind them, even if Sébastien Simon has dropped back a little, nothing is decided yet, he still has the podium within his grasp.”

A final group of 17 skippers, a mix of daggerboard and foiling boats, are making headway on a median course in light upwind conditions. “It’s not making much headway, it must be laborious and a bit long”, points out Paul Meilhat. “They’re tacking along the high, which is quite interesting in terms of the weather, as the further north they go, the better the angle to Les Sables d’Olonne, but the less wind there is. Those positioned to the south are therefore in a better position.”

“A superbly homogenous fleet
of around fifteen foiling boats”

Among them is Maxime Sorel (V and B-Monbana-Mayenne), who “is going to make a great comeback,” says Christian Dumard. “He’s going to cross in front of everyone else to hit the high and when he changes tack, he’ll have a more favourable wind on port tack.” Behind him are Romain Attanasio (Fortinet Best Western), Yannick Bestaven (Maître Coq V), whose J2 forestay broke on Thursday afternoon, forcing him to reduce sail, and Nicolas Lunven (Holcim-PRB), who broke his bowsprit while sailing in 3rd position on the third day of the race (a spar which had already broken on The Transat CIC). “But in theory, he won’t need it as they should finish under J2”, notes Tanguy Le Turquais.

He also believes that Violette Dorange, a little further north, could do well with her light daggerboard boat, which is well suited to upwind sailing and light airs, but when the fleet picks up the northerly air flow and finishes on the beam to the finish, the foilers should go fast and extend their lead”.

What lessons can we learn from these last two transatlantic races before the Vendée Globe? Paul Meilhat highlights the fact that there is now “a fleet of around fifteen foiling boats which is superbly homogenous in terms of speed and that the level of reliability is impressive. There has been very little damage, either on the outward or the return journey, and if the Vendée Globe goes like this, it will be extraordinary!”

For his part, Tanguy Le Turquais notes that “the generation of new foilers is a notch above the 2020 generation, but there isn’t a single big favourite that stands out. The same goes for the daggerboard boats, where there’s also a great match-up, as it’s never the same person who has the lead, so it’s shaping up to be super interesting.”

Photo: Ronan Gladu / disobey. / Macif

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