Last July 14 Jérémie Beyou won the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne race, concluding what proved to be a thrilling three-way match up with Charlie Dalin and Thomas Ruyant. Tip & Shaft shares some of the lessons that we learned, debriefing with the help of the race director Jacques Caraës, Antoine Mermod who is president of the Imoca class, the weather routing specialist Jean-Yves Bernot, skipper Romain Attanasio (who did not participate) and the journalist Didier Ravon.
The favorites sailed true to their seeding
Before the start, our Tip & Shaft experts that we interviewed predicted a podium consisting of Beyou-Dalin-Ruyant. And they were right. This trio did not let up during the 2,807 mile race. “The last word went to Beyou and this victory will probably do him a lot of good. He was very stressed before, we felt that he really needed this win because of the advances he had made in his project and the big modifications of the last spell in the yard” journalist Didier Ravon contends.
The skipper of Charal made the winning difference on the final leg, reaching, which makes weather guru Jean-Yves Bernot say: “Jérémie was in the conditions where his boat was going really fast, he found he had an angle that was going well, he was sailing on his strong point, we see him compared with Thomas who was right behind him, he got away a bit.” And Roman Attanasio ventures a comparison: “I sometimes felt that Jérémie seemed a little less comfortable at certain speeds and angles, but in the end, being under pressure, he felt a bit like the Hulk, and off he went.”
But ultimately all agree that the top trio could have finished in any order on the podium. The differences appeared tenuous between the three combinations of boats /skippers. “Jérémie is the one who makes the best use of his boat, because he’s had it and been on it for longer, Apivia seems to me to be the most “easy” to make it work, while LinkedOut has really good spikes in speed. You can see Antoine Koch’s fingerprints all over it, you need time to realize Antoine’s values, he has a very good general understanding of how it all goes together” says Jean-Yves Bernot.
Antoine Mermod adds: “With Antoine, Thomas has bet on a very different sail plan than others with smaller sails and a spi. At times, LinkedOut looked much better than Charal And Apivia ; to others maybe less so. But it shows quite clearly that choices of sails will be paramount on the Vendée Globe.”
Increasingly uncomfortable un-livable boats
While the top three clearly earmark themselves as contenders for victory in the Vendée Globe, all our experts question their ability to live long term with the pace, as the new ones set new levels of discomfort but also the older generation with big, new foils, they are infernal in high-speed conditions.
“There are times when they can’t move in the boat at all,” comments Romain Attanasio. “This time they had transitions that allowed them to relax and get out of their seats, but we’ll see on the Vendée how they’ll do if it lasts several days. That is going to be quite a challenge. This is almost the first time a skipper will have to slow down because he can no longer stand the ‘living’ conditions on board.”
What is not so obvious, according to Didier Ravon: “Four years ago, Armel finally did not foil so much in the South, but now, down there with their big foils, they’re not going to be able to retract them (apart from Armel Tripon who has this option on L’Occitane).”
Will the sailors agree to lift their foot off the gas? This will certainly be one of the issues of this Vendée Globe according to Jean-Yves Bernot: “These boats look very demanding: it is clear that when a guy is pushing it or not completely on it is obvious as he quickly loses 3 knots. Knowing how to manage sleep spells so as not to implode en route will become a main topic.”
It is something which concerns Jacques Caraes : “Medically speaking, we can go from bumps and bruising to fractures, we’re going to have to be careful.” The race director of the Vendée Globe is also worried about the boats: “Reliability remains a big question mark, because the more powerful the boats, the more stresses there are on the mast. They will have to analyze these efforts to put the cursor where it needs to be on a race as long as the Vendée.”
The gap is widening between foilers, two levels now above the daggerboard boats
The Vendée-Arctic confirmed that the new foilers are well up on all round performance, including upwind which was their weak point so far. But if the gaps are small between the first three and their pursuers, this is largely due to the weather that allowed the pursuers to keep coming back.
“The margin is huge, confirms Romain Attanasio. In 16 knots of wind, a new gen foiler goes between 28 and 30 knots, a boat like Sam’s between 23 and 26 knots, and mine [Farr from 2007] 17 to 19.”
But all that taken into consideration the facts remain that skippers on boats of previous generations equipped with big, latest generation foils have shown that they can be on the hunt for the podium, this posse spearheaded by Sam Davies, Kevin Escoffier, Boris Herrmann and, until she broke her boom, Isabelle Joschke. Who did the best of them, who is the threat? Opinions are divided: “Kevin will be a real contender on the Vendée Globe, first of all because he is a McGyver, [he can fix lots of stuff; ed note] but also because he has an incredible experience and he showed that he learns solo racing very quickly “ attests Didier Ravon who was also “very pleasantly surprised by Isabelle Joschke who made a fantastic race”.
Sam Davies also has her supporters, like Jean-Yves Bernot – “She’s the one who knows her boat best, she is really firm on what she wants as her sail package and on how to move it forward” – and Romain Attanasio, her companion: “You can say I’m not objective, but I think she’s so racing focused: she goes into the whole package, as she always does, then she doesn’t make mistakes, she goes fast and made a great final leg. You put a new boat in her hands, she’d be a contender to win.” Finally, Boris Herrmann’s boat showed that it had moved into a new dimension with its new foils: “On the last stage it went very fast at times”, believes Antoine Mermod.
Unsurprisingly, the conventional straight boarded boats played in the second half of this Vendée-Arctique, Maxime Sorel and Clarisse Crémer (11th and 12th) having scrapped over the group leadership after having long challenged some foilers. “Maxime kept getting stronger while Clarisse, in her first solo race in an Imoca on a fairly demanding course, was largely in the match, she made very few mistakes”, comments Antoine Mermod. For Romain Attanasio, who will play in this group on the next Vendée Globe, “Clarisse’s boat [ed note ex SMA] remains the reference, I would almost say it’s a boat apart.“
The absentees expected to be in the mix
If the Vendée-Arctique makes it possible to draw a rudimentary first ranking for the Vendée Globe seeding, it does not of course take into account absentees or those who have were forced out early. All of them have Alex Thomson in mind, but not only the Brit: “There are two beautiful unknowns in Nico Troussel who has a good boat and a great team around him, and L’Occitane (forced to abandon), which is super interesting with a totally different concept”, analyses Didier Ravon. The Manuard design with the little that has been seen have everyone unanimous about its potential: “It looks less brutal and easier to make work than the others. And Armel Tripon is a guy who sails very well offshore”, sums up Jean-Yves Bernot.
Antoine Mermod adds: “At 65 degrees of wind in 20 knots, L’Occitane was faster than the others, we can’t wait to see his design choices in confrontation with the others on the Vendée Globe.”
That appointment is set for November 8th.
Photo: François Van Malleghem / Imoca