The last race of the Imoca season, Retour à La Base has marked another step towards the qualification and selection of the candidates for the Vendée Globe. Where do the skippers stand in this process and in the race for miles? Tip & Shaft takes stock.
Although there are currently 44 official candidates for the Vendée Globe, only 40 will be lining up at the start on 10 November 2024, according tothe Notice of Race, they have to meet the qualification criteria by the official close of entries on 30 June. Article 9.1 of the Notice of Race requires each skipper/boat pairing “taken the start of at least two solo races (including one in 2022 or 2023 AND one in 2024) AND have finished with a ranking in at least one of these two races. In addition, the Skipper will confirm his/her qualification if his/her racing time is shorter or equal to the winner’s racing time plus 50%.”
Of the 44 candidates only 5 have not yet fulfilled the first condition: having completed a race on their Vendée Globe boat in 2022 or 2023 within the allotted time. Finishing 30th in Retour à La Base, Denis Van Weynbergh (D’Ieteren Group) finished 90 minutes over the time that would have allowed him to get through the winter in peace. “It’s obviously a bit frustrating,” the Belgian skipper told us. “But I’m still happy to have racked up the miles.” To earn his ticket, he will have to complete one of the last two qualifying races, The Transat CIC or New-York-Vendée Les Sables d’Olonne next spring, this time on time.
Three sailors, Éric Bellion, Charlie Dalin and Phil Sharp,were unable totake the start of Retour à La Base on their new boats, launched in June for the first two and in October for the last one. In the case of Stand as One, a structural problem on the Jacques Vabre that forced Éric Bellion and Martin Le Pape to retire, with the impossibility of making repairs in time to reach Martinique.
However, a derogation to article 9.1 specifies that “in the event of major damage occurring during the Transat Jacques Vabre 2023 making it impossible for the pair to enter the return race of the Transat Jacques Vabre 2023, the OA may grant a derogation and accept that the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre 2023 substitute for the start of the return race.”
As Stand as One falls squarely within this framework, Eric Bellion explains to us that he “requested the derogation, which was quickly accepted”. Before adding, with regard to the rest of the qualification process: “I have to finish at least one of the two races next year, but I’m not worried. And in any case, if I don’t manage it, it will mean that I’m not ready.”
Phil Sharp can formally
no longer qualify
As for Charlie Dalin, it was a health problem that prevented him from racing inthe Transat Jacques Vabre, of which he only crossed the start line, and Retour à la Base. Contacted by Tip & Shaft, the runner-up in the last Vendée Globe said: “We asked the organisation if the case of major damage could apply to me, and we’ve had confirmation.” This iswhat we were told Hubert Lemonnier, the Vendée Globe race director on October 27, when the withdrawal of Le Havre was made official.
Saem Vendée, the organiser, who were contacted for this article, did not wish to comment. Like Éric Bellion, Charlie Dalin will therefore have to complete one of the last two solo transatlantic races next spring, which leads him to say: “I’m going to have to sail in a fairly reasoned way, which isn’t my habit, in order to secure my qualification for the CIC Transat. I hope to get there so that I can push a bit more on the way back.”
As for Phil Sharp, who hadto abandon Retour à La Base after suffering damage during the delivery trip to Martinique, his chances of qualifying are now formally very much in doubt: according to the Notice of Race, he can no longer qualify. However, the Briton still wants to believe: “The Vendée Globe remains a firm objective for OceansLab. We are currently exploring several options to maximise our chances of being on the start line.”
13 new boats
safe from selection
In the list of 44, there is still one sailor on the point of completing the first qualifying condition: Jean Le Cam, still at sea on Retour à La Base. To finish in a time “shorter or equal to the winner’s racing time plus 50%”, the skipper of Tout commence en Finistère-Armor-lux, whose time started when he crossed the line in Fort-de-France on 6 December at 17:41, must arrive in Lorient before 20 December at 05:47. However, this Friday, his arrival is expected on the night of the 18th to the 19th. If he is on schedule, he will just have to take the start of The Transat CIC or New York-Vendée to definitively validate his qualification.
Above all, he will be rid of the pressure of selection, also known as the race for miles, which will only be used if there are more than 40 candidates who have completed their entries by 30 June. Article 9.2.2 of the Notice of Race states that “the first thirteen new boats to take the start of a qualifying race in accordance with the conditions laid down in article 9.1 of the NOR.”
It will also be the case for the sailor who will receive the famous wild-card “at the OA’s discretion”.
The special case
of François Guiffant
So there are still 26 places available, and 30 of them are up for grabs in the famous race for miles. The lucky ones will be those who, over the twelve Imoca Globe Series races selected, have clocked up the greatest number of miles. Bearing in mind that the coefficients vary according to the event and that the sailors can accumulate miles on a boat other than the one on which they will be competing in the Vendée Globe.
This has enabled Fabrice Amédéo to keep the miles acquired on his Imoca lost in a fire during the Route du Rhum. The skipper ofNexans-Art et Fenêtres, on the other hand, was forced to restart his qualification process on Rodolphe Sépho’s former boat, so he had to line up at the start of Retour à La Base. “To be sure of finishing, I adopted a strategy that minimised the risks. I‘m very happy because I’m well placed in the race for miles(14th with 12,281 miles), what better could I have dreamed of a year after being shipwrecked?” In this race for selection, a number of boats are now out of the woods, or nearly so, as is the case with Louis Duc, 8th with 14,202 miles: “I’m not under any stress, apart from the possibility of breaking something. All I have to do now is take the start of the CIC Transat to qualify.”
In this race for miles, François Guiffant‘s case is a special one, as he is sailing an Imoca launched in 2004, which is out of the Vendée Globe rules – the boats must have been launched from 2005 onwards. “I had applied for an exemption so that she could be allowed to race if there was a place left, and that was accepted. So I don’t have priority, but I’m continuing my qualification like the others, and I tell myself that I’ll have tried everything.”
Better for Clarisse Crémer
and Violette Dorange
Another uncertain case is that of Nicolas Troussel, who has not only slipped down the rankings in terms of miles, as he was deprived of the return trip between Metropolitan France and Martinique following the withdrawal of his partner Corum L’Épargne at the end of September, but above all has to find a sponsor. “Even though the clock is ticking, I’m not giving up,” he explains. “The file is still in a lot of hands and I get calls every day trying to move it forward.”
The case of François Guiffant and the uncertainty surrounding Nicolas Troussel are bound to do the trick for those who are following the latter in the rankings after completing the Jacques Vabre and Retour à La Base, Clarisse Crémer (6,022 miles), and Violette Dorange (5,674). On the other hand, the pressure is on for Oliver Heer (5,018) and James Harayda (4,697 miles), who lost out big time at the end of the year: the former quickly retired from the Jacques Vabre and the latter didn’t take part in either of the two races.
Contacted byTip & Shaft, the Briton puts things into perspective: “Anything can still happen between now and 1st July. There are a lot of variables that can come into play, such as possible breakages or other unforeseen events, but I still have every chance.” The words of Violette Dorange, “relieved to be virtually qualified for the Vendée Globe”, will perhaps reassure him, as the skipper of Devenir is confident: “For the selection, I’m convinced that we won’t need the race for miles, it’s highly likely that everyone will go.”
The verdict will be in on July 1.
Photo: Jean-Louis Carli / Alea / Retour à La Base