25 solo sailors crossed the start line of the Vendée Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday, the first of the five qualifying races for the Vendée Globe 2024. It is a good opportunity for them to rack up precious qualifying miles (3,500 for those who finish). And these might prove doubly valuable as at two and a half years from the start of the next solo race around the world, the number of projects exceeds the 40 available places. Hence it is important to be well placed in the race for miles. Tip & Shaft investigates.
Just over a year after the finish of the Vendée Globe 2020, the 2024 edition is already looming on the not so distant horizon for more than forty skippers, repeat contenders and rookies alike. To be on the starting line on November 10, 2024, they will have to both qualify and, if there are more than 40 candidates, to be selected, two very distinct principles.
To qualify, the Notice of Race, published last October (see our article), requires that each skipper and the boat which will be raced on the Vendée Globe 2024 take “the start of at least two races” and “finish one of these two races” with a time less than or equal to 50% of that of the winner. That is from the five events: the Vendée Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne, the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, the return race of the Transat Jacques Vabre (in 2023), The Transat CIC and New York-Vendée-Les Sables (2024).
But to actually get a start in the Vendée Globe, qualification is not everything: a selection system has been put in place in the even that the number of candidates should exceed 40, the maximum set in the notice of race by the Saem Vendée, organizer of the event (against 34 in 2020, with finally 33 starters). This is where the race for miles will take on its full importance: if more than 40 sailors want to take the start, the competitors will be selected on the aggregate number of miles racked up over 12 Imoca Globe Series races. Miles matched with a system of coefficients: 1 for the solo sailor, 0.5 for the double, 0.25 for The Ocean Race (to a net limit of 5,000 miles), the New York-Vendée has a coefficient of 1.5, the SAEM wishing to encourage the racers to compete in this last rehearsal before the Vendée Globe, which it also organises.
New boats: bottlenecks ahead
Not all sailors are quite as delicately affected. As in 2020, a bonus has been put in place for those who line up with a new boat. But that is with a limit: according to the notice of race, the first 13 new boats to “have taken the start” of one of the 5 qualifying races (above) will be guaranteed to be on the starting line and therefore exempt from the race for miles.
In total, nearly fifteen projects are in the mix: 11th Hour Racing Team was launched in 2021, 7 Imocas have been or will be launched this year – for Kevin Escoffier, Maxime Sorel, Jérémie Beyou, Yannick Bestaven, Sam Davies, Boris Herrmann and Paul Meilhat. Then at least 6 should launched next year – for Charlie Dalin, Thomas Ruyant, Yoann Richomme, Eric Bellion (the moulds are under construction), Jörg Riechers and a third Manuard plan built at Black Pepper. Other projects exist for Armel Tripon, or even, within the framework of that of Eric Bellion, for Jean le Cam (see below) and Martin Le Pape (who confirmed to us that the project was still live).
And so actually a spot in the Vendée Globe for new boats launched late into the water is therefore not really guaranteed. Armel Tripon, wise to this problem, nevertheless seeks a level of confidence: “If we start building the boat in September, we can launch it in June 2023 and immediately take part in both the Transat Jacques Vabre and the return transatlantic race.”
Jörg Riechers, who intends to start the build of his Farr design at Persico (instead of Trimarine), and so plans to launch in July 2023, is more measured: “I understand the rules, but it is a little stressful and it can distort certain races in so far as for projects like mine, which arrive a little late, we will have to then race the Transat Jacques Vabre and the transatlantic return to Lorient in delivery mode because it will be absolutely vital to finish in the race to qualify and accumulate miles. It’s a shame knowing that the objective will take precedence over the desire to measure of the boat’s potential.”
A different scenario for the existing boats,
good attendance is rewarded most
For second-hand boats, which cannot benefit from this rule, the race for miles started from the Transat Jacques Vabre 2021, up to the New York Vendée 2024. Objective ? “Enhance attendance as much as possible”, says Antoine Mermod, president of Imoca class. A newcomer to the circuit, Benjamin Ferré, for example, is a good example, as he confided: “I want to get is sorted as soon as possible. I’m going to do all the Imoca races until the Vendée Globe and I know that if do that it will be fine.”
An important point is that the rule does not specify that these miles must be obtained with the same boat as that of the Vendée Globe. “The fact of being able to rack up miles two up or as a crew necessarily implies that this can be done on different boats”, highlights Nicolas Lunven, currently replacing Clarisse Crémer on board Banque Populaire. The double winner of the Solitaire du Figaro raced the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race and is about to take the start of the Vendée Arctique, which allows him to accumulate miles and become more attractive for potential partners than a sailor starting from scratch.
12 are on maximum points
Before the start of this Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne, they are 12 skippers who have the maximum possible miles so far (4,173), including 3 sailors that did not participate in the last Vendée Globe, Sébastien Marsset, Denis Van Weynbergh and Antoine Cornic. 25 will have the opportunity to further increase their banked miles over the 3,500 miles of this “VALS”. And so absentees such as Sébastien Rouger, Tanguy Le Turquais, the Swiss Ollie Heer or the Briton James Harayda, inevitably falling behind. “I am actually falling a bit behind but I’m not putting pressure on myself, there is the same type of qualification in the Mini circuit”, confides Sébastien Rouger, who has the former Campagne de France.
For his part, Arnaud Dorange, involved in his daughter Violette’s Vendée Globe project, confides: “This race for miles was very stressful when all the projects were announced, because we didn’t want to be the last to get there. But when we see that today there are only about twenty boats racing, we are a little less worried. Afterwards, what I also understand in this race for miles story is clearly that the organization of the Vendée Globe wants successful projects, with good boats and skippers.”
Tanguy Le Turquais, who is currently renting his boat to Banque Populaire due to his lack of a partner is also looking to be confident: “I took part in the Transat Jacques Vabre and I now know that I absolutely have to do the Route du Rhum to be qualified in time. I think we will have a clearer perspective after the Rhum: those who, for example, have given up will not be in a comfortable situation.”
Currently on the waiting list for the Rhum, the Belgian skipper Denis Van Weynbergh (Laboratoires de Biarritz) confides: “It’s a bit paradoxical that the races that count to be at the start of the Vendée Globe are subject to a limited number of places. Now, if I complete the VALS, I will be ahead.” If the sailors interviewed by Tip & Shaft express a certain optimism one skipper confides: “An Imoca project is so engaging that you end up putting everything into perspective ashore. However, some do not realize how tense it’s going to be.”
And the wild card?
If the limit of 40 projects at the start is exceeded there is one wild card will not be “not subject to the rules of selection” but will be “left to the discretion” of the organizer, according to the notice of race. Already eyes are turning in particular to Clarisse Crémer (Banque Populaire), who, waiting for a happy event and so has been unable to start her race for miles. “With the current drive for women in the sport it is hard to see how the Saem Vendée would refuse her,” says a skipper. Asked by Tip & Shaft, Clarisse Crémer now doesn’t want to comment.
Another adds: “But she is not the only one. Jean Le Cam, if he gets in the water too late, would merit the wild card too. Can we imagine a Vendée Globe without him?“ Asked by Tip & Shaft, King Jean assures us that he “is not betting on a possible wild card”. He is confident of his chances of taking part in the races following the launch of a new boat he hopes “in the spring of 2023.”, adding, “I have never been a follower of fixed regulations which do not correspond to reality. If there had been this type of selection before, I would not have been able to participate in any Vendée Globe from the very beginning.”