33 solitaires participeront à l'édition 2020 du Vendée Globe

Where is the Vendée Globe at two months from the start?

The Vendée Globe organization is entering the final stage of planning and preparation before the start on November 8. From the sports perspective the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne race in June provided some reassurance, but the current evolving health situation in France leaves room for doubt especially as to the final shape and format of the village, the organizational arrangements and the final rules and regulations. Two months before the start gun fires Tip & Shaft takes stock.

At 65 days before the start of the Vendée Globe, the countdown now feels very real for the teams, not least as next Wednesday, the Défi Azimut races are the last sporting confrontation, a kind of  final final dress rehearsal for the 20 skippers who are registered.
The race will be played behind closed doors, explains the organizer Jean-Marie Corteville. “We will filter access to the pontoons while trying to maintain a reasonable flow of traffic. The fact that Morbihan has luckily been quite spared by the Covid situation gives us a good chance to operate in this current context. “

But what will happen in Les Sables d´Olonne in six weeks? Bear in mind that in 2016, 1.5 million visitors sauntered through the village in the unseasonal almost summer like weather. So, how many visitors might there be this year? Under what conditions will they be able to see and/or meet the skippers? How will the sponsors and partners be able to deliver on their public relations operations?
When questioned, the SAEM Vendée, organizers of the Vendée Globe, did not wish to answer our questions. The details of the organization of the village will not be revealed until September 17 in Paris during the press conference.

According to the note sent to the skippers by the SAEM Vendée this summer, which we were able to consult, a strict health protocol that is still likely to further evolve  will be put in place.  It seems comparable to that of the Tour de France cycling race with three tests (two PCRs – Polymerase chain reaction tests – including one the day before or the morning of departure – and one serological) are thus planned for the skippers, their families and the preparateurs between November 3 and 8.
A 5-day confinement period will be imposed before the start and discussions are underway for the specific case of English competitors who must undergo a fortnight quarantine when arriving in France.

What if the test is positive? The competitor infected with the virus would then be prohibited from starting. If only one member of the group (team and family) were affected by the virus, the sailor would have to wait five days before being able to go to sea. The fundamental idea here is to prevent a case of Covid from breaking out at sea during the first weeks of the race with variable situations on different borders.

The competitors questioned on the subject by Tip & Shaft are not surprised: “As a skipper I have to put everything I can in my own favour to make sure I start, the stakes are too high.” Says Charlie Dalin (Apivia). “Undoubtedly I will go beyond these recommendations, in particular for the pre-start quarantine because the five days required here do not necessarily give me sufficient guarantees. ”

And so what will life in the village be like? A ruling limiting the site to 5,000 visitors per day is mentioned – such as has been imposed on the Grand Pavois boat show in La Rochelle whic has been finally canceled – and strict one-way traffic with temperature measurement at the entrance and exit, but nothing has yet been formalized.

Faced with these uncertainties, several teams have already given up renting exhibition or commercial space in the village. That is the case with Time for Oceans: “Our activation is essentially based on invitations and meeting and sharing with the public. So in the end we have therefore not taken space,” explains skipper Stéphane Le Diraison. We will have to learn how to share what is likely going to be a more digital pre-race. We know how to do it at sea, so why not on land? ”

For his part, Maxime Sorel (V&B-Mayenne) is holding back: “It is sure that it is not easy for the organizers but they play a little cat and mouse. We had to pay this week the second instalment of our space. We are waiting for information and if we have to lose the deposit, too bad, we will direct our comms budget to other channels. ”

LinkedOut team manager, Marcus Hutchinson is perhaps more ready to adapt: “We rented a VIP box at the normal rate. We are allowed 17 people seated or 23 standing. Four years ago, we had three times as many people in that 50 m2. But it is what it is in these times, you have to adapt ”

Vendée Globe candidates had until September 1 to finalize their entry file and complete their qualification. In the end, 33 candidates are fully signed up (including the withdrawal of Erik Nigon who loaned his boat to Clément Giraud) and are formally registered.
Armel Tripon, who completed his “substitute” qualification course on Thursday required because of his retirement from the Vendée-Arctique due to structural problems, said he was “reassured by these 2,000 miles. It is true that we had been a little optimistic on certain things and we reinforced the bottom of the hull well beyond the crash box area. I would still like to sail a strong low pressure system before the start, but we’ll see … ”

Sébastien Destremau (MERCI), who experienced a rig problem during his 2,000 mile qualification, also finished the additional 1,000 miles course imposed by the race management on Thursday.  “All in all the fleet seems ready,” summarizes Jacques Caraës, Vendée Globe race director. “Even if I still have some questions about the newer boats and especially the handling of the new foilers in very rough downwind seas …”

Aside from the Défi Azimut, according to most skippers now there are no more than ten days of training possible before heading to Les Sables d’Olonne on Friday October 16 at the latest – maybe even less when the PR sails are programmed. “Since the Covid everyone has gone into permanent re-planning mode!” Exclaims Marcus Hutchinson who returned this week from Italy where he picked up the V2 foils from Persico that LinkedOut should have on for the Azimut Challenge.

This little bit of time remaining will be used by some to get their boat into final Vendée Globe race configuration. That is the case for Sébastien Simon who hopes “the bad luck that has pursued [him] since the start of [his] project is behind me. Sailing these 2,000 qualifying miles has done me a world of good, I ‘was happy on board, in my place,’ he told us.

Simon’s Arkea Paprec foil file however remains open. A new pair, to the same shape as the V2 have been put into production at Persico in Italy. They will be delivered to France a few days before October 15, the deadline for presenting a final measurement certificate. Arkea Paprec has therefore been measured for its reinforced V2 foils, a precaution which would allow, in the event of a delay in delivery, only re-entering the change to the stability calculation with the new foils.

Other competitors have yet to finish discovering a new version of their machine, such as Stéphane Le Diraison. His Time for Oceans went through a six-month project with installation of foils, creation of a new deckhouse, a change of ballasts and installation of new rudders. “The idea is to be able to go race with V and B Mayenne and Banque Populaire who were a bit of step above us,” explains the skipper. “You have to raise your game because even on older generation boats everybody is moving forwards, everyone is pushing.”

On the other 60-footers summer in the boatyards was sometimes used to optimize further – as on Apivia, which has modified their bow. But the watchwords have been verification, validation and, sometimes, structural reinforcement. Two unknowns just cannot be ignored: Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss), who won’t do the Défi Azimut and continues to prepare alone, and Nicolas Troussel (Corum L’Épargne), is also absent from the Lorient event next week, so he will cross his first starting line with the boat… in Les Sables d’Olonne. “It’s true that our preparation is very much in-house, but we are looking at what is happening lsewhere.” assures Greg Evrard, the team manager. “As a late project like ours preparation involves long days and hours of test and trials sailing and not necessarily racing round Brittany’s Groix island. “

Photo: François Van Malleghem / Imoca

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