Offshore racing, let’s not forget, is a dangerous sport. So often we are conditioned as observers to the outstanding Vendee sailors who are very much at the apex of the game and think it’s easy. Or marvel at the Jules Verne attempts and believe that a lap of the planet is just a stroll in the park.
It isn’t. It’s brutally hard, relentless and demanding but we have a generation of brilliant sailors combining with otherworldly technology bringing the oceans to our screens and nonchalantly playing down their efforts. And then comes along a Rolex Fastnet Race with tough conditions and a wider fleet than the pros and there’s just no hiding place.
Dismastings, de-laminations, injuries, exploding winches, collisions with spectators – or ‘plaisancers’ as the French call them (‘jokers’ is the literal translation) – and we’ve seen dozens of retirements along the South Coast of England and others filtering into Cherbourg hiding away from the English Channel in summer. The exploding Harken 990 winch on Giovanni Soldini’s Maserati tells a story in itself – can you just imagine the shock loads going through to cause that? It’s tough out there but there’s some utterly remarkable racing and seamanship going on.
Up at the front you just have to stand back and admire the Gitana Racing Team of Franck Cammas. At the time of writing they are just rounding the Fastnet Rock and recording speeds up in the mid 30 knot bracket – on the way back down they could easily be in the high 40’s. Their route had me saying “what?” as they took a starboard tack off the Needles and headed out to the Channel Islands.
The English Channel really is just a duck pond to these guys and they led out the multihull fleet and all the top Vendee boats to minimise the tacks and just let the foils work – perhaps it was flatter water over by Guernsey but I doubt it…
Meanwhile the glamour duo of Rambler 88 and Skorpios kept it tight along the English Coast and match-raced past Weymouth and across Lyme Bay. The first separation has just happened at Land’s End with Rambler filtering north of the exclusion gate whilst Skorpios, now joined by Charlie Dalin’s Apivia having taken the circuitous route of the Channel Islands, went south of the exclusion zone. The next few hours will see whether the genius of Brad Butterworth can claw into the relentless pace of Skorpios before the Rock. Tough call to see anyone other than Skorpios rounding as lead monohull but it could be tight as the wind eases.
And what of Alex Thomson? He’s got a media man onboard but it’s a pretty poor show from the chap who seems obsessed with recording rather dull You Tube live videos but can’t seem to type an update for love nor money. Is there a problem onboard? Perhaps keel damage or something? We just don’t know but since the Solent they’ve gone backwards and whilst the big boys of the fleet are challenging the leaders, Hugo Boss is trundling along 20th overall for line honours. I was expecting so much more and whilst it’s moderately interesting to hear that Alex’s heartbeat was at 161 at the start of the race, in comparison I personally hit 174 on my exercise bike last night. Who cares?
All eyes in the Vendee fleet are on Charlie Dalin who’s proving that his line honours victory in the round the world race solo was no fluke. The winner of the race after a time deduction was Yannick Besthaven on Maitre Coq but they were back in Gosport as the race begun getting their bow repaired after a collision with a spectator boat.
The Hugo Boss shore team splendidly offered their services to Besthaven and the bow is being patched up with a temporary repair to get them back to La Rochelle where the boat will need a full overhaul. I have to say, looking at the start, and in those conditions, the amount of small RIBs and spectator boats out on a very tough, windy startline where it was all going on was a bit excessive.
I know people want to get close to the big machinery that they only ever see in the pages of Seahorse but really a large number of them should have given the fleet a break in those conditions and stayed on the beach out of their way. And don’t be surprised when they start coming down the line on starboard at full pace…the amount of pleasure boat cruisers who were suddenly bricking it and causing huge wash to add to the tumultuous seas was incredible – have none of them ever sailed? A rhetorical question I fear.
For Gitana it’s a master-blast now down to Cherbourg. As I write, they’ve just rounded and if you want to see how media is done – watch the video below. Quite astonishing how relaxed they all are, how nonchalant of the conditions they can be and how calm under pressure.
I’ll bet the evening meal was even quite good onboard – perhaps a little wine? Awesome sailors at the very top of the sport. Incredible to see.