When Yann Eliès crossed the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne at 1513hrs UTC on Wednesday 25th January to take fifth place, the French skipper achieved his primary goal, conquering the solo non stop round the world race which nearly cost him his life during an epic 2008-9 edition. Rescued by the Australian Navy after breaking his leg 800 miles south of Australia, Eliès said before the start that only now did he feel mentally and physically strong enough to compete in the Vendée Globe again. The race time for Eliès is 80 days 3 hours 11 minutes and 9 seconds. Eliès sailed 27,132 miles at an average speed of 14.1 knots.
Three times winner of La Solitaire du Figaro Eliès believed that if he could complete the race in good shape then he would not be far from the podium. In fifth he is the first skipper to complete this edition of the race using conventional, straight daggerboards, rather than the foils as used by the top four skippers. Winner Armel Le Cléac’h, second placed Alex Thomson, Jérémie Beyou in third and now fourth placed Jean-Pierre Dick all raced IMOCAs fitted with foils.
The skipper of Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir has finally exorcised the ghosts of the 2008-9 race with this solid fifth place, and has already stated his desire to compete again in 2020 with a boat and programme capable of winning. He brave return to the Vendée Globe prompted his long time rival Jérémie Beyou to say yesterday how much he admired Eliès. “He wanted a competitive project and it’s incredible that he even returned to this race. I’m not sure I would have had the strength to do that after going through what he went through before. I’ll be there to hear what he has to say, because what he has done is incredible.”
Since the start on 6th November, Yann Eliès has shown that he was one to watch because of his competitiveness, experience and skills, having won among other races three editions of the Solitaire du Figaro. Eliès raced what was the first of the VPLP-Verdier designed boats, the former Safran previously skippered by Marc Guillemot, which came third in the 2008-2009 Vendée Globe and, ironically, the boat on which Guillemot stood by the injured Eliès for two days before rescue arrived.
Off Cape Finisterre, Yann Eliès was in the top ten alongside Paul Meilhat and Jérémie Beyou, and then Sébastien Josse and Vincent Riou. Off the Cape Verde Islands, he was in eighth place, where he remained at the Equator, in spite of a tricky Doldrums passage. Eliès was then sailing ahead of Jean Le Cam and Jean-Pierre Dick, two competitors he would meet up with later in the race. Damage to his mainsail hook led to him lose around fifty miles and this hold-up would cause further losses.
On the way down the South Atlantic, he found a good tactical option. On around 20th November, the seven frontrunners made their getaway and would continue to extend their lead. Huge gaps developed as the leaders extended away on a low pressure system. Yann Eliès found himself 300, then 800 and almost 1200 miles behind the leaders and it looked like he would get punished again along with some others, who would find themselves in a completely different race over 3000 miles back from the leaders.
Eliès tried a daring option sailing down a narrow a strip of wind to cut across the South Atlantic. It worked out and at the Cape of Good Hope, Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir had managed to limit the damage to a thousand miles. In sixth position in the Indian Ocean ahead of Jean Le Cam and Jean-Pierre Dick, he put his race on hold for 24 hours when he was forced to slow down to let a huge southern storm arriving from Madagascar go by. There he found himself alone in the Indian Ocean, a long way from Jérémie Beyou ahead of him and Jean Le Cam behind. Eliès crossed the longitude of Cape Leeuwin in fifth place after 33 days and 4 hours on 9th December, 24 hours after Jérémie Beyou.
Duel in the Pacific
The course south of Australia went without hitch for him apart from the gales forcing him to slow down, while those in front got still further ahead. To the south of Australia once more he had to slow down once again as ahead of him winds of between 60 and 80 knots were forecast. Here Jean Le Cam went south while Jean-Pierre Dick headed north to go through the Bass Strait. It was after that that the three would get back together again south of New Zealand… and they would remain together for the second half of the race around the world. In the Pacific, Dick got ahead thanks largely to his foils. But Yann Eliès and Jean Le Cam found themselves sailing alongside each other. On 30th December at Cape Horn they went round one after the other, Jean-Pierre Dick went by at 0634hrs, followed by Jean Le Cam at 1548hrs, with Yann Eliès rounding just under an hour later. Emerging safely from the south Eliès was even more determined to complete the circle and complete this Vendée Globe. Dick went for a different option passing through the Le Maire Strait and east of the Falklands around the same time as Eliès tore the leech of his mainsail. But the former sailmaker was able to repair the damage.
In the climb back up the Atlantic, Yann Eliès and Jean Le Cam stuck together, crossing the Equator just half an hour apart after 67 days on 13th January. As they rounded the Azores high, Eliès even had Jean-Pierre Dick in his sights. The two of them attempted to take a shorter route than Dick, but the gap was just too wide and Eliès finishes in fifth place.