After a slow final night at sea in very light airs as he waited to arrive after sunrise, Arnaud Boissières crossed the Vendée Globe finish line at 0826hrs UTC this Friday morning to take 10th place in the non-stop solo round the world race. It is the third time in a row that the skipper, who has made his home in Vendée Globe’s start and finish port of Les Sables d’Olonne, has completed the race 28 days 16 hours 48 mins 23 secs after the winner. Boissières’ elapsed time for is 102 days 20 hrs 24 minutes and 9 seconds. In reality he sailed 28,155 miles at an average speed of 11.4 knots.
The French skipper made it to tenth place in the final stages of his race when he passed the Kiwi competitor Conrad Colman whose mast collapsed last Friday. He completed the 2012-13 race in 91 days 02hrs 09mins in eighth place from 20 starters and 11 finishers and and the 2008-9 Vendée Globe in seventh place in 105 days 2h and 33m from 30 starters and 11 finishers. He joins the winner of this edition of the race Armel Le Cléac’h as the only two solo racers to have finished three successive Vendée Globe races. Le Cléac’h’s record is two second places in 2008-9 and 2012-13 and victory in 2016-17.
The Les Sablais skipper enjoyed the warmest of welcomes from his appreciative home crowd who lined the legendary channel only a few hundred metres from where he lives, not long before he docked La Mie Câline in his home marina. At the finish line he was about 170 miles clear of nearest rival Fabrice Amedeo whose Newrest-Matmut is a yacht of the same age, design and speed potential. The duo enjoyed close racing in the Pacific and up the Atlantic until Boissières moved further clear in the last couple of weeks of the race.
Boissières, 44 years old, became enchanted by the Vendée Globe when his father brought him to the start of the solo round the world race when the youngster was recovering from leukaemia. The skipper whose childhood nickname ‘Cali’ – because of his diminutive stature and sharp sense of humour – has stuck through his ocean racing career, cut his teeth with three attempts at La Solitaire du Figaro and three Mini Transats (finishing third in 2001) before stepping into the rarefied world of IMOCA ocean racing. Before the last edition of the race he moved his home from Arcachon to Les Sables d’Olonne, where his previous sponsor is based, and has long since become the hometown hero, a regular figure around the marina and the harbour.
Before the start he spoke of the genesis of his Vendée Globe dreams: “I was 17; I was suffering from leukaemia and was in the treatment phase. At the last minute, my father secured two tickets on a passenger boat to see the start of the Vendée Globe. In 1989, the event helped me get through my illness. It gave me a way to escape and to dream.” And speaking of how each race is different to the last but how accumulated experience helps he said: “Inevitably, the unknown element becomes a bit less marked but the scenarios are always different from one edition to the next. There’s a very intriguing sporting challenge this year, as a number of skippers are setting off with boats from the same generation as mine. Added to that, I’ve just become a dad and the birth has given me additional motivation.”
He was quickly reunited with his infant son Leo who at nearly four months old was only just born weeks before the start of the Vendée Globe. In fact, Boissières followed a similar pattern to his last race. He started modestly and struggled early on to match the early pace of the rivals and his meteo strategy did not really pay off. He got off to a slow start dropping back to twentieth. On the first afternoon, the ballast hatch unexpectedly opened and water poured in and filled the engine bay. There was damage to the starter, keyboard and video equipment. His initial routing was inconclusive, he sailed to the east of Madeira, but then had to head back west to get around the Canaries, trying to keep up with Kito de Pavant, while the leaders had made their getaway.
For his tenth crossing of the Doldrums the conditions were not extreme in any way but he was slowed and made it to the Equator in fifteenth place. After crossing the Equator his starter stopped working due to the ingress of water at the start of the race. After 48 hours in very light airs Boissières chooses a westerly route close to the coast of Brazil, a choice which dropped him back to nineteenth place. “Last night was Hell. Torrential rain with absolutely no wind for two hours. The boat stopped and even headed north for a while. You start to wonder what you can do… “ As he finally headed eastwards at decent speed towards the Cape of Good Hope, his mainsail car came away from the track. He had to wait for quieter conditions to drop his mainsail and carry out repairs. La Mie Câline passed the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope on Sunday 4th December after 28 days 4 hrs and 19 minutes, 10 days 5 hrs and 21 minutes after Alex Thomson.
After Kito de Pavant collided with an unidentified floating object and had to be rescued from his boat, Boissières stressed that he was adopting a cautious approach. Conditions in the Indian Ocean near the Kerguelens as well as the pace set by rivals encouraged him to put his foot down. “Sometimes, I feel like trying to do like those ahead but I restrain myself from doing that, as the finish line is not at Cape Leeuwin.” A few days after carrying out repairs to his mainsail cars, the system failed again. Once again, the incident happened at a moment when there were strong winds meaning Boissières had to wait to carry out more repairs.
Sailing close to the Antarctic exclusion zone Boissières experienced some very cold weather and discovered he was not far from a zone where icebergs had been spotted. He crossed the longitude of Cape Leeuwin on 18th December after 42 days, 10 hrs and 35 minutes. This was his fourth passage after two Vendée Globe races and once on the multihull, Geronimo. He said: “How fantastic to be at sea in the 2016-2017 Vendée Globe, even if it hasn’t been easy.” During the week before Christmas, Boissières had to carry out more repairs to his sail and battens. Although alone in his own race, he found himself in race mode with Enda O Coineen and Alan Roura. As in his previous Vendée Globe races, Boissières celebrated Christmas in his unique way. “Quiet, Father Christmas, the Vendee Globe is supposed to be a solo race! The Race Directors aren’t going to be happy, if they see you…” In tenth place on Christmas Eve he crossed the halfway point in the race after fifty days of sailing. Alongside Rich Wilson, Alan Roura, Eric Bellion and Fabrice Amedeo in the Pacific, Boissières once again stressed how pleased he was to be racing. “I keep telling myself that I am experiencing something incredible every day. I am really privileged to be here.”
After a first half of the Pacific with wind conditions allowing good speeds, the second half was slower with light airs at times. “It’s very odd. At 54°S, I am becalmed. No wind, the sails flapping, the brain cells flashing exhausted and tons of coffee and tea. Patience really was required.” His motivation was racing with Roura, Wilson and Amedeo with whom he was in visual contact on 10th January. On 16th January after 70 days of racing Boissières rounded Cape Horn for the third time. Conditions were not helpful around the Falklands with wind shifts and light conditions. “Before my first Vendée Globe, Benoît Parnaudeau warned me ‘You’ll see, after the Horn, it’s is tough.’ That is true, but in comparison to four years ago, it’s all going smoothly.” The battle continued with Fabrice Amedeo – the pair have Farr sisterships that were built in New Zealand built as Paprec Virbac 2 for Jean-Pierre Dick and Gitana 80 for Loïck Peyron. Sailing to the east, Boissières moved into eleventh place ahead of his close rival and would cross back into the northern hemisphere in that position. He regained 10th when he passed the dismasted Colman.
Quotes from Arnaud Boissière’s Press Conference :
“This finish was better than my last two because the race was so much harder. Not necessarily because of the conditions, but because I wasn’t as well prepared. I hadn’t trained as much. Maybe because I wanted it more too. I don’t want to go through all the little bits of damage. I could have avoided some of them. When you have a limited budget, you have to make choices. I took the final decision about the equipment, so I only have myself to blame. All the things that ruin life for you during the Vendée Globe are things that aren’t that expensive.”
“I’m not looking for danger in the Vendée Globe. I take part because it offers me things I didn’t feel before. But you must not forget the tough moments. I cried, I screamed, I was desperate. I’m not that keen on doing repair jobs. You need to do stuff all the time though. When you work out why things are going wrong, you can celebrate. After each of these problems, there is a rainbow. Just for that, I want to do it again. I always believed in my dreams and a bit of luck. I want to encourage youngsters. You always have to believe.”
“I want to set off again. I want to look ahead and maybe take advantage of a new boat next year or work on this one. Why not improve this one? The foils look promising. The Vendée Globe is changing. When I changed boats between 2008 and 2012, I was lucky to spend a day with Vincent Riou. It doesn’t just take a boat like Thomson’s to be like him. Already, I’m worn out, but the first two home… I was also impressed by Jérémie Beyou. Of course, I’m tempted by a foiler for my next Vendée Globe. Is that going to be possible? I don’t know. Getting one just a year before the start isn’t possible. You have to learn how to sail with foils. You don’t change boats like you change racing cars.”