Charlie Dalin has particularly enjoyed his convincing win in the New York Vendée-Les Sables d’Olonne race. And that’s partly because he knows that even getting on the podium in the IMOCA Class is becoming more difficult.

Dalin makes the point that in recent years the podium was often occupied by the same three sailors – himself, Jérémie Beyou (Charal) and Thomas Ruyant (Vulnerable). But no longer…

“It’s difficult in the IMOCA Class at the moment,”said the Macif Santé Prévoyance skipper, who reached Les Sables d’Olonne on Saturday evening after winning a fascinating duel with Boris Herrmann on Malizia Seaexplorer by a distance of around 300 nautical miles.

“You really have to appreciate and enjoy the wins and the podiums because I think they are going to be something that are getting much more rare than they used to be for all the top teams. There are many more competitive teams in the Class now – and they include Boris – and quite a lot of skippers are able to get good finishes. So it’s going to become more and more difficult to get there,”added Dalin.

For the Frenchman originally from Le Havre, victory in the New York Vendée was exactly what his team had called for in the plan for this season. The idea was for Dalin to return to solo racing for the first time since the last Route du Rhum and ensure qualification for the Vendée Globe in The Transat CIC, and then push hard on the return race and go for the win. Dalin was fourth on the way over and then, after escaping ahead of the fleet alongside Herrmann, added another victory to his name on the way back.

The ominous element for his rivals – sailors like Beyou, Ruyant, Sam Goodchild (Vulnerable), Sam Davies (Initiatives-Coeur), Herrmann and Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa) – is that Dalin is extremely impressed with his boat, a new Guillaume Verdier design built in 2022. 

We asked him straight whether he is happy with its all-round speed: “Oh yeah. Yes, yes,” he replied without hesitation.

And does he think it has a weakness, in any wind angle or sea-state? “No, no…”

© Jean-Louis Carli / Alea

“The boat is definitely fast,”Dalin added by way of explanation. “It’s a very good all-rounder, even better than Apivia (his last boat, now sailed by Clarisse Crémer). The hull has a bit less wetted surface area, the boat’s got a better glide and it’s quite easy to reach an OK speed. And, if the conditions drift a bit, or the wind gets a bit lighter, or the angle changes, you don’t have a steep decrease in boatspeed. So there is a big tolerance regarding sailing conditions and the way you trim the boat, so that is very good for solo sailing.”

This near-perfect boat is now going in for a summer re-fit which will involve disassembling it completely and putting it all back together again. A new performance package – about which Dalin was tight-lipped – will be added to the mix, meaning it could be even quicker by the start of the Vendée Globe in November. 

The boat apart, Dalin has also been working on his sleep, in a program in collaboration with the European Sleep Centre, which has produced results; and with his team on the ergonomics of the cockpit and how he lives on board, again to good effect.

The critical point in the New York Vendée was the phase when both Dalin and Herrmann managed to break out of a low pressure system and leave the rest of the fleet floundering in their wake. Dalin used all his experience to keep his foiler moving. “It was really complicated,”he remembers. “I tried to escape once and stopped dead. So I tried again in a different manner. I had to sail in a very unconventional way to get across. I sailed completely dead downwind…to cross the trough (weather feature).”

A key moment came when he saw Nico Lunven on his tracker, who had been in third place on board Holcim-PRB, getting overtaken by the trough behind him, having initially passed it. “I could see what happened to Nico and that was like a big alert signal for me. I worked the boat hard from then on to get some more speed to try to get away from the front as much as I could,”said Dalin.

Dalin has nothing but praise for Herrmann after his two consecutive second places and a thrilling performance in the New York Vendée, that saw the German skipper sailing hundreds of extra miles to the north in a brave bid for his first solo win in IMOCA. “He’s up there now,” said Dalin. “He has managed to get himself two second places on the two transats, which is a very good performance. Boris is very consistent and he’s another one to watch out for.”

Like Dalin, Herrmann believed at various points that his northern gamble might pay off and give him the win. “It wasn’t always me thinking that I could beat him,” recalled Herrmann. “I didn’t think it a lot, but at moments the weather models had me come out in front. And there was a phase where the descent after the high north was more on a straight line without all the gybes. Sometimes it only takes a 15-degree windshift to make that layline.”

Also like Dalin, Herrmann is enjoying his own boat the more he sails it. He confirmed that there will be no more major changes in the run-up to the Vendée Globe, apart from routine work on reliability. And he believes that the participation of his team in The Ocean Race last year was fundamental to achieving the Malizia Seaexplorer’s current competitiveness. “You can sail a lot around in the Atlantic, but it's not the same as the Southern Ocean,” he said.

© Olivier Blanchet / Alea

Herrmann is now taking a break from the sailing side of his program to return to Hamburg for a few weeks, where he will work on future plans for his team, on their environmental campaign and liaise with corporate partners. He will return to the boat refreshed at the end of August. “I will work full time, but on completely different topics and at the same time re-charge and come back motivated. I like to do these on-and-off phases,” he said.

He is well aware that his two consecutive podiums have got people talking about his chances of winning the Vendée Globe at the second time of asking. But the only German skipper in the IMOCA fleet is not taking any of it too seriously. In response, he offered an interesting view on his own team, something which he regards as quite unique among its rivals in IMOCA.

“It doesn’t resonate at all with me,” he said of talk that he could win the Vendée Globe, “really, not at all. It’s leaving me completely untouched and I think that’s because I am a little bit on my own game. Our boat was very different to the others, the commercial set-up is very different and the topics we deal with, so we are on quite a different planet than the typical team in Lorient. I am doing my own things and also the Vendée Globe, for me, is not only a race, it is an expedition and an adventure.”


Ed Gorman