Rookie kings for a day
As the leaders of the Vendée Arctique race start to escape a wide band of very light airs to the SW of Ireland, it is two of the IMOCA rookie skippers on older style non-foiling IMOCA boats who are holding the lead thanks to their position in the east of the fleet.
But 100 miles to the west, having emerged into a new, building SW’ly breeze the faster foilers should accelerate and the rookies’ days on top might be numbered.
It is blonde-haired 31 year old French skipper Benjamin Ferré (Monnoyeur-Duo for a job) who leads 30 year old Guirec Soudée (Freelance.com) by 11 miles this afternoon. Ferré had a prodigious rise to success in the Mini 6.50 class going from rookie to third place on the 2019 MiniTransat in just two years.
He is presently mentored by Jean Le Cam and races the IMOCA which is widely considered the quickest, best optimised non foiler, the Vendée Globe 2012 winner as Francois Gabart’s Macif and Route du Rhum winner as Paul Meilhat’s SMA, a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Ferré was an adventurer in his past. At 24 he sailed solo across the Atlantic using only a sextant. He raced a vintage Renault 4L across Morocco but his CV pales in the light of his rookie rival Sourée. He is the youngest sailor ever to complete the Northwest Passage (the sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Arctic Ocean) and spent five years sailing round the world – much of it with a red hen Monique. He spent 130 days stuck in ice, surviving only on eggs and rice. Now having turned his attentions to the Vendée Globe, he races the Farr design which Alex Thomson took to third in the 2012 race and which most recently Benjamin Dutreux sailed to ninth in the 2020 Vendée Globe.
Their gains might be short lived. As their routing choices for their daggerboard, non foiling boats has kept them east there is now more wind in the west. Charlie Dalin – fourth on this second afternoon of racing – has already wound his Apivia up to 23 knots in just 18-19 knots of wind and was making rapid progress up the course. He was computed to be 22 miles south of Ferré and sailing eight knots quicker.
Dalin’s choices – where to get in and out of the high pressure ridge – have paid off against his nearest rivals, 16 miles ahead of Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) and Jérémie Beyou (Charal).
Britain’s Pip Hare (Medallia) was also emerging out of the light winds this afternoon and winding up Medallia, some 65 nautical miles behind Dalin, but on the same trajectory.
Hare reported this afternoon, “I am trying hard to think through my sail changes and that worked well yesterday when I kept the same small gennaker up all the way from the start to when the wind died for the high pressure. But I can't help myself much now as it would seem as I then changed through my medium gennaker to my biggest one, and I will need to change that back down again soon. I don't mind the work but I know I lose time changing sails as the boat has to be sailing downwind to do the manoeuvre. Part of my objectives for this race is to understand how and when to make a compromise on not always having the perfect sail in the air.”
Japan’s Kojiro Shiraishi (DMG MORI GLOBAL ONE) is holding eighth this afternoon in a position more to the east of the other foiling boats like his. Conversely Nico Lunven on Banque Populaire – a renowned weather strategy specialist and two times La Solitaire du Figaro winner – has chosen the west on his non-foiler along with the faster, foiling IMOCAs.
Sounding tired on the morning video calls Dalin explained, “We are going to have wind that will gradually pick up, a front to pass through and then another new transition zone with light winds". The passage of front that he talks about might be early Wednesday morning.
No matter the position in the 24 strong fleet there seems no time to settle to a rhythm so far on this race round Iceland back to Les Sables d’Olonne. The skippers need to most of all focus on doing the simple, essential things well and not making mistakes. 2016 Vendée Globe veteran Eric Bellion, in third, noted “With each successful maneuver each time we see that the boat is going in the right direction you get a surge of pride and we manage to then displace our fears”.
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