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Crossing The Lull


  • Crossing The Lull


    Of the 24 skippers still racing on the second Vendee Arctique – Les Sables d'Olonne, ten are sailing on IMOCAs with straight daggerboards. Out in the east it is rookies Benjamin Ferre and Guirec Soudee who are the top two on the rankings. Ferre races the 2015 boat which was formerly MACIF and SMA and Soud?e has the 2007 Farr boat which was launched as Estrella Damm and took third in the 2012 Vend?e Globe as Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss.

    "From before the start, we knew that the situation meant that foilers and boats with straight daggerboards would likely choose different routes", explains race director Francis Le Goff. "The IMOCAs with daggerboards are more comfortable upwind in medium winds and with the high pressure ridge, two major possibilities emerged. The foilers went offshore but some daggerboard boats chose to stay closer to the (shorter) direct route. We could see a small pathway in the ridge and it turned out to be even more interesting than what the model showed."

    This slightly punchy choice surprised some sailors, like Damien Seguin (Groupe APICIL): "The daggerboard boats which are leading had this very easterly course. No one thought they would manage to pass so well on that routing. But, hey, there are times when you have to be a little lucky too. Now it's up to us to push hard to get back in front!"

    Benjamin Dutreux (Guyot Environnement - Water Family) agrees "They're smart guys compared to us, we went full speed ahead into the ridge and they were able to see what was going on in front of them. That has opened up opportunities. So the fastest are not necessarily the smartest."

    "Everything does not always happen as decreed by computers!"

    Further back, the Belgian Denis Van Weynbergh (Laboratoires de Biarritz) is also delighted that his friends and rivals without foils are doing so well. "It's fun to see them out in front," he said. "We're all trying to get the most out of our older generation boats and it's interesting to see that we've made good progress. As Jean Le Cam said: not everything always happens as it is decreed by computers!"

    At the front all the way around Iceland?

    On the recent Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race the course and weather allowed the non-foilers to shine. Three finished in the Top 10: Nicolas Lunven (4th), Eric Bellion (7th) and Conrad Colman (10th). And so now, too, the course of this Vend?e Arctic which has many weather transitions sees multiple opportunities and the passages of these first ridges is proving it. Sailors like Benjamin Ferr? or Guirec Soudee are new to the game and happy to take more strategic risks perhaps. And the IMOCAs with straight daggerboards are still simpler to set up and sail. But the foiling boats have a clear advantage as soon as they have a good angle to the wind and the sea is fairly flat. In these cases, they go 20 to 30% faster than daggerboard boats.

    Race Director Francis Le Goff suggests, "At this stage, the foilers are pretty much on their expected race timings on the routings but the daggerboard boats are ahead. They can still very much be in the mix in this race over the next days and we might even see them among the front runners until around Iceland."



    As the Vendee Arctique Les Sables d’Olonne race rolls into the third day, the older generation daggerboard IMOCA boats and their skippers who positioned themselves in the east, closer to the Irish coast, continue to profit with more wind and are resisting the sporadic advances of Charlie Dalin (APIVIA) who remains third, over three knots slower than race leader Benjamin Ferr?

    IMOCA rookie Ferr? who is racing one of the two most potent daggerboard boats in the fleet, smiled this morning, “ Everything is going well, the days are exhausting, there are a lot of maneuvers to do. I had Guirec (Soudee) on the VHF, we had a good laugh listening to the rankings. It's funny to be in the lead even if the ranking is a little skewed by the spread of the fleet. In any case, it's cool, the paths and routes seem more or less coherent and the speeds too. The course is still very long so I will try to rest. ?

    Ferre has had a decent night and is 16 miles ahead of pre-race favourite Dalin, who is 75 nautical miles to the west of the race leader. As the leaders of both packs negotiate another zone of lighter winds Dalin should exit sooner in the west, ready to be slingshot north of the heels of a low pressure system and SW’ly winds. The leaders, Ferre and Guirec Souree who is 13 miles astern, have a stronger SW’ly breeze on the south east of the ridge and so will either have to stay east and work down a corridor of good SW’ly wind on the east of the ridge or bite the bullet and go NW through the ridge. Either way Dalin should accelerate later today. Kiwi Conrad Colman (Imagine) in 12th is repositioning himself to the east after gybing last night.

    This second front is proving frustrating for the foilers, wider than maybe first thought but the yellow and white APIVIA should emerge later today and recent routings still show the leader passing to the east of Iceland on Friday in favourable conditions whilst those arriving later will encounter a strong north Atlantic gale.



    A few overnight messages from the fleet including race leader Benjamin Ferre

    Nicolas Lunven (Banque Populaire): “I came out of the ridge yesterday morning. I didn't do so great because a group of boats in the north with Benjamin Ferr?, Eric Bellion, Guirec Soudee played it really well, congratulations to them. They sailed less miles. I thought there would be less wind on the direct route. I was wrong, it was a mistake. It's good to find some wind, it's going well towards the target but the rest is really not easy. A cold front will pass over us tonight. Behind, it looks soft and complicated. Getting to Iceland I think that the first group will manage to pass without incident, behind that there is potentially some very strong wind. I watch this carefully. You have to rack your brains a bit. I was side by side with Giancarlo and Damien, when the wind came in they gave me the slip. Now in these conditions with 20 knots downwind I'm struggling to fight with my daggerboard boat even if it was going pretty well in the light weather of the ridge.

    Sebastien Marsset (Cap Agir Ensemble): “It took me a little time to get rid of the emotion at the start. These ten days in Village have been demanding and I may not have managed to rest enough before leaving. I'm starting to find my little rhythm of life on board. Everything is fine ! I left on a fairly east route in the ridge. The foilers set off on a much more westerly route as the initial forecast suggested westerly routes instead. This ridge did not go as they thought and they did not expect to see boats pass so easily to the east. They took advantage of this gap to pass behind the residual front that I will have to negotiate this morning. They are betting on the southwest flow. Foils or no foils, this necessarily means different courses I hope that the daggerboard boats will still hang in there for a long time, I will do everything. My boat is not very young so it is obviously difficult to compete with much more recent boats. VMG or weaker wind speeds are less unfavorable to us. There are some very good daggerboard boats like Benjamin (Ferr?) or Nico (Lunven) which are equal in certain conditions. I think it's great that the established order has been shaken up at the start of the race, it's changing, they are getting back into the game, it's challenging. ?

    Benjamin Ferre (Monnoyeur-Duo For A Job): “Everything is going well, the days are exhausting, there are a lot of maneuvers to do. I had Guirec (Soudee) on the VHF, we had a good laugh listening to the rankings. It's funny to be in the lead even if the ranking is a little biased by the spread of the fleet. In any case, it's cool, the paths and routes seem more or less coherent and the speeds too. The course is still very long so I will try to rest. ?

    Kojiro Shiraishi (DMG MORI GLOBAL ONE): “I regained some strength by eating a little during the passage of the ridge. One of the constrictors to hold the mainsheet on the piano does not work, so I have a winch now dedicated to this. It's a small problem. The passage of the ridge was complicated, I stopped several times but it was not that bad. It will be quite fast to Iceland. I will try not to break anything. The watchword is to pay attention to the boat.



    As the leaders of the Vend?e Arctique Les Sables d’Olonne 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 Ferre (Monnoyeur-Duo for a job) who leads 30 year old Guirec Soudee ( by 11 miles this afternoon. Ferr? 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 Vend?e 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.

    Ferr? 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 Sour?e. 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 Vend?e 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 Vend?e 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 Ferr? 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 J?r?mie 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 Vend?e 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”.



    Racing about 110 miles SW of Ireland’s Fastnet rock, trying to escape zone of light winds caused by a ridge of high pressure, on the second morning of the Vendee Arctique Les Sables d’Olonne race, it is IMOCA rookie Benjamin Ferr? who is credited with the race lead thanks to his position to the east and north of the main pack.

    Whilst the small posse of pre-race title favourites on their fast, foiling IMCOA’s are most west, seeking to break into the new SW’ly breeze first and start their sleigh ride north to Iceland, it is the 31 year old former Mini 650 Class racer Ferre (Monnoyeur-Duo For A Job) who has a seven miles lead on his fast, well optimised daggerboard boat which won the 2012 Vend?e Globe as Macif and 2016 Route du Rhum as SMA.

    The second night at sea for the 24 solo skippers has been slow but intense. Knowing that a new breeze awaits them later today when they finally break free of this wide calm zone, the racers have been working hard to gain every mile towards the exit. Of the westerly gang – now 70 miles SW of Ferr? – Charlie Dalin (Apivia) is still best positioned of his rivals but was making less than three knots boat speed. Jeremie Beyou (Charal) is almost alongside Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) whilst Louis Burton’s Bureau Vall?e is proving sticky in these slow conditions. For them the exit into the new SW’ly breeze should come early afternoon when they should start to profit against the non-foilers in the east.

    Fabrice Amadeo (Nexans Art et Fenetres): “I don’t have much wind, maybe 8 knots of wind, the sea is calm and flat with beautiful light. This feels good. The strategy for crossing the ridge is to see what the axis of the ridge is and to try to sail perpendicular to that to get out of it as quickly as possible. I'm thinking we will get out about midday but I think it will be a little later than that, this area looks complicated to cross. After that we are into a depression which will bring us sustained downwind conditions. The gaps are closing up but that’s always the same. The leaders get in first and are likely to get out first. I took advantage of the quiet winds and seas to fix my autopilot and now it is good in the light stuff and flat seas but it was losing the place a bit in the winds and seas. We fitted a new system last winter and there are still adjustments to be made. I'm still learning a lot of things on the boat but I'm making progress."

    J?r?mie Beyou (Charal): “We chose our entry point (into the ridge) and now we have to exit perpendicular to the axis of the ridge. It is not easy to know how the wind will turn, we chose the entry point before the start and so mow we see if it still is good. It can can create big gaps if it shifts to the east for those behind me. I hope to get out tonight, maybe tomorrow morning. We are stuck with the other three. We are in sight of each other and that gives us benchmarks even if in the soft stuff. There are to or three things of boatwork to do and some electronic wiring had come unplugged in the fast going on the first night.”

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