The holidays can be a mixed bag, sometimes fraught with family obligations, over-the-top commercialism and perhaps a touch too much 'good spirit', but there’s an escape hatch: Grand Prix offshore racing of two distinct styles, the fully crewed Sydney-Hobart and a singlehanded ultra-marathon known as the Vendee Globe. So, if you’re stuck dealing with a full-blown Holiday Hangover (of the in-laws-and-fruit-cake variety), take solace in the great sailing media that’s packed inside this issue.
The Sydney-Hobart is world-famous for its dramatic scenery
While the battle for pole position between Francois Gabart ('MACIF') and Armel Le Cleac’h ('Banque Populaire') remains red-hot in the Vendee Globe (we’ll get there), the starting-line action was awesome in Sydney, Australia, as 76 boats set out for Hobart, Tasmania in the storied Sydney-Hobart Race. The antipodean fleet ranged in size and complexity from 35-footers to multiple 100-foot super maxis, the later of which will be paying extra attention to look-out duties, given the serious worry of hitting floating objects at 25-plus knots.
'Sunfish have been a big problem in recent times,' reported Grant Wharington, skipper of the now-heavily modified 100-footer, 'Wild Thing'. 'Unfortunately, when you’ve got a canting keel you’ve got three foils in the water and you’ve got plenty of chance of hitting them.' However you will see today that Wharington had more trouble than sunfish.
The 'Wild Oats XI' crew, likewise, are no strangers to this lurking problem. 'The big issue at these speeds is hitting a sunfish or a shark,' said Richards. 'We’ve hit sunfish at 25 knots and cut it in half. It can stop you dead.'
ICHI BAN, Matt Allen catches the sunrise off Tasman Island - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2011
At the time of this writing, weather reports were painting a lovely picture for the larger boats as far as winning the overall corrected-time trophy. 'We are very happy with the weather forecast at this stage,' reported Matt Allen, skipper of the Volvo Open 70, 'Ichi Ban'. 'It is a bit hard to work out which boat it’s going to suit exactly but it certainly suits all the bigger boats and that includes us as well.' Get the full Sydney-Hobart media blast, inside this issue.
And, if this still hasn’t cured the post-Christmas blur, tune into the stormy depths of the Southern Ocean, where Gabart and Le Cleac’h continue their neck-in-neck battle for overall lead position, their next closest rival-Jean-Pierre Dick ('Virbac Paprec 3')-some 480-plus miles astern. This is easily one of the most impressive offshore battles in sailing history, and one that continues to truly blow minds back ashore, given the sheer intensity and duration of this around-the-world tussle.
VENDEE GLOBE 2012/2013 - SOUTH ATLANTIC - 02/12/2012 - PHOTO ARMEL LE CLEAC'H (FRA) / BANQUE POPULAIRE -
Gabart and Le Cleac’h have been playing a tactical for-keeps game of leap frog for the past few weeks, with each skipper thriving on the fine line that separates sleep depravation and full-bore intensity.
'Merry Christmas!' reported Gabart. 'I’m fine. It’s dark night outside. It’s a little complicated but I’m still sailing fast so I won’t complain. I didn’t see [Le Cleac’h] passing in front of me. The game is still great. I believe the gates bring more technical things and increase the strategy. The weather conditions are still interesting.'
Meanwhile, things are plenty competitive further astern, with all vessels trying to properly position themselves to round the last of the three great capes before then turning their bows north towards warmer weather. 'At the moment I have 25 knots', reported Dominique Wavre ('Mirabaud'). 'The sea is chaotic with waves coming and going in many different directions. Last night I met some dolphins who [raced] the boat. It was wonderful. Unfortunately I couldn’t catch them with my camera. The dolphins were so much faster than 'Mirabaud'.
Get the full Vendee Globe scoop, inside this issue, and be sure to stay tuned to the website as the frontrunners punch closer towards Cape Horn. Giddyap!
May the four winds blow you safely home,