by Victoria Low
Ecover © Mark Lloyd / Lloyd Images
After the spectacular opening of the Vendée Globe village last weekend in Les Sables d’Olonne it has been down to business for Mike Golding and the ECOVER 3 shore team, making final preparations for the start on 9 November. Mike has had a full itinerary of briefings on safety and communications, as well as scrutineering the boat’s safety and communication equipment.
'On opening weekend I believe they had 68,000 people on the dock, and we thought it would be more relaxed on the Monday, and it wasn’t, and then on Tuesday it was raining and still they kept coming, so that just did not seem to stop the people coming to see the boats nor dampen their enthusiasm and these are people who have clearly come from much further afield.'
'We had a party of kids from one of the local schools on board today which is always fun, and of course their questions are lovely, always the usual….what do you eat, and where do you go to the toilet? How long do you sleep? And all the normal questions. And the nice thing is that they plan to follow ECOVER all the way round and my progress, so that’s nice to know, and they were a really nice bunch of kids.'
'You like it and you loathe, because on the one hand it is great to let the visitors get so close and see the boats and what is going on and it really does give it all its unique character, on the other hand it is very hard to be around the boat and not get harangued. Which is both nice but quite difficult at the same time. Invariably you find yourself walking with your head down, and trying not to engage and get distracted.'
Vendee Globe Village
But it is a unique sporting situation where the skippers, just as the public do, can be right in the heart of the race paddock.
'Of course it is also good to be able to get up close and personal and see all the other boats. One of the first thing I noticed as interesting thing for me just now is seeing the prominence of wind generators, and I think we know why. Because we are running with wind generators ourselves and it was a bit of a revelation how it worked really well.'
'Admittedly my memories of wind generators were noisy, vibration, not very efficient and just downright bloody dangerous if you went anywhere near them. Yes, they are probably dangerous still if you go too near them, but now they don’t vibrate, they are not noisy and they are pretty damn efficient, so I can see why the fleet are going for them.
While the boats have for many years been running solar panels, I have no solar panels because they are not very efficient and one control line casting a shadow across a panel and suddenly you have halved its capacity, so unless your boat is shaped like a turtle and does not have a mast and sails, solar power is not so great.'
'That is one thing but of course there are lots of other things, little details.'
The French have regularly drawn attention to what they see as the peculiarly British preference for wheels to steer with rather than tillers:
'It’s a cultural difference. Basically it’s ‘fashion in hats’. I think we chose wheels because you map out the cockpit I like my winches to be spread out in a certain way, I like the boat to have some space in the cockpit and I do like the ability to sail it with a crew, and so a tiller would block you from having a winch. So the wheels are kind of fixed in space and I kind of like that, I find them good for manoeuvres, but on a long haul in wet, cold conditions I’d probably much rather have a tiller, because you are very exposed.'
Mike, like the other skippers, has been issued with and trained in the standard weather package which has been developed by MeteoFrance:
Preview 2007 CCA Awards Rod Stephens Trophy Mike Golding Photo: Andi Robertson
'I expressed my reservations about the Synboat system which is the supplied system which delivers the official weather package because it runs on Linux and so I am not a big fan of loading something quite so heavy on to a windows based computer.
But I have been running it on my own PC and it is not very intuitive, you feel obliged to have it because the others have it, but it is good for overlaying different things, and for accessing some things that can be got by other means. Certainly I think all the other Brits have the same reservations and I don’t think anyone is going to use it as their front line bit of kit.'