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Vendée Globe: Without assistance means... without assistance

by Vendee Globe 28 Jun 2020 03:36 PDT
Photo sent from the boat Compagnie du lit Boulogne Billancourt on December 15th, 2016 © Stephane le Diraison

'Without Assistance' is the third pillar of the Vendée Globe complementing 'Solo' and 'Non-Stop'. Some would say it is the fundamental principle which is open to most interpretation.

In this increasingly digital age, when comms are seemingly always on, an addendum, No3, has just been published to further detail Chapter 4 of the Notice of Race.

Solo, non-stop and unassisted are the fundamentals of the Vendée Globe. The meanings are set out in chapter 4 of the Notice of Race as these are what underpin this round the world race its unique and epic character. These fundamentals should not be diluted.

4.1 "Solo": two lines define the principle. In the event that a skipper wants to take his or her dog or cat, animals are prohibited on board.

4.2 "Nonstop" means it is a non-stop circumnavigation and there are criteria (detailed below) which are applied to ensure this is followed.

4.3 "Without assistance" is not quite so conciseness. Up until now there were twenty fairly general lines in the NoR which detailed this essential rule. Now there are seven very extensive explanations and requirements.

The limits of non-assistance are in line with this new era when sailors communicate with land all the time using their on-board technologies, always more sophisticated, always more connected, and as a result, so the flow of information which could be exchanged is opened right up.

Long gone are the days of the pioneers who only had Marine Radio to hear news of their loved ones, during brief and poor quality conversations that everyone could listen to on the air.

Today satellite communication allows instant transmission of all kinds of data. Voice, images, texts, data transferred by the machine itself or via the skipper's push, regardless if the competitor is a few miles from land or passing the Pacific's Point Nemo, at 1600kms equidistant from three islands, the most remote part of the course. Nowadays sailors communicate with their family, with their team, with Vendée Globe race direction, with journalists, their sponsors and partners, and share everything to enable us to live their epic adventures and to share their emotions, but also data and info is shared for medical or technical reasons, and for safety and security reasons.

Ashore the teams avidly follow the progress of their IMOCA 24-hours a day to ensure the safety of their skipper and to see how he or she is doing. Technically it would be possible for them to recover the boat's data in real time (weather and sea conditions, speed, course, rig and sheet loads, voltage sensors, settings, etc.) and parameters detailing the health and performance of their skipper (heart rate, sleep, energy expenditure) and to analyze them and issue advice.And it is now possible to update on-board navigation software remotely; to take control of autopilots, to potentially be a shoreside support for performance and strategy. That would be directly contrary to the spirit of the Vendée Globe.

"It therefore became necessary to once again clarify the limits of non-assistance, which really before amounted to the ban on receiving outside weather assistance," explains Jacques Caraës, Race Director of the Vendée Globe.

Guardians of the temple

The sailors themselves set themselves up as 'guardians of the temple'. "The request came directly from the sailors' IMOCA class sports committee."

They are the ones who, this winter, asked the race management of the Vendée Globe and Christophe Gaumont, the President of the Race Committee to revise this fundamental article of the rules of the Vendée Globe. Says Caraës "This led us to redefine certain things. The original text was open enough to have different interpretations depending on the teams. We had to clarify all this so that everyone would know what they have the right to do or not to do. "

Seven articles examine in detail the principle of non-assistance: general details, routing and weather, aid to performance, medical assistance, technical advice given from a distance, communications, and access to anchorages.

4.3.1 General details

This is a new feature: this time a rule has been written making it clear that everything that is not explicitly authorised in article 4.3 (non assistance) is not allowed. This opens up what is banned to an infinite number of possibilities, in addition to those clearly laid down in each line of the rules.

4.3.2 Routing and weather

The same general spirit prevails as in previous editions: it is strictly forbidden to receive any personalised weather assistance and/or routing from any external source. The list of tools available for looking for weather information and the software commonly used by the sailors to adapt their route must be the subject of a request for authorisation from the Race Directors.

4.3.3 Help with performance

This new chapter is a major change for the 2020 race. All of the data that comes from the boat in real time or is pre-recorded (as described above) must be made public. A team may not use them during the race for private reasons and it is strictly forbidden to use this information to obtain advice, which might influence the performance or the strategy of the boat. It is obviously also forbidden to take control from ashore of onboard software or rework calculations. Twenty lines make this all very clear.

4.3.4 Medical assistance

The principles remain the same as before. Only the official race medical officer, the Maritime Medical Centre in Toulouse and the skipper's personal doctor, registered on the application form, are allowed to offer medical help.

4.3.5 Technical advice from a distance

Everyone can remember the incident concerning PRB restarting her engine in 2001 in the middle of the Pacific with the help of pulleys and a well-timed gybe. The idea came from Michel Desjoyeaux's technical team, then led by Vincent Riou. Without that help, Michel Desjoyeaux, who went on to win the race, may not have been able to continue racing, due to a lack of power for his navigational instruments.

Technical assistance offered from a distance - communicating a method, a way to repair a broken or damaged part - remains authorised. While this authorisation may not please those in favour of absolutely no assistance, it takes nothing away from the fact that the sailor must deal with the problem himself and these repairs can be very complicated or dangerous and far from being easy to carry out successfully.

Indeed, this hotline must remain purely technical, as Jacques Caraës explains. "If you tear your gennaker, your shore team has the right to tell you how to repair it. However, they cannot tell you when to do it (based on the weather for example) or which route you should follow or indicate the polars the boat should adopt. That would be assistance in terms of the competition or help with performance. It is down to the skipper to make his own choices based on the damage and to adapt to the situation. To go one step further, imagine that the speed of the boat has declined. Your team cannot say to you: "Are you sure that everything is OK? Are you sure you have the right sail up?"

4.3.6 Communications

The article lists ways to communicate, the means available and the person with whom you can speak. The history of websites that have been visited must be kept until the end of the race.

4.3.7 Access to anchorages

The text remains the same as for the previous race. It is possible to moor up to a mooring buoy using their own means to shelter or carry out repairs. No external assistance is allowed. However, they cannot moor in a harbour or alongside a boat or step ashore beyond the limit of the highest tide.

Chapter 4.3 concerning the basics of the Vendée Globe has therefore grown. "This is such a big question," admitted Jacques Caraës. "The text can never be perfect and it is always going to stir up some sort of debate."

This amendment was submitted to those affected around ten days ago. Before the start, skippers and team managers will sign a declaration promising to respect these race rules.

Read the Addendum 3 of the NOR here.

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