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Frensham Pond Sailing Club sailors in the Virtual Vendée Globe

by Jeremy Hudson 30 Jan 08:36 PST
Virtual Vendée Globe © Virtual Regatta

How do you scratch that competitive itch under lockdown? Well for 22 Frensham teams the answer is to race virtually in the Vendée Globe! There were well over one million participants in this latest event! Being 53,942nd does not seem so bad when you convert it to a top 5 finish at an average Nationals event.

With around 70 gruelling days some of the leaders were adjusting courses and sails every few hours... days and nights... Much to the dismay of some of their family members. In a lot of ways, it felt like a normal competitive race with:

  • Lots of place changes
  • Strong competition
  • A few banging the corners
  • Some 'cheque book' sailors buying all the additional sails and routing software available
So, what is the Vendée Globe? Well it is a very brutal and serious race for the 30+ real sailors braving it all and the culmination of several years campaigning. For the virtual sailors of Frensham, it was a great way to compete and have social chat about the race on a WhatsApp group from the comfort of our armchairs, comparing tactics and discussing the various snakes and ladders that we all recognise in any form of sailboat racing. Perhaps my favourite description is....'a race down the Atlantic from Les Sables d'Olonne, round the island of Antarctica and then a race back up the Atlantic to finish in Les Sables.

From the start it was all very exciting with a few Frensham scattering to all corners of the north Atlantic with some hotshots ignoring the conventional wisdom and heading due south, hugging the African coast. This looked great and gave the easterly bunch very high rankings... in fact the overall leaders, at this stage, were in a similar area. However, past the azores, they eventually got their comeuppance and dropped from the leading rankings into the hundreds of thousands! It was tough. For most of the race there were several thousand boats in the leading 3-5 mile band, so it was very easy to move from Hero to apparent zero with the smallest of errors.

Some of the notable brave initiatives included Flo Flo and SoloRTW, who both tried to take short cuts through the ice zone, only to be captured by the Antarctic Kraken who held their keels to slow them right down until they navigated out of the zone. Many of the wily Frensham sailors could be seen hugging the 'bank' around Antarctica with short gybes or cruising along with their booms brushing the limits of the ice zone. Frensham Ent apparently popped into Rio for a fiesta before getting serious and mounting a late comeback! A real gamechanger was approaching Australia and the leading group of 10 Frensham boats (amongst the lead peloton of some 60K) just managed to escape the light winds that enveloped the back of the Frensham group (and about 950K others!). The distance between 10th and 11th Frensham boats was less than 20 miles... But the resulting gap ended up as >2000 miles by the time the unfortunate backmarkers escaped the previously unheard-of roaring forties doldrums - It was just like sailing on our favourite pond!

The Brothers Law were at or near the front for the whole race, so thoroughly deserved being the first two Frensham boats home with Adrian finally grabbing the bubbly from Simon finishing in 69d 17h 43m 10s. All credit to John Haine who started late in mid fleet and fought his way all the way through to 3rd Frensham boat. Team Frensham had 10 boats in the top 5% of the fleet and the leader just about in the top 1% so a very credible performance by all. If only the girls controlling 'Pink and Stormy' could have laid off the partying, they might have been podium contenders.

A few of the teams even found time to do the Sydney Hobart at Christmas, the RORC Transatlantic Race and even the Tara Ocean Race back down to the River Plate, at the same time. With lots of good banter on the WhatsApp group and I am sure we all learnt a thing or two about offshore navigation, Great Circle routes etc., it was certainly a good way to stay in touch and relieve the boredom during lockdown. Would I do it again for 72 days, covering 27,686 miles? As an alternative to real sailing... probably not but in a further lockdown? Bring it on. Many thanks to the makers of 'Virtual Regatta' for letting us have some community fun, oh and can the FPSC membership Secretary please come up with a new virtual membership category.

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