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Vendee Globe winners, Prada Cup updates

by David Schmidt 2 Feb 08:00 PST February 2, 2021
Maitre CoQ IV skipper Yannick Bestaven clinches victory © Bernard Le Bars

Given that most of us are living various forms of Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day as the pandemic continues to grind on across North America, claiming innocent lives and causing all sorts of economic and social misery, it's easy to think of time utterly standing still since January 21, 2020 - the day that the CDC confirmed the first case of COVID 19 in the USA - but the reality is that this past week was the sailing world's biggest in ages.

For starters, the Vendee Globe delivered a nail-biting finish for myriad fans around the world, and in Auckland, New Zealand, the Prada Cup Semi Finals saw the much-anticipated return of American Magic in a best-of-seven matchup against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli. Sadly for American-flagged interests, the racing didn't deliver the desired results, but at least Italian fans have something to celebrate.

But before we dig into these stories, I'd like to take a moment to remember a friend, colleague, championship sailor, and easily one of the greatest sailing writers of all time. Bob Fisher passed away on January 25 in Lymington, Hampshire (UK), at the age of 85. "Fish", as he was widely known in the international sailing world, learned to sail on the waters of his hometown of Brightlingsea, Essex (UK). He won his first (of three) world-championship titles in 1958 in the Hornet class, and he published his first book (of 30), Small Boat Racing with the Champions, in 1976.

While Fish spun many a colorful sentence, perhaps my favorite line (that's fit to print, at least) was his now infamous quip about the best way to travel to windward being aboard a Boeing 747. Many more colorful descriptions followed, and while he covered the breadth of sailing, from offshore to the Olympics, it was the America's Cup where he made his most indelible mark.

In addition to his family and friends, Fish leaves behind countless international fans of his unflinching writing and reporting, not to mention the many journalists (your editor included) whom he helped mentor along.

Please join us in raising a glass to Fish.

On a happier note, the 2020/2021 Vendee Globe delivered the most competitive race in years, and while the elapsed times were not particularly fast this year due to softer-than-normal conditions in the Southern Ocean, the finishing line deltas were razor thin.

Skipper Charlie Dalin, sailing aboard Apiva, took line honors with an elapsed time of 80 days, 6 hours, 15 minutes and 47 seconds... however his time at the top of the leaderboard was limited due to redress time owed to several competitors who helped assist in rescuing skipper Kevin Escoffier from his broken PRB on November 30, 2020. Unfortunately for Mr Dalin, one of these skippers with a time allotment (of 10 hours and 15 minutes) in his back pocket was Yannick Bestaven, sailing aboard Maître CoQ IV.

Bestaven crossed the finishing line to cheering crowds with an elapsed time of 80 days, 13 hours, 59 minutes and 46 seconds, which corrected down to 80 days, 3 hours, 44 minutes and 46 seconds, giving him a winning delta of just 2 hours, 31 minutes and 1 second over Dalin in a race that spanned some 24,365 nautical miles.

"I feel like I'm living a dream, hallucinating," reported Bestaven in an official Vendee Globe press release. "You go from total solitude to this, to this party, to these lights, these people who are there despite the complicated context. I don't realize what's going on. I'm still in my race. It's a child's dream."

While the Southern Ocean might have been less boisterous than in previous editions, winning the Vendee Globe is no easy feat, especially given that this edition has seen eight of the 33 boats that were on the starting line retire due to various problems and breakages.

"You have to look deep down inside yourself," continued Bestaven. "These boats are stressful, noisy, and life on board is difficult. There is also loneliness sometimes."

But, as the modified cliché goes, for Mr Bestaven, the ends justified the living conditions.

"This result is beyond my expectations," he said. "I imagined living many things, I have lived many others. After having fought as I have fought, bringing a victory to Maître CoQ IV is a dream!"

While there were plenty of other plots and sub-plots unfurled as the Vendee Globe skippers approached the finishing line off of Les Sables d'Olonne, France, (including skipper Boris Herrmann's collision with a fishing boat less than 100 nautical miles from the finishing line) the top three results went to Bestaven, Dalin, and skipper Louis Burton who sailed aboard Bureau Vallée 2.

And while a fourth place finish isn't typically widely reported, this year's bridesmaid to the podium finishers was skipper Jean Le Cam, who sailed aboard YesWeCam. Like Bestaven, Le Cam also carried some corrected time for his critical role in helping to save Escoffier after PRB broke apart, and this gave him a top-five finish, despite sailing the race in an older-generation IMOCA 60. Impressively, 2020 was Le Cam's fifth consecutive Vendee Globe start.

Hats off to all Vendee Globe skippers for their great efforts and for giving us all a chance to live vicariously during a year when a mental escape hatch is one of the most precious commodities imaginable.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the America's Cup world saw four Prada Cup Semi Finals races unfurl on the waters off of Auckland this past weekend. For anyone who hasn't been following the lead-up races to the 36th America's Cup closely, the Prada Cup will determine the challenger that will meet Emirates Team New Zealand on March 6 for the first races of AC36. INEOS Team UK emerged from the Prada Cup Round Robins with a perfect scorecard of 6-0, earning them a berth in the Prada Cup Finals.

This left the Prada Cup Semi Finals to two teams, American Magic and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

As we reported previously, American Magic suffered a near-catastrophic capsize near the end of the final race of the Prada Cup Round Robins (they were leading Luna Rossa at the time), which saw PATRIOT, the team's second-generation AC75 foiling monohull, nearly sink.

A proud international rescue and rebuild effort followed, and American Magic was on the water again on January 28 for their first race against Luna Rossa, however it was clear from the outset that the team's magic simply wasn't there.

While conjecture is a dangerous sport, to my eye, American Magic's afterguard seemed reluctant to mix things up with Luna Rossa in the all-important pre-starts. Perhaps this was a result of nerves following their bad capsize, or perhaps the team was knowingly going into battle with an exhausted war horse (or perhaps one with known electronic gremlins), but the results were the same in all four races, with the Italian-flagged team sailing four private races in full control of their destiny.

As the saying goes, it's easy to look like a tactical genius when one has a faster boat, but the Italians looked extremely smart. However, it's critical to acknowledge that all Cup teams progress at a tremendous clip as the racing gets going, both in terms of onboard communications, crew choreography, and boat development, and American Magic lost this critical window to simply repairing PATRIOT to her pre-crash state. Moreover, American Magic was noticeably dealing with foil-arm problems during their final race, and there's no question that this didn't help the team's efforts.

The Italians, on the other hand, were able to use the time between the Prada Cup Round Robins and the Prada Cup Semi Finals to notably improve all aspects of their game and claim four straight bullets. This earns them a place on the starting line against INEOS Team UK for the Prada Cup Finals.

Sadly, for American Magic fans, this means that their campaign will be folding their tent and likely beginning the long antipodean journey back home to a significantly more socially distanced world than the one they have been inhabiting since their arrival in Auckland last summer.

Sail-World tips our hat to the campaign that skipper Terry Hutchinson and the American Magic crew delivered, both before and after the capsize, and we wish the team (and all individual members) the best of luck going forward.

Racing for the Prada Cup Finals begin on February 12.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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