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Broken Vendee Globe boats, fast Jules Verne miles - USA Newsletter


Broken boats in the Vendee Globe, fast Jules Verne Trophy attempt miles

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Jean Le Cam during the Vendée Globe - photo © Jean-Marie Liot / Alea YES WE CAM #VG2020

Dear Recipient Name

While time seems to be moving like molasses for North Americans who are locked down (or worse) by the still-raging pandemic, the reality is quite different for the 28 skippers who are still racing in the Vendee Globe. The attrition rate feels high this year, but this isn't uncommon in the first third of this storied round-the-world race as skippers and boats are soundly shaken down by weather systems, offshore miles, and unidentified floating objects. What's different this year, however, are the foiling boats, with their extreme appendages and loads, and the vulnerabilities that these are presenting to an ocean filled with flotsam, innocent sea creatures and huge waves.

Take the the case of Kevin Escoffier, whose IMOCA 60 PRB literally broke in half on November 30, triggering one of the more dramatic rescues in recent race history.

"It's unbelievable what happened," reported Escoffier in an official race release, after being successfully rescued. "The boat folded up on a wave at 27 knots. I heard a bang, but to be honest, I didn't need to hear that to know what had happened. I looked at the bow. It was at 90 degrees. In a few seconds, there was water everywhere. The stern was under water and the bow was pointing up to the sky. The boat split in half in front of the mast bulkhead. It was as if she folded up. I promise. I'm not exaggerating. There was an angle of 90 degrees between the stern and the bow.

"I didn't have time to do anything," he reported. "I just had time to send a message to my team. 'I'm sinking I'm not joking. MAYDAY.' Between the moment when I was out on deck trimming the sails and when I found myself in my survival suit, barely two minutes had passed. It all happened extremely quickly.

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PRB skipper Kevin Escoffier aboard Jean Le Cam's YesWeCam after being rescued in the Vendée Globe - photo © Jean Le Cam
PRB skipper Kevin Escoffier aboard Jean Le Cam's YesWeCam after being rescued in the Vendée Globe - photo © Jean Le Cam

"I came out of the boat and put on my survival suit. I could see smoke," continued Escoffier. "The electronics were burning. Everything went off. My only reflex was to grab my telephone to send the message and pick up the survival suit, which I never stow away. I wanted to pick up the grab bag, but I couldn't get to it with the water rising. I grabbed the liferaft at the stern. I couldn't get into it as it was three meters under the water. The water was up to the door in the cockpit."

Fortunately for Escoffier, the race spared no time in diverting four other skippers - Boris Herrmann aboard SeaExplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco, Yannick Bestaven aboard Maître CoQ IV, Sébastien Simon aboard ARKEA PAPREC, and Jean Le Cam aboard Yes We Cam! - to help. Ultimately, and after a rather testy night of standing by for light, it was Le Cam who made the rescue.

Impressively, this rescue ranked a Skype call from France's president, Emmanuel Macron, who called to congratulate Le Cam on his outstanding seamanship.

Escoffier was successfully transferred from Yes We Cam! to a vessel operated by the French Marine Nationale on December 6.

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Kevin Escoffier successfully transferred off Yes We Cam in the Vendée Globe - photo © Marine Nationale / Defence #VG2020
Kevin Escoffier successfully transferred off Yes We Cam in the Vendée Globe - photo © Marine Nationale / Defence #VG2020

All four of the skippers who diverted their race to help Escoffier will be awarded lost time by the race committee.

While this impressive rescue was great news for Escoffier and his family and friends, this was not the end of the carnage. On Wednesday, December 2, Simon, who had just entered the Indian Ocean, reported significant damage to his starboard hydrofoil aboard ARKEA PAPREC.

Then, the next day, Sam Davies reported damage to the longitudinal framing aboard Initiatives Coeur.

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Sam Davies on Initiatives Coeur during the Vendée Globe - photo © Eloi Stichelbaut / Polaryse
Sam Davies on Initiatives Coeur during the Vendée Globe - photo © Eloi Stichelbaut / Polaryse

"I was sailing at speeds between 15 and 22 knots and I was actually just making a hot meal after the gybe and doing the stack and everything and it was just starting to get dark," she reported in an official race release. "I hit something. I did not see anything. I did not know what it was. It was pretty much dark when it happened. But it was as if I had run aground on a rock at the time.

"The boat speed went from 20 knots to zero," she continued. "The boat nosedived on the impact with the keel. I knew it was the keel. I heard a crack coming from there. I and everything else flew forwards, including my dinner which has repainted the entire inside of my boat. Everything moved. I went flying into a ring frame, luckily, because that could have been worse. It was really violent. But luckily, I have just hurt some ribs. It is not serious but really painful.

"But I stopped the boat, dropped the main, and went to check around the keel, the bearings and the bulkhead," reported Davies. "The bulkhead, the main bearing bulkheads (which support the keel box) are intact as far as I can see. The keel bearings are intact. The longitudinal structure around the keel box is all cracked. That has taken the shock of the impact of when the boat moved, that is cracked on both sides."

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IMOCA Initiatives Coeur, skipper Sam Davies(GBR), Vendee Globe, December 5, 2020. - photo © Nikki Behrens
IMOCA Initiatives Coeur, skipper Sam Davies(GBR), Vendee Globe, December 5, 2020. - photo © Nikki Behrens

As a result, both Simon and Davies diverted to Cape Town, where they will likely see Alex Thomson and his stricken Hugo Boss, which of course fell victim to rudder damage that was unrepairable at sea. Davies and Simon have now both officially retired from the race (but Davies is considering completing her circumnavigation), as have Thomson, Escoffier and Nicolas Troussel, who was racing aboard Corum L'Epargne.

As of this writing, Charlie Dalin, racing aboard Apivia, is leading the hunt by a margin of almost 185 nautical miles, followed by Thomas Ruyant aboard LinkedOut and Louis Burton, who is sailing aboard Bureau Vallee 2.

While the two race leaders are enjoying relatively good weather, farther astern was a different story as skippers are contending with big winds, confused seas, and basic seamanship, rather than advanced racing. Impressively, given his rescue work, Le Cam is currently sitting in fifth place, albeit some 330 nautical miles astern of Dalin.

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Charlie Dalin on Apivia takes the lead in the Vendée Globe - photo © J.M.Liot / Apivia / #VG2020
Charlie Dalin on Apivia takes the lead in the Vendée Globe - photo © J.M.Liot / Apivia / #VG2020

While the Vendee Globe has been dominating headlines, there's also the ongoing drama of the Jules Verne Trophy attempts for the fastest fully crewed circumnavigation.

Two 32-meter Ultim trimarans - Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier's Edmond de Rothschild and Thomas Coville's Sodebo Ultim 3 - both crossed the starting line (between the Le Créac'h Lighthouse in France and Lizard Point in the UK) for their round-the-world record attempts on November 25, however Cammas and Caudrelier's ride met an unidentified floating object some two days later that forced them to return to France.

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Sodebo Ultim 3 - 2019 Brest Atlantiques - photo © Martin Keruzoré / Sodebo
Sodebo Ultim 3 - 2019 Brest Atlantiques - photo © Martin Keruzoré / Sodebo

Coville and company kept sailing, of course, and have been throwing down some seriously high-mile days in their attempt to break the standing record of 40 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds, which was set by skipper Francis Joyon and crew aboard Idec Sport in 2017.

As of this writing, Sodebo Ultim 3 is some 615 nautical miles ahead of Idec Sport's reference time. Impressively, on December 6, Coville and crew sailed 870 nautical miles in a single 24-hour period, which is just 38.2 nautical miles shy of the 24-hour record, which was set by Bank Populaire V in 2009.

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Paul Foerster & Kevin Burnham celebrate winning gold at the Athens 2004 Olympic regatta - photo © Richard Langdon
Paul Foerster & Kevin Burnham celebrate winning gold at the Athens 2004 Olympic regatta - photo © Richard Langdon

And much closer to home, the North American sailing community is mourning the tremendous loss of three-time Olympian and two-time medalist Kevin Burnham. Burnham earned gold in 2004 and silver in 1992, but sadly lost a long fight with pulmonary disease on November 27. Sail-World tips our hats to Kevin's fine accomplishments both on and off the water, and we extend our sympathies to his friends and family.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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