World sailing

The Vendée Globe single-handed round-the-world race ends with a thrilling sprint to the finish

Frenchman Yannick Bestaven celebrates after winning the Vendée Globe solo around the world under sail on January 28, 2021 in Les Sables-d’Olonne, France.Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

The Vendée Globe single-handed round-the-world race has thrilled sailing enthusiasts with a tight sprint finish unique in the three-decade history of the sport’s longest event – and one of its most dangerous.

At 8:35 p.m. European time, the French skipper Charlie Dalin, aboard his yellow and white yacht Apivia, ended 80 days 6 hours 15 minutes 47 seconds at sea by crossing the finish line first at the Vendée home port. des Sables-d’Olonne in western France.

Dalin swung from the aft mast in delight as a fleet of official racing boats escorted Apivia into port. But his glory will not last long. Hating the hours, another French sailor, Yannick Bestaven, was declared the time-adjusted winner, pushing Dalin into second place. Frenchman Louis Burton came third.

Two of the top five skippers – Bestaven and Germany’s Boris Herrmann – had won compensation for helping last month rescue Kevin Escoffier, whose carbon fiber boat broke in two in the Southern Ocean after he hit a wave at high speed. and sink in two minutes.

French skipper Charlie Dalin, aboard his yacht on day 58.Handout

Herrmann had six hours of compensation time, which will be deducted from his overall time when he reaches the finish; Bestaven had a big 10 hours 15 minutes which ultimately allowed him to win the race.

Herrmann would have landed on the podium, and possibly placed first, but had the great misfortune to crash into a fishing boat shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday while sleeping. His damaged boat was returning to port on Thursday morning. “I’m really disgusted,” he said in a video posted on the race website.

The sailing world had never seen an finish like the 2020-21 edition of the Vendée, a physically and mentally taxing event that has been held every four years since 1989. Usually the leading boats are well separated after having circumnavigated the globe for over two months, allowing the race to be called days before the finish. This time it was effectively a shootout between the top five skippers, with the final charge dubbed the ‘Battle of Biscay’, after the Bay of Biscay off the coast of France.

Jean Le Cam’s yacht, seen from that of Boris Herrmann.Handout

Boris Hermann at day 74.Handout

Thursday morning, 19 skippers were still in the race, some thousands of miles from the finish. Eight skippers abandoned the race due to technical problems; all are safe.

Sailing enthusiasts have been glued to the race for days, aware that it would be too close to stop before the final hours, and maybe not even then. Ross Tieman, a sailor and freelance writer who lives near Toulouse, France, has followed the race from the start, just like a million sailing fanatics at the virtual Vendée regatta. “No one has ever seen a finish like this, with five potential winners a day before the finish,” he said.

Pure chance may have brought the five riders together towards the end, but Tieman believes their proximity to each other actually guaranteed their competitiveness. “I guess it was the effect of sailing in a peloton,” he said. “When you have everyone so close, you try harder to go faster.”

Kevin Escoffier is rescued by the French Navy off Jean Le Cam’s yacht.Handout

The Vendée was unique not only for a close finish, but also for its record number of female skippers. Six women started but there were two casualties due to equipment failures. One of them, the Franco-German skipper Isabelle Joschke, was a regular top-10, and once reached fifth place, before retiring on January 9 with a wobbly keel.

On Wednesday, the fastest skipper was Clarisse Cremer, 31, a Parisian business school graduate who came second five years ago in the Mini-Transat, a solo transatlantic race. She was in 12th place on her boat Banque Populaire X, putting her around 3,000 kilometers from the finish.

Another female skipper, Pip Hare, 48, from Britain – one of the few non-French riders – was 19th and was trying to figure out how she would stay motivated and competitive in her peloton with two weeks to go before her arrival in Les Sables- d ‘Olonne.

“One of the things about single-handed racing as a sport is that it forces you to have this huge inner motivation anyway, because you’re alone on the boat, there’s no no one else pushing you,” she said in a video posted Wednesday on the Chantier vendéen. “But there’s no one holding you accountable either. … There must be an internal motivation to want to do better, and I think what motivates me, what motivates me, whatever the competition around me, is always in these last two weeks, get the best result I possibly can with this boat.

French skipper Charlie Dalin sails his Imoca 60 monohull ‘Apivia’ across the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne, France, January 27, 2021.Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

The Vendée race is a marathon of more than 24,000 nautical miles (about 44,500 kilometres) that completely exhausts the runners, especially in the treacherous and icy Southern Ocean, where they have the chance to allow themselves 20 minutes of sleep in a row. They sail on 60-foot boats equipped with communication and navigation technology, which allows them to stay in almost constant contact with their local teams.

The boats, mostly equipped with wing-like foils that allow the hulls to lift out of the water in strong winds, are capable of reaching enormous speeds. At their fastest, they can go over 40 km/h, which allows them to travel almost 1,000 km on the best days.

Three runners lost their lives in the first editions of the event, the last being Gerry Roufs, a Montreal-born Canadian who disappeared in high winds somewhere near Point Nemo, the most remote place in the South Pacific, in January 1997. the waves are not just waves, they are the Alps,” he told race directors.