At a moment when he looked likely to grab third place in the 2012-2013 Vendée Globe, the keel of Jean-Pieere’s Dick IMOCA monohull suddenly fell off and with it his hopes of a place on the podium vanished. The race became an adventure for the skipper from Nice, who went on to do something unprecedented. He sailed 2650 miles without the important appendage, ending up in fourth place in Les Sables d’Olonne.
We go back to the 21st January 2013. It is 2244hrs. Around 500 miles north-west of the Cape Verde Islands, Jean-Pierre Dick was in third position, behind François Gabart and Armel Le Cléac’h. © Jean-Pierre Dick/Virbac Paprec 3For his third attempt at the Vendée Globe, the skipper from Nice had so far had a remarkable race. In the South Atlantic, he even made it to the top of the rankings on six occasions between 1st and 3rd December 2012. He sailed the stretch between the Equator and Good Hope in the shortest time rounding it in second place behind Gabart. He was in third place when he passed Cape Leeuwin. But in the middle of the Pacific, Jean-Pierre had some problems with his headsail and was left behind by MACIF and Banque Populaire. After being forced to climb the mast several times, he managed to make up some of his losses in the South Atlantic. He seemed almost certain of taking third place, as he sailed just over 2500 miles from the finish (out of the 24,400 theoretical miles of the Vendée Globe). On 21st January at 2244hrs UTC, Jean-Pierre Dick heard a sudden bang: Virbac-Paprec 3 had just lost her keel, the blade and bulb. Dick told us what happened after that: “The boat broached. I was lucky to be next to the mainsail sheet. I filled my leeward ballast tanks. I must have had a heel of 50-60° and at 70° you capsize. I managed to bear away and furl my sail.”
2650 miles on a knife edge
© ©ThornadoThanks to his quick response and clear thinking, Jean-Pierre Dick avoided capsizing. But his misadventures were far from over. He gave up thinking of reaching the podium and the 47-year old skipper had just one goal now: finishing the race and if possible, in fourth place. What was a stroke of bad luck for him was a lucky opportunity for another. Taking advantage of Dick’s problems, Alex Thomson certainly did not express any joy however when called up: “It was deeply shocking for me to hear he had lost his keel. I’m so sorry for him. He had a great race and didn’t deserve that. He has worked hard and managed to stay up there in third place after being forced to climb his mast several times. Fortunately, that happened to him here and not in the Southern Ocean, which would have been much more dangerous.” The British skipper showed a fine sense of fair-play changing his route to stand by his rival in case he had any difficulty, when the conditions turned rougher to the south of the Azores. He sent him the following message: “Hi Jean-Pierre. The seas are getting bigger and bigger today. I don’t feel like leaving you all alone out here with the wind set to strengthen again in a few hours. I’m going to gybe and come over to you. I’ll sail with you until the weather conditions improve off the Azores. I know you didn’t ask for help, but it isn’t going to change anything in my race and I haven’t seen any other boats for months, so am feeling a bit lonely! I hope all is going well, Alex.” Support that was much appreciated by Jean-Pierre Dick, who was weathering out the conditions avoiding the windiest weather to keep his boat upright.”I talked things over with Marc Guillemot, Roland Jourdain and Dominique Wavre, who all have experience of sailing without a keel. I have to avoid winds in excess of 27-28 knots. I managed to do that,” he explained at the finish.
© Olivier Blanchet / DPPIHe wisely decided to put in for a pit stop in ther port of San Ciprian, on the coast of Galicia. “That was an incredible moment,” explained JP. “It’s not easy to moor up in an IMOCA. I decided to get closer to land and got in contact with people in the harbour. I chose this place, because it seemed the safest spot and there were buoys. I couldn’t imagine dropping anchor in 40-knot winds. I thought I had found a mooring buoy, but there was already a tug there. During the day, the harbourmaster came to tell me that the buoys wouldn’t hold, which didn’t really cheer me up! I dived and saw there was a huge chain and that it was solid, so attached ropes to that chain rather than to the buoy, which was likely to break away at any moment.”
“I was looking for a race and got an adventure”
The sailor waited for the worst of the weather to pass over and set off again 72 hours later heading straight for les Sables d’Olonne. Alex Thomson made it to the podium in this seventh Vendée Globe. Right up to the finish, Jean-Pierre Dick kept Jean Le Cam behind him in fifth place. On Monday 4th February at 1505hrs, JP crossed the finishing line of the Vendée Globe, after 86 days 3 hours 3 minutes and 40 seconds of sailing. He was greeted back in Les Sables as a winner after an exceptional race. “This was a highly unusual Vendée Globe right up to the end. I was looking for a race and got an adventure. I wanted the yellow jersey and got the polka dots for the best climber; I wanted some easy surfing conditions and ended up walking the tight rope. This race really builds your character and ensures you remain humble at all times.” 2650 miles without a keel: the performance is so remarkable that it was rewarded a few months later with the Rod Stephens Trophy from the New York Yacht Club. Before Jean-Pierre Dick, this distinction had gone to the greats that were Alain Gerbault, Eric Tabarly and Bernard Moitessier. It confirms what a huge achievement this was…
Olivier Bourbon / Mer & Media Agency