In 2012-13 there were 20 starters and eight were non French. Arguably the most international edition was the 2008-9 classic when 30 skippers started and 13 were from outside of French. In this race, just before the global financial crisis, there were no fewer than seven British skippers in the fleet.
With three years to go before the start of the 2020-21 Vendée Globe there is nothing on the horizon to suggest there will be many more or many fewer international solo racers taking the start. Just as in the race’s native France right now there are international skippers whose programmes are firmly on course, funded and with competitive boats either in the shed or on the water. There are programmes emerging now which have boats but still to secure a full funding package, there are skippers who have active racing programmes that are looking to add to their funding, and there are also skippers who may be committed but their hopes are little more than dreams.
“In general we see around 30 per cent of the entries in the Vendée Globe coming from outside of France and the way we see projects shaping up and how the qualification and selection process working then it will probably be around about that same percentage again in 2020.” Suggests IMOCA’s Guillaume Evrard.
Thomson, Davies to lead the Brits?
Second in 2017 after that inspiring duel with Armel Le Cléac’h, Britain’s Alex Thomson has announced that he has plans to have a new boat for the next race. As it stands there has been no decision yet about the designer or builder of the new IMOCA. According to project director Ross Daniel they do not expect to start until the end of May.
“It is all very positive right now, we are moving in the right direction and just need to start making the key decisions.” Says Daniel.
Meantime the Hugo Boss which finished second in the Vendée Globe has just gone into the shed for a routine refit prior to taking part in the Route du Rhum next year and the Barcelona World Race. Since the Vendée Globe finish the race boat has done more than 15,000 miles as the focal point of corporate and hospitality events as well as selected key races.
There has never been a German skipper start the Vendée Globe but there is the chance that two, possibly three might start next time. Germany’s Boris Herrmann has Malizia II (ex Gitana/Edmond de Rothschild) which is backed by the Yacht Club of Monaco. Herrmann already has three circumnavigations to his name – including the 47 day passage with IDEC Sport – and has just completed the Transat Jacques Vabre in fourth place with Thomas Ruyant.
“The TJV was really good for us, to finish in fourth with no damage at all is a good achievement. We learned a lot. I learned it was a bad idea not to have a fractional sail, and initially during the race we were not so happy in the really rough stuff but we learned. We learned to sail more heeled downwind. But overall we really are where I want to be. Considering we shook hands on buying the boat on November 6th when the last race started I feel so fortunate to be where we are, with a boat which I think is the fastest there is right now and funding through to the Vendée Globe. I learned how fast the boat is when we went from eighth to fourth in the TJV, there was no miracles. It was fun and I really feel confident and at home on the boat now.” Says Herrmann.
Malizia has also gone in now for a winter refit during which there will be only small refinements and a full, comprehensive check of all fixtures and fittings, including the rig, keel, foils and mechanisms. Herrmann is expecting to compete in next year’s Route du Rhum and plans a solo, training Transatlantic to Bermuda and back in 2018.
Meanwhile compatriot Jorg Riechers who has just finished second in the MiniTransat has the Owen-Clarke designed former Acciona which raced the 2012-3 race with Spanish skipper Javier ‘Bubi’ Sanso. The yacht is being substantially rebuilt and refitted in Mallorca. Sanso lost the keel off Acciona and had to be airlifted from his liferaft 350 miles south of the Azores. And Germany’s Isabelle Joschke is still aiming to do the Vendée Globe but is in need of a financial partner.
Japan’s popular 2016-7 skipper Kojiro Shiraishi is also firmly en route to return to ‘unfinished business’ and compete in the Vendée Globe again with his Spirit of Yukoh (Farr ex Hugo Boss/Neutrogena) which was dismasted south of Cape Town last time. Koji has been corporate and sponsor sailing with his IMOCA in his native Japan since fitting a replacement mast. He will ship Spirit of Yukoh back to Europe in the late spring and plans to compete in the Route du Rhum. It is understood he will fit a new rig before the start of the Rhum.
A Sharp Entry?
That 2008-9 high water mark of seven solo racers from Great Britain is unlikely to be replicated again in the near future. But for sure Brittany based Sam Davies is lining up for her third Vendée Globe start. She is taking over the helm of Tanguy de Lamotte’s Initiatives Coeur (ex Maître CoQ) and recently completed the Transat Jacques Vabre in sixth position. She and de Lamotte have confirmed they will do the next Barcelona World Race. And Sydney, Australia born successful Anglo-Australian Figaro racer Jack Bouttell, who is currently racing the Volvo Ocean Race on Dongfeng, appears to have committed to a future in the IMOCA class, taking on the Owen Clarke designed former Spirit of Canada.
Richard Tolkien is reported to be interested and moving forwards with a Vendée Globe project. The ongoing Vendée Globe 2020 Vision project has trained and selected a core group of English skippers but is still looking to fulfil its funding package. And Jersey based Brit Phil Sharp, recently crowned Class 40 champion, is committed to competing in the next Vendée Globe.
“My intention is to be there with a competitive machine, ideally a new boat. Having put together and delivered a solid Class 40 programme now is the time to step up. It is a big jump in commercial terms. I am sure than Imerys want to continue the adventure with us but we need extra partners and that is what we will be looking for in the coming months.” Says Sharp who narrowly missed starting the last race.
Ireland an IMOCA hotbed?
Ireland has become a hotbed of activity. Under the Ireland Ocean Racing initiative which is managed through 5 West, the company which manages Alex Thomson’s projects, Crosshaven’s Nicholas ‘Nin’ O’Leary has been sailing with Alex but has taken on the former Great American IV of Rich Wilson (built as Dominique Wavre’s Mirabaud). The yacht will sail out of Dublin and it is planned to compete in the projected Monaco based IMOCA event in the early summer with an objective to race the Route du Rhum and the Barcelona World Race.
Enda O’Coineen is expected to leave New Zealand soon on the refitted, rebuilt former Le Souffle du Nord which memorably nearly broke in half underneath Thomas Ruyant during the last race. O’Coineen not only wants to complete his circumnavigation but wants to continue with his initiative to create a legacy pathway into the IMOCA class and the Vendée Globe.
Successful 2016-17 international skippers who have a return to the next Vendée Globe on their agendas include Alan Roura of Switzerland who is reported to be putting foils on the Finot-Conq designed ex BritAir which started the last race as Bertrand De Broc’s MACSF. In the Swiss press very recently Justine Mettraux has been speaking of her 2020 dreams.
New Zealand’s Conrad Colman is working on his options as is Spain’s Didac Costa. Finnish airline pilot and ocean racer Ari Huusela is working with Joff Brown – who project managed for Rich Wilson and Dee Caffari – and has the Owen Clarke former Aviva. Hungary’s Nandor Fa is believed to be close to selling his Spirit of Hungary to a newcomer to the IMOCA fleet who would probably race under the Belgian flag. There is interest in Italy with Giancarlo Pedote and also from Spain with Alex Pella.
Meantime the exact qualification and/or selection process for the 2020 race has still to be published but it is known there will be no more than 30 places. And while the start may not be until November 2020, no matter if you are French or from outside the host nation the race is always running.