Manuel Cousin, first in the e-class

© DR

While their boats are safe and warm in the yards or moored up securely, as not allowed out to sea, the Vendée Globe skippers are having to remain patient and that can be frustrating. While they wait to get back out on the water, many of the skippers registered or hoping to compete in the Vendée Globe took part in The Great Escape on Virtual Regatta, the virtual racing website that runs in parallel with major sailing events in France and abroad.

Manuel Cousin was the winner. Let us be clear before paying homage to him. Four categories of boats lined up at the start of The Great Escape: Figaro, Class40, Ultim and IMOCA boats. In the IMOCA category, the winner was SYD, a player from the Ukraine, who completed the race in 13d 13hrs 59mins. The pro skipper winner was Alex Loison, skipper of the Figaro Beneteau 3 Région Normandie. And the first skipper in the IMOCA class was Manu Cousin, skipper of Groupe Sétin, who completed the race in 14d 16hrs 52mins ahead of Samantha Davies and Jérémie Beyou. 1996th in the rankings in the IMOCA category, the skipper from Vendée celebrated his win on Twitter.

While incredibly enthusiastic, he put things into perspective: “I’m really pleased. I went via the north after sailing further down to Cape Finisterre, to follow the middle route, which brought me back up to the latitude of Canada. I shared this adventure with a group of IMOCA skippers, partners and people with whom I have sailed as well as a lot of friends. This race was a great opportunity to mix business with pleasure.”

© DRMany took part in their favourite class – the IMOCA class – to stay with their habits and adopt a pace that they are used to. Alan Roura, the youngest competitor in the Vendée Globe four years ago – he will be the youngest again this time at the age of 26 – was perhaps the one who did the least in this race among the skippers who took part. “Early in the race, I was at it all the time, but then I eased off, as I find it hard to spend all day in front of a computer,” admitted the skipper of La Fabrique. I adjusted my boat from time to time. To go faster, I think I should have done The Great Escape on an Ultim.”

For the others including Maxime Sorel (VandB – Mayenne), the virtual race was an opportunity to get some practice in. “This was my first virtual race: usually we are out racing out on the water. In fact, when players talked to me they kept joking about that: ‘Hey, we finished ahead of you!’ I used The Great Escape as an exercise, which allowed me to study my weather charts (Squid)
 and my routing software (Adrena). With a group of IMOCA skippers, we have classes on the weather two or three times a week with Christian Dumard. While our software isn’t much help during the game, it was interesting to analyse which route we would have taken in reality. For example, heading north would not have been much use in reality given the sea conditions. So in the game, I went down and got lost in the south. I regret not having taken part with two boats one of each route, just to see.”

It was not what Alan Roura has learnt that he applied… “It was back to basics. I didn’t compete like a pro, but used the same tools as the amateur e-skippers, who don’t know about the sea. I went quite some way south and even if I was in the top 100 early on, it paid off in the end. I don’t think any pro sailor would have headed north with the rough conditions. But in fact in the virtual game, you don’t care about that or about the condition of the boat.” Manu Cousin added, “We have our reflex actions when we sail out at sea. For example how we tackle low-pressure systems. In the game, it doesn’t change anything if you head for the worst of a front with 45 knots of wind, but we are trained to look after ourselves and our boats. It’s crazy, as here we are warm in our beds… I think I would have found it hard to imagine heading up to the mouth of the St. Laurence (Canada), like Jérémie (Beyou) did to find his way through… The amateurs who win these virtual races are very skilful. But I’d like to see how they manage out on the water (laughs).”


Armel Le Cléac'h, WINNER OF THE 2016-2017 Vendée Globe  (Top 100)
Manuel Cousin (Groupe Sétin), 1st pro IMOCA
Sam Davies (Initiatives-Cœur), 2nd pro IMOCA
Jérémie Beyou (Charal), 3rd pro IMOCA
Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée 2)
Maxime Sorel (VandB Mayenne)
Alan Roura (La Fabrique)
Sébastien Destremau (FaceOcean)

Alex Loison (Figaro class, Région Normandie), first in the pro IMOCA skippers

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