At one week since the Vendée Globe Start Village officially opened and with 15 days to go before the start, the expansive site at Port Olona, Les Sables d’Olonne has, until today, enjoyed great weather for the passionate crowds who have visited the famous dock and the 33 IMOCA race boats which are almost completely primed and ready for the Sunday November 8th 1302hrs when the start gun will sound.
If the capacity has been limited due to the health situation, and face masks and careful monitoring are the order of the day, the level of interest and excitement is every bit as great as ever before. Compared to recent previous editions perhaps a little more patience may be required to wait in line to get on to the pontoon, but the anticipation is rewarded by a 2020 Vendée Globe fleet of unprecedented size and a spectrum of ocean racing performance that has never been broader.
Until now there have been plenty of skippers around the dock and the village, the heroes of the race may be keeping themselves at a safe distance from the visitors but they are still out in force meeting their fans. Selfies are more carefully composed, but even in this all-too-digital age there are still touching letters written, drawings, good luck notes passed, flowers, soft toys, lucky charms, and questions from kids of all ages, like: ‘Why does Charal not just fall over?’
British skipper Sam Davies smiles, “I do enjoy this pre-start phase. It is kind of like the first real feeling of accomplishment to be here on the start line with your project ready, and there is always a special atmosphere with the skippers here. I am relieved to be here. It is maybe a little more subdued but that is to be expected.”
Technical Director of Alex Thomson Racing Team Ross Daniel, reported “Alex sailed the boat for the last time before he went home to England after the last mandatory checks. We had a few sails come back and checked them. We have just a few final detail jobs to do. So the boat is ready to do the Vendée Globe and that is the position we wanted to be in and are in. We were a bit concerned how productive this period would be with the restrictions here and in fact we have got more done. We are in good shape. Alex is isolating at home now with his family. They will not be able to come over for the start and so this is valuable time for them together. He will return on the 31st to start the final isolation before the start. We agreed a strict Covid policy with all our team and stakeholders from Day 1 and have had our plans and processes in place for a long time.”
Behind the scenes there is still jobs to do on the boats and time is taken to go out on to the water and make final checks. Seventeen trips have been made in total. And this Friday there are a bunch more, checking sails, electronics, keel hydraulics, foil checking. These final sail tests are allowed until the end of next week. Sébastien Simon received his second foil on Thursday for his Arkea Paprec.
At the same time, security checks (to Offshore Special Regs Cat 0, a verification that all the required safety equipment is in place, up to date and working has been underway. “Overall, apart from a few small teams that still have some odds and ends to complete, the boats are very much ready,” confirms Jacques Caraës, the Race Director of the Vendée Globe.
Confined from November 1
The skippers are preparing to isolate themselves in the company of their chosen ‘bubble’, most often their nearest and dearest. Skipper confinement is mandatory from November 1 but many French skippers will be stricter than the minimum and will return home.
Next on the official agenda for the skippers is the announcement, on October 30, of the second version of the Antarctic exclusion zone – the positions which will draw the line marking the ice zone which the solo skippers must not cross but which can be updated during the race in the event of new data - based on the latest observations made by CLS.
Kevin Escoffier PRB: ”It's a little less crowded compared to previous editions which I remember from being on the other side of the fence. But this time, I'm with a Vendée sponsor, so it's nice because there are a lot of Vendée supporters. It's really fun! People are motivated to come to the village, when you see the efforts people take to be here to come and see our boats: go on the internet, reserve your time slot ... It is normal in the context but it is restrictive, there is a bit of a wait… But people are really passionate about it and that makes me really happy."
Miranda Merron (GBR) Campagne de France: "I am good. Between doing things on the boat, preparing and media obligations there seems to precious little time to do anything else which is probably good because I am starting to get a little bit worried about the race. But overall we are getting there. We have a few sponsors obligations next week and few more things to do. But next week I will try to get some time to myself, to eat well and I plan to be able to read a book to relax. I have a signed copy of Joanna Trollope's (she is a friend of my mum's) new novel Mum and Dad and I am going to take time to get into it."
Pip Hare (GBR) Medallia: “It has been a week of consolidation really, getting here and bringing all the stuff I needed like a line drawn in the sand and so we have been doing a lot of the fine tuning this week, which has been great. Now we are down to the tiny little details, are there systems we can make easier, there has been some ropework. We have looked at the position of outriggers and how I can get them on easily. And then we have changed some of the preturns on the Code Zero so they furl a bit easier. And then we have been through security and measurement and we passed all of that. We have done crisis plans and been to see the race officer. It has been really busy. I have done a lot of media which takes a lot of time but it is very cool, it is bloody amazing to be here. I have been walking up and down the dock looking at other people’s boats, trying to see what they have got and what looks good. We have not just arrived and said this is us, we have arrived and looked to see what differences can we make in the next two weeks. How can we make stuff better? And meantime I feel like I am getting into the rhythm of things a bit. I was a bit stressed at the start of the week but now I am a bit more comfortable, things feel a bit more under control. I am not looking forwards to having a week not on the boat. That does not sit right with me, that is making me a bit panicky because you don’t have three weeks, you have two weeks. It is all good. We went out sailing and that was awesome and the boat just feels awesome.