28 January 2021 - 20:56 • 24110 views

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On a wet, windy, unpleasant Thursday night it was at 19:19:55hrs UTC that Jean Le Cam crossed the finish line of the ninth Vendée Globe to take fourth place overall. Although he actually passed the line eighth, with his time compensation of 16hrs and 15minutes he moves up to fourth, in fact missing the podium by just 3hrs 19 mins 43 seconds.

Racing on his fifth Vendée Globe, 61 year old Le Cam is actually only 10hrs and 09s behind the winning time of Yannick Bestaven. He now displaces Boris Herrmann to fifth.

Without doubt Le Cam is the popular hero of this Vendee Globe after rescuing Kevin Escoffier on 1st December when the PRB skipper was forced to take to his liferaft. 

After the line he said 

"This is a finish line like I've never passed  in my life. You will see tomorrow why. I don't know how I got here, honestly I don't know. But it's done! This is a deliverance certainly. This Vendée Globe has been a sick thing. I did it but with everything that happened. Besides, apparently I'm 4th! It's been two days that I have been pushing just to not to miss the tide. This morning Anne (editor's note Anne Combier, team manager) told me that I could get still ahead of Boris Herrmann. I had never imagined that! I was happy to be have been ahead of Groupe APICIL, that was the challenge between boats with straight daggerboards. This challenge was very much the race. These foiling  boats are a lot of puzzles for not much! Like computing software. But sailing is not an exact science! For me the single most important thing is that I gave the younger generations the idea that they could do the Vendée Globe with limited means. I have had testimonials from young people in this regard. I am happy because we have seen budgets going up and up and so this is a real victory. I went from here to here. But as I say if I say too much about it only makes me chuckle."

After his second place behind Vincent Riou in 2004-5 this is Le Cam’s second best result on the Vendée Globe and – ironically – improves on his sixth in the last edition on the same boat.

It is a remarkable achievement, reflecting a very smooth and accomplished route all the way around the world on his 2007 Farr design which originally won the 2008 race in the hands of Michel Desjoyeaux.
 

Le Cam’s race

The skipper had already said his goodbyes to his family when he went down alone to the pontoon on the day of the start, as if he was in a hurry to set sail, after spending so many months preparing the boat in a shed in Port-la-Forêt. He believed in his boat in spite of the fact that she was built in 2007 and very few people chose her as one of their favourites for the race.

And yet, on the day after the start, Yes We Cam! led the fleet. Jean would lead the race on nine occasions early in the race. Two competitors took therisk of entering the eye of the first big storm: Alex Thomson and Jean Le Cam. “Jean is getting close to me. He is incredible,” said the British sailor. The Breton found it all rather amusing. “There are people who think they can plan everything, come out with all sorts of ideas and talk rubbish... Saying things may make people laugh, but everyone falls silent, when you do things. The old man is ready to put up a fight.”      

Jean Le Cam’s voyage down the Atlantic was impressive, with the foilers apparently afraid of burning their wings if they got too close to danger. Ashore, he has always been popular in France, never one to pay attention to what is expected of him and ready to joke about what you are supposed to do to fit in with society. The French adore his spontaneity, while the ocean racing fraternity loves his trajectories. He has the image of a bragger or a wit, but those who follow such races closely know that he is always consistent in his sailing.

His progress would however be halted on a night in November off the coast of South Africa. Kevin Escoffier abandoned his boat and jumped into his life-raft, with Jean twenty miles away. He changed course, spotted the skipper of PRB, before once again losing sight of him. When he found him again, he managed to bring him aboard his boat. “God, you’re aboard. That was close,” said Jean, who must have thought about his own rescue in 2009 when he was helped by Vincent Riou. After a scary night, everyone wanted to pay homage to Jean, including the French president.

With Kevin at his side, they formed a comic duo, and appeared to be enjoying themselves during their week together. When it was time for Kevin to go aboard the Nivôse on a sunny Sunday morning, Jean was clearly moved. “Searching for someone, spending a week together and then finding myself alone again, is not that easy,” he admitted. 

He got back into the race and had to deal with warm fronts in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, “where long surfing waves are just something you find in books.” He rounded Cape Horn (“it was not something to take for granted”) in 6m high waves and in 45-knots of wind. He would often find himself in a contest with other competitors, such as Damien Seguin, with whom he chatted, and Benjamin Dutreux, who “never eased off.” In early January, he said that it seemed that “there is no getting away from each other. Benjamin gets excited at times and gets ahead. Sometimes I call him up and tell him, what is this pact we have? It’s not working out. You are just doing what you want!” This was not Jean’s way of mocking, but rather his way of showing respect. He appreciated Benjamin’s achievement aboard a boat like his without foils.

His climb back up the Atlantic may well serve as an example to sailors learning their skills. Jean clearly enjoyed himself aboard his ‘Hubert’, the nickname given to the boat in memory of his friend, Hubert Desjoyeaux who founded the CDK yard. On the way back home, Jean explained he was in a good position, as he was “one of the chasers behind the pathfinders out in front.” The skipper kept pushing relentlessly and would remain close to the frontrunners, thanks to his expert knowledge of his boat. Reliability appeared to be worth more than flying at any cost.    

Key moments

Equator (outward bound)

4th on 18t November at 1319hrs UTC, after 9d 23hrs 59mins

Cape of Good Hope

6th on 2/12/2020 at 0452hrs UTC, 1d 05hrs 41mins after the leader

Cape Leeuwin

6th on 14/12/2020 at 0213hrs, 11d 21hrs 21mins after passing the Cape of Good Hope

Cape Horn

7th on 04/12/2020 at 2018hrs UTC after 57d 06hrs 58mins

Equator (return leg)

8th on 17/01/2020 at 1414hrs UTC after 70d 00hrs 54mins

Best 24-hour run

7t December at 0800hrs UTC: 459.61 miles averaging 19.2 knots