Alexia Barrier is expected Sunday at the finish line, Ari Huusela Safety First to the End
Sunday morning Alexia Barrier should be the fourth woman and the 24th skipper to finish the 2020-2021 Vendée Globe. And, facing a final few days of light upwind sailing across the Bay of Biscay, it now looks like it will be next Saturday 5th March before Finnish skipper Ari Huusela lowers the curtain on the epic ninth edition of the solo, non stop race around the world.
It is starting to feel like the end is coming. It will be the end of a truly memorable edition which broke many records but which unveiled a sporting event which saw a new level of intensity right to the finish line and – with 25 of 33 starters seeming set to finish – revealed a whole galaxy of sporting stars and human adventurers.
The level of communication was as never experienced before thankfully blowing a feeling of freedom through hundreds of thousands of locked down, pandemic affected lives. Big dreams have been lived, transmitted and realised by proxy, intense highs and – thankfully –fewer deep lows – shared like never before.
While lives on land have been, by necessity, straitened and boxed up, like we have never known before, individuals on land anchored to home, by contrast the sailors have remained the masters of their own destinies, never really knowing what will happen in the next few hours far less the following day.
All have have been privileged to range the vast wild seascapes of the world’s oceans, unchallenged and unchecked, answerable only to the persistent call of the winds and the seas and – for most – to the incessant challenge of competition.
And the solo Vendée Globe sailor is entirely free and responsible for his or her choices, the route, when and how to manoeuvre, challenged to resolving the ‘one problem every day’. They are free to slow down, to accelerate, to stop, to go on. They are free as night follows day follows night, to breathe in the fresh sea air, the wind and to admire the many, many faces of sea.
The only rules imposed on them are those of the race and nature itself.
It was back on January 27 that Yannick Bestaven and Charlie Dalin opened the finish line and now over a month later there are still two competitors at sea.
Alexia Barrier is less than 150 miles from the goal. On Sunday, she will register her name in 24th place in the standings. She has been upwind since arriving on the Bay of Biscay and there is still danger lurking to the end. During the night before last she says she passed, 10 meters from a fishing boat that was traveling without AIS! She said she could see into their galley.
She only has one tack left this evening off Brittany before crossing the line on Sunday morning or early afternoon. After the celebrations - champagne and pizza as she wishes - she will head straight to the hospital for tests to check her injured back.
And then there is Ari Huusela. The first Scanidnavian to compete in the Vendée Globe, the airline pilot has care and caution as his watchwords, right from the start, looking just to finish, to complete his 20 year dream in complete safety. The skipper of Stark passed the islands of the Azores yesterday night and is taking time to reflect not just on his race, but the endeavours of four years that got him to the start line, and come next Saturday, the finish line.
Alexia Barrier (FRA. TSE 4 MY PLANET): “I’ll be there soon, but the wind gods are having a little laugh at my expense as Les Sables d’Olonne is directly upwind from here. I still have a tack to make and maybe I will see the sun set behind Belle-île. I am staying focused because there is a lot of traffic I passed a fishing boat within 10 metres the boat did not have AIS and so that was very scary. The boat is tapping less. When I was approaching Cape Finisterre there was traffic and it was slamming and it was bad for my back. It was too much. It’s not the first time that I’ve seen a fishing boat so close. Sometimes it happens to us. Once, in Figaro, I think a fisherman touched my spinnaker because I had brushed against his boat. But in IMOCA, with a 60-foot boat, I can't even imagine a collision. But it not going to happen: I'm really careful. My team sent me WhatsApp messages all night to make sure I was wide awake and not sleep.”
Are you going to be able to draw a penguin (Alexia’s boat was launched as Le Pengouin) before entering the Sables d'Olonne channel !?
I loved what Sam did, she is really smart! I thought about it for the penguin but I'm in too much of a hurry to go home, it will be for next time.”
So when do you arrive in Les Sables d'Olonne?
There is a 90% chance that I will arrive tomorrow morning around 0800hrs (note, Alexia will be able to enter the channel until 0800hrs and then from 1430hrs due to the tide). In any case, it will be tomorrow morning. And it will be pizza for breakfast, with champagne!
Ari Huusela (FIN STARK ) “I am going to enjoy it and relax today and go through the things in my head the things we have done over the last four years, what kind of happy moments we have had and maybe relive and reflect on them a bit. It is getting more emotional now when you get close to the finish line and you realise it will be over soon. As much as you want to be at the end, and have it finished, it has been a lot of uncertainty for me with Niina over the last four years, can we make it to the start line? can I make it to the finish line? hopefully this goes away and we can enjoy the good moments now.
Safety has been your top priority all the way?
That is my only way to do it. We had to take a big loan to buy the boat that was the only way to do it, and for my own safety that is my only way to do it, I have been happy to do it this way and happy to now be at this point with a boat which is in good condition to sell. Niina would not have been happy to allow me to go if she thought I was doing any crazy things out there and that is my way too and my sponsors are so happy too even if there is no great result, a great result in this race is to finish. Anyway it is still a long way to the finish. I can’t start thinking about the finish too soon, I have to concentrate and be careful these next seven days. There are still plenty of risks and days and miles to go yet.