From 9th November 2008 to the 15th March 2009 - here is a brief summary of the major events in this sixth Vendée Globe, which was won by Michel Desjoyeaux on Foncia on 1st February. The Austrian, Norbert Sedlacek brought the race to an end 42 days later by completing his round the world voyage yesterday.
9th November: The Race of the Century begins: 30 skippers, including 19 new boats and just as many favourites set out on the non-stop solo round the world voyage. The moderate south-westerly wind soon increased to a major storm in the Bay of Biscay. Four skippers returned to Les Sables d’Olonne after a few hours of racing to repair after suffering damage: Dominique Wavre, Bernard Stamm, Alex Thomson and… Michel Desjoyeaux.
11th November: The storm was a real blow and merciless: Groupe Bel, Aquarelle.com and DCNS were dismasted. A huge disappointment for Kito de Pavant, Yannick Bestaven and Marc Thiercelin. Two days later, it was Alex Thomson's turn to announce that he too was forced to retire… while Michel Desjoyeaux set sail again after some quick repairs. Then, Jean-Baptiste Dejeanty and Derek Hatfield had to return to carry out repairs. The fleet was led at that point by Loïck Peyron, Sébastien Josse and Jean-Pierre Dick…
21st November: In the lead for 8 days, Loïck Peyron was the first to cross the Equator. In the Doldrums, the gaps were still very small: the first five were within 30 miles of each other and the first twelve within 200 miles… and this close-contact racing would continue until the Indian Ocean. Apart from Loïck Peyron (Gitana Eighty), at the front we could find Sébastien Josse (BT), Jean-Pierre Dick (Paprec-Virbac 2), Armel Le Cléac’h (Brit Air), Jean Le Cam (VM Matériaux), Vincent Riou (PRB), Yann Eliès (Generali), Jérémie Beyou (Delta Dore) and Roland Jourdain (Veolia Environnement)… The St. Helena high was stretching out and forcing them to extend their route. Desjoyeaux had already made up half of his deficit, which was down to 330 miles.
26th November: Jérémie Beyou was forced to retire in Brazil with broken spreaders on his Delta Dore. Jean-Baptiste Dejeanty set sail again from Les Sables d’Olonne. Sébastien Josse grabbed the lead. Armel Le Cléac’h was in third place.
4th December: Michel Desjoyeaux was already back in the top ten. The speed was on in the Roaring Forties, with daily speeds above 18 knots.
6th December: Sébastien Josse became the first to enter the Indian Ocean, just as the first ice gate was moved because of the presence of icebergs. The race ended for the Basque, Unaï Basurko (Pakea Bizkaia) on 7th December after his starboard rudder broke. He was to be the sixth competitor to be forced out of the race. Desjoyeaux was back to within 100 miles of the leader.
10th December: Loïck Peyron's Gitana Eighty was dismasted and he retired five days later. Yet another favourite out of the race. Only 23 boats were left in the race. Jean-Pierre Dick took the lead in the Vendée Globe.
12th December: The keel head broke on Temenos II. Dominique Wavre headed for the Kerguelens, where he was joined by Bernard Stamm (damaged bowsprit and rudders on Cheminées Poujoulat). A horrible pit stop for Bernard Stamm: in the storm his boat was washed onto the rocks and smashed. The two Swiss sailors were forced out. Mike Golding took the lead… but just for a few hours, as Ecover was also dismasted.
16th December: Mike Golding also out. At the rear, the youngest entrant Jean-Baptiste Dejeanty was also forced to retire (various damage) and there were only 19 boats left out of the 30 after a month and a half of racing. Michel Desjoyeaux took the lead… and would never relinquish it right up to the finish line. Meanwhile, the rudder on Paprec-Virbac 2 suffered damage and Jean-Pierre Dick headed north to carry out some complicated repairs, which were however successful.
18th to 20th December: The race took a dramatic turn. Yann Eliès was seriously injured in a manoeuvre on the bow and was suffering horribly on his Generali, 800 miles to the south of Australia. Marc Guillemot was diverted, Samantha Davies too, but only « Marco » would reach Yann before the Australian rescue team. After 48 hours of suffering the frigate Arunta took off Yann and transported him to hospital where his broken femur was operated on. It was then realised that he also had a fractured pelvis and ribs. A wave of emotion swept around the world when Marc Guillemot told everyone what was going on and filmed the rescue of his friend. And then there were eighteen.
23rd December: 44th day of the race. Halfway through the race. Michel Desjoyeaux was the first to cross the International Date Line to the south of New Zealand. As they entered the Pacific, Jourdain, Josse and Le Cam tried to follow the pace set by Desjoyeaux, followed by two duos: Riou/Le Cléac’h and Davies/Guillemot. The latter was to stop on Christmas Day in the Auckland Islands to try to repair his damaged mast track.
27th December: Another of the leaders was forced out! Sébastien Josse's boat was knocked down by a huge wave and sustained damage to the steering. « Jojo » was unable to carry out repairs. He signalled his retirement on 29th December… He was followed an hour and a half later by the Canadian, Derek Hatfield, whose spreaders had broken. They were down to sixteen. Michel Desjoyeaux, still at the front, increased his lead in each rankings. Only Roland Jourdain and Jean Le Cam managed to keep up. Winds in excess of 45 knots were common.
1st January: Yet another incident. Jean-Pierre Dick was forced to retire from the race. The day before, he had hit a growler and this time it was to be definitive. On the 53rd day of the race, only half of the fleet that had started out – 15 boats – were still racing. The leading seven were Michel Desjoyeaux, Roland Jourdain, Jean Le Cam, Armel Le Cléac’h, Vincent Riou, Marc Guillemot and Samantha Davies – the English sailor, who had astonished everyone since the start with her humour and sheer joy of racing. The future winner was of course among them and we had already worked out it would be someone from the three at the front.
5th January: At 3h10, Foncia rounded the Horn after 56 days and 15 hours, so two hours less than Jean Le Cam in 2005. A superb performance, as the Ice Gates extended the race course by more than 1150 miles this year. Roland Jourdain followed Desjoyeaux 8 hours and 50 minutes later. The day before, Jonny Malbon (Artemis) retired with a damaged mainsail. 14 sailors were still racing.
6th January: No answer from Jean Le Cam. 200 miles from the Horn, VM Matériaux lost her keel bulb and capsized. An oil tanker was diverted and marked the position. Armel le Cléac’h and Vincent Riou headed to the zone. Vincent Riou managed to recover Jean twenty hours later … but an outrigger broke during the manoeuvre… and PRB was dismasted as the two skippers headed for Chile. Another couple of favourites out of the running. The episode gave rise to an unprecedented decision from the International Jury: Vincent Riou was to be ranked third - redress granted, without that having any impact on the rankings for the other participants. This Vendée Globe will therefore have two boats ranked third. There were only twelve boats left in the race.
9th January: Veolia Environnement collided with a whale. Cracks appeared at the foot of the mast and around the keel box. In second place, 178 miles from the leader, Roland Jourdain was the only one left with a real hope of challenging Michel Desjoyeaux. The duel took place in the climb back up the South Atlantic, but from a distance, in spite of the repairs, which appeared to be satisfactory initially.
11th January: Samantha Davies rounded the Horn in 4th place after Desjoyeaux, Jourdain and Le Cléac’h. We knew then that we would need to take out our calculators at the finish, as with the redress given for the rescue of Yann Eliès and Jean Le Cam, three of the five frontrunners were awarded compensation: 11 hours for Armel Le Cléac’h, 82 hours for Marc Guillemot, 32 hours for Sam Davies. Marc Guillemot stopped again in the Falklands to go back up the mast of Safran once again… but in vain: his boat would end up sailing halfway around the world under reduced sail.
15th January: A huge storm was forecast off Cape Horn for the trio of Brian Thompson, Dee Caffari and Arnaud Boissières. With winds averaging 65 knots and gusts up to 85, the seas were mountainous. Brian Thompson was forced to turn back to shelter off the island of los Estados. In the end, all three got through the storm without any major worries. Further back, still in the Pacific, Steve White, Rich Wilson, Raphaël Dinelli and Norbert Sedlacek were also suffering from the severe conditions.
20th January: Michel Desjoyeaux crossed the equator in 71 days and 17 hours, twenty hours ahead of Roland Jourdain. Behind Armel Le Cléac'h in third place, the battle was raging between Samantha Davies and Marc Guillemot. The latter chose a winning option close to the coast of Brazil, but this led him to some more adventures, including being chased by some angry fishermen after Safran got caught in their line…
26th January: In the North Atlantic, Desjoyeaux continued not to make any mistakes and extended his lead to 500 miles over Roland Jourdain. This time, victory looked more and more likely for the Professor, who confessed he had seen a miracle, when his port rudder slipped out on Foncia a month earlier off New Zealand!
29th January: Veolia Environnement lost her keel. Roland Jourdain would manage to sail his boat to the Azores, some 600 miles away, but was forced to retire, when severe gales with 50 knot winds were forecast. He simply could not take the risk. Yet another injustice for « Bilou » who had looked certain of taking second place. He was to announce his retirement on 2nd February, meaning only eleven boats would finish the Vendée Globe.
1st February: At 15h11 GMT, Michel Desjoyeaux achieved a resounding victory in Les Sables d’Olonne, becoming the first sailor to win the Vendée Globe twice after his first triumph eight years earlier. The race record would be smashed with a time of 84 days, 3 hours, 9 minutes and 8 seconds, at an average speed of 12.3 knots on the theoretical route and 14 knots over the 28,303 miles Foncia actually covered on the water! An incredible achievement for the solo yachtsman with the longest list of successes on the planet, particularly when we remember that he had set sail 40 hours after the fleet and was some 670 miles behind on 15th November. He fully deserves everyone's congratulations!
4th February: Norbert Sedlacek rounded the Horn in eleventh pace at the rear of the fleet. Everyone in the race was now back in the Atlantic.
7th February: Armel Le Cléac’h crossed the finish line. The skipper of Brit Air took second place with a time of 89 days, 9 hours 39 minutes and 35 seconds. Brit Air's speeds: 11.57 knots on the theoretical route and 12.7 knots over the 27,232 miles actually covered. Almost always to be found up there with the frontrunners, the young sailor from Morlaix Bay also had a remarkable race.
9th February: Fighting it out for third place with Samantha Davies on Roxy, Marc Guillemot's Safran lost her keel. But the skipper from La Trinité decided to continue, even though he still had a thousand miles or so to sail…
14th February: Samantha Davies arrived back in Les Sables d’Olonne to become the first woman to finish this Vendée Globe. But she would have to wait for Marc Guillemot to finish. Due to the compensation for going to the rescue of Yann Eliès, by arriving within fifty hours of the British sailor, he would take third place from her. Marc Guillemot had a job on his hands struggling with his boat behaving like a dinghy and the suspense would build right up to the final hour.
16th February: At 01h21 GMT, Marc Guillemot grabbed third place in this Vendée Globe: he crossed the finish line and offered a kiss to his Safran that he had managed to sail back without a keel, while grabbing third place from Sam Davies by 2 hours and 20 minutes. An unprecedented picture followed as Marco took several of the disappointed skippers aboard his boat for the voyage into the harbour: Roland Jourdain, Jean Le Cam and Kito de Pavant. There was an emotional meeting with Yann Eliès and indeed with Sam Davies too. Brian Thompson and Dee Caffari arrived on the same day to take fifth and sixth place. Dee Caffari became the first woman to sail both ways around the world. If we look at the results, we can see three Frenchman on the podium with three British competitors just behind. «In 2012 it may well be the reverse,» joked Sam Davies, although she may not have been joking….
22nd February: Arnaud Boissières (Akena Vérandas) finished in seventh place, after 105 days and 2 hours. On his old boat, Arnaud managed to keep up with the more modern constructions sailed by Brian Thompson and Dee Caffari for two-thirds of the race. He too deserves our respect.
26th February: In spite of a lot of damage, the very courageous British sailor, Steve White completed his round the world race and took eighth place on «Toe in the water» in 109 days… Steve was already dreaming of setting out again in four years.
10th March: The American, Rich Wilson finished in ninth place aboard his Great American III, after121 days of racing. He spent a lot of the race very much alone, particularly during the Pacific crossing, where he was isolated from the rest of the fleet.
14th March: Raphaël Dinelli completed his second non-stop Vendée Globe on his fourth attempt and gained two places by finishing tenth instead of twelfth as in the previous edition. He finished in more or less the same time as in 2005, improving by two hours on his previous race, with a time of 125 days and 2 hours. Aboard his Fondation Ocean Vital, Raphaël proved that it was possible to sail around the world producing energy with a big wind generator and solar panels. There were some fine celebrations back in Vendée for the local hero.
15th March: The Austrian, Norbert Sedlacek ended his race in eleventh place and brought this Vendée Globe to an end with a time of 126 days, 5 hours, 31 minutes and 56 seconds, averaging 8.2 knots on the theoretical route. The former tram driver will have spent four months and one week at sea or in other words, 42 days more than Michel Desjoyeaux. He too was welcomed home as a hero in Les Sables d’Olonne.
Note down the next important date: On 23rd May on the beach in Les Sables d’Olonne the prize ceremony for this sixth Vendée Globe.