Vendée Globe: Die Another Day
Published on January 5th, 2017
(January 5, 2017; Day 61, 18:26 FR) – Conrad Colman is in recovery mode. The Kiwi/American skipper in ninth place in the Vendée Globe is recovering physically after three epic days battling to keep alive his ten year dream to complete the famous solo round the world race.
After the 34 year old solo skipper came within a hairsbreadth of losing his mast, returning to race form should feel like a triumph in itself. But to the hard bitten competitor who has been punching above his weight since the start, the 350 or so miles he has lost to Nandor Fa in front of him and now with Eric Bellion just some 203 miles behind, the miles lost to his exhausted mind have the feel of a knockout punch.
Colman told today how his IMOCA 60 was held on its side for several hours in 60kt winds and huge seas after he ended up in the most violent part of a vicious low. The situation was precipitated by the loss of a mainsail batten which, he reported, broke the intermediate fixings holding his mainsail to the mast. Because he slowed to fix this problem, he ended up in the storm which turned out to be much worse than initially forecast.
“I was sailing in 50-60kts of wind and it was gusting higher. And so I was sailing with just the third reef and no foresail. I was actually outside helming when I came off a wave with a big bang and saw the forestay go limp. I saw the pin at the bottom had broken and fallen out. That meant the primary forestay which holds the mast up, which had a sail furled on it, was then free to fly about.
“And so as soon it was not held at the bottom any more, it unfurled and was whipping the forestay about. That was in 50-60 knots of wind. And on that point of sail with the sail flying like a flag from the top of the mast it pulled the boat over, almost capsized,” Colman said. “And it stayed like that for several hours while the mast was shaking. I was very afraid to lose the rig at that point.”
There was nothing more Colman could do than protect himself as best he could inside the boat, waiting until the worst of the storm had passed. He then spent the best part of a day, including three periods, totalling six hours, up his mast in 30kts of wind, trying to cut away his knotted headsail.
“And to cut the sail away took five or six hours hanging in the harness, to separate it off the bottom of the forestay,” Colman continued. “That was a whole day to separate it off the bottom of the stay. Finally the wind reduced, now I was able to put a new pin in and to put a lashing in place to secure the forestay. The mast stayed up. It is secure. I can keep sailing.
“As far as my race goes, I am down three sails now and I have lost eight hundred miles on my lead on the guys behind me. It will be really difficult to maintain my position in the race. But having seen my race coming so close to ending, I am pleased to be still floating, to have a mast, and the ability to keep on going. Physically I am shattered. Emotionally I am very disappointed.
“I felt like I was doing everything right, and I was sailing very conservatively at the time. I was let down by a technical failure. The fact I ended up where I did was not because of my seamanship, but just the wear and tear on the boat. It is disheartening to see my position in the fleet come under risk as a result of a couple of really, really hard days.
“I just need to now look at it relatively and say I have had a really good race. I have been punching above my weight for most of this race. I am now down three sails. And I have lost most of my lead on the boats behind. But if I can get round Cape Horn in this position, then if I lose places coming up the Atlantic then it will be inevitable. I no longer have the ability to fight against other boats which are in better condition.”
At the pointy end of the fleet, miles are coming more easily for Alex Thomson and Armel Le Cléac’h as the top duo extend into SE’ly trade winds which have built to be closer to 20kts now. Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire VIII has less than 400 miles of Southern Hemisphere sailing left. The Doldrums are enlarging, becoming more active as they approach, but it is the North Atlantic ascent to the Bay of Biscay which is taxing their minds right now, looking ahead.
Thomson, back sailing at even speeds with his rival who is 340 miles ahead, said this morning: “By this afternoon I should be matching him. And then on the approach to the Doldrums I might be able to catch up a little. Things are not too bad. Everything is good on board. These are easy miles to make and I am quite comfortable. The only thing I can think about right now is the Doldrums, once get across that I need to look at the strategy for the North Atlantic which looks quite daunting at the moment. It does not look very normal. And so that is where I am looking at the moment. I am looking at how to get to the finish as fast as possible, not thinking at all about the finish.”
In fifth and sixth places Yann Eliès and Jean Le Cam were racing half a mile apart this afternoon. Irish skipper Enda O’Coineen who lost his mast on New Year’s Day has arrived in Dunedin this afternoon, towed the final miles there. And Sébastien Destremau is expecting to leave the haven of Port Esperance, Tasmania tonight (daytime local) after checking his rig and repairing a spreader, now ready to take on the Pacific.
Armel le Cléac’h, Banque Populaire VIII: “Right until the end, it’s not going to be easy. The weather is not in the usual configuration. There’s a low off the Canaries, which is upsetting the weather patterns. The Doldrums are going to be a bit complicated. We’ll have to deal with what comes our way. Since rounding the Horn, the weather hasn’t been kind. I’m focusing on the charts and my trajectory. With less than a fortnight to go, I’m trying to stay in front. The final stretch is looking complicated.”
Jean-Pierre Dick, StMichel-Virbac: “It was tough – a day with thirty knot winds and choppy seas. It’s hard to sleep when it’s like that. I have more or less got the situation under control. The battle for fourth place is going to be close. It’s important for everyone to finish the race. These projects take such a long time. It’s really satisfying to see the finish.”
Ranking (Top 5 of 29 as of 22:00 FR)
1. Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), 3542 nm to finish
2. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson (GBR), 340.74 nm to leader
3. Maître CoQ, Jérémie Beyou (FRA), 969.19 nm
4. StMichel-Virbac, Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA), 1544.2 nm
5. Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir, Yann Eliès (FRA), 1577.54 nm
The eighth Vendée Globe, which began November 6 from Les Sables d’Olonn, France, is the only non-stop solo round the world race without assistance. Twenty-nine skippers representing four continents and ten nations set sail on IMOCA 60s in pursuit of the record time set by François Gabart in the 2012-13 race of 78 days, 2 hours and 16 minutes.
For the first time in the history of the event, seven skippers will set sail on IMOCA 60s fitted with foils: six new boats (Banque Populaire VIII, Edmond de Rothschild, Hugo Boss, No Way Back, Safran, and StMichel-Virbac) and one older generation boat (Maitre Coq). The foils allow the boat to reduce displacement for speed gains in certain conditions. It will be a test to see if the gains can topple the traditional daggerboard configuration during the long and demanding race.
November 12, Day 7 – Tanguy de Lamotte, Initiatives Coeur, masthead crane failure
November 19, Day 14 – Bertrand de Broc, MACSF, UFO collision
November 22, Day 17 – Vincent Riou, PRB, UFO collision
November 24, Day 19 – Morgan Lagravière, Safran, UFO collision
December 4, Day 29 – Kojiro Shiraishi, Spirit of Yukoh, dismasted
December 6, Day 31 – Kito de Pavant, Bastide Otio, UFO collision
December 7, Day 32 – Sébastien Josse, Edmond de Rothschild, foil damage
December 18, Day 43 – Thomas Ruyant, Le Souffle du Nord, UFO collision
December 24, Day 49 – Stéphane Le Diraison, Compagnie du Lit – Boulogne Billancourt, dismasted
December 24, Day 49 – Paul Meilhat, SMA, keel ram failure
January 1, Day 57 – Enda O’Coineen, Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland, dismasted
Source: Vendee Globe