Vendée Globe to be an absolute cracker
Published on November 4th, 2020
In the latest of a series of preview articles in the lead-up to the solo, non-stop Vendée Globe start on November 8, Spanish offshore veteran Xabi Fernández shares with Ed Gorman his take on the upcoming race and of his plans for The Ocean Race.
The five-time Volvo Ocean Race veteran and Olympic gold medalist Xabi Fernández, may be on the other side of the world working at the America’s Cup, but he is keeping a close eye on the IMOCA Class as it prepares for the Vendée Globe start.
Fernández, who is part of INEOS Team UK led by Ben Ainslie, has no doubt that this Vendée Globe is going to be an absolute cracker. “It’s going to be super-exciting,” he told me on the line from Auckland, New Zealand, after a day out on the Hauraki Gulf watching America’s Cup contender Britannia going through her paces.
“The boats are amazing – we are going to see some incredible footage and I will be following it very closely,” added Fernández who still fondly remembers his own days in an IMOCA alongside fellow countryman Iker Martínez when they sailed MAPFRE to second place behind Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron in the 2010-11 Barcelona World Race.
“I hope and cross my fingers that no one breaks anything,” he continued. “But we have to be realistic and we know the history of the race and how, even before these crazy boats came along, there were heaps of breakages and problems because it is such a hard race. The righting moment they generate with their foils is extreme, so you can see some problems – and again I hope that no one has any serious issues.”
Fernández says we are likely to see a repeat of the pattern of recent Vendée Globes with a tight battle developing at the front of the 33-strong fleet. “We know the race has been getting closer and closer in the last couple of editions – the one featuring François (Gabart) and Armel (Le Cléac’h) and then Alex (Thomson) and Armel – they pushed the boats so much, so it is going to be about reliability and endurance.”
He also underlined that success will come to those who sail smart. “I guess they will identify the moments when the conditions are good – ahead of the weather fronts when the sea state is not too bad when they can push a lot. Then there are going to be moments when they are going to have to be conservative for sure,” he said.
Fernández has close friends involved in the race, among them the naval architects Juan Kouyoumdjian and Guillaume Verdier, Neal McDonald from Alex Thomson’s team, and Jérémie Beyou who he raced against in the last Volvo Ocean Race and who helped him in the build-up to his Barcelona World Race campaign.
“I know that Jérémie has done this campaign properly,” said Fernández. “At some point he may pay a little price for building his boat a year earlier than the others, because development in the Class is moving so quickly.
“There is always a trade off, whether in IMOCA or the Cup or wherever; you want to push the design timing but on the other hand you want to test. But I think he has done things properly and, with the new foils on Charal, I am sure he is ready.
“I know from Neal that Alex has been working a lot and is very well prepared as well as the others. On the design side we have worked with Juan K a lot and we are very good friends, so I follow his designs (ARKEA PAPREC/Sébastien Simon and CORUM L’Épargne/Nicolas Troussel) and I hope they do well.”
Fernández is more than just an interested spectator, though, because he has his own ambitions to enter The Ocean Race in the IMOCA Class. Plans to build a new boat, once more in the colors of the Spanish insurance company, MAPFRE, have been put on hold by COVID-19, but the Spanish skipper is still hoping that he will be on the start line in October 2022.
“Of course it is a tricky time for everyone,” he said, “but us as a team, with Pedro Campos, we are still working with MAPFRE and always hoping. Obviously the delay of The Ocean Race was inevitable I think, with the way things are. At the end of last year, before the pandemic, we were getting somewhere and we had a lot of hope of being involved with an IMOCA, even though the timings were starting to be very tight.
“So it’s not like we’ve given up – nothing like this. But, you know, sometimes it is hard to be very positive in terms of funding and timings. Time goes so quickly, it is hard no? But of course we always say that with boats like these, that are so exciting, it is hard not to be trying because it is a really nice project.”
In case a new boat turns out to be too difficult to achieve, Fernández is also exploring the possibility of using an existing boat, though he has concerns about whether any IMOCA built for a single-hander can be strong enough for fully-crewed racing.
“If we use a boat that is not new, the question is how to make it strong enough,” he said. “One of the concerns I have – and we have spoken openly about this – is when we are coming from the culture of the old Volvo Ocean Race, it is concerning to jump on a boat that has been designed for going solo and thinking it will be strong enough to manage four or five crew who will want to push it to the level you must push to try to win The Ocean Race.
“So there are a lot of things to think about and to go through before knowing really the possibilities that we have or may not have.”
But he remains convinced that a decent fleet of IMOCAs will be on the start line, joining the first entry by 11th Hour Racing. “I am sure that late teams will show up as well and we will need to find the best possibilities if we find the funding,” he said. He is also hopeful that the size and quality of the Vendée Globe fleet will rub off on entries in The Ocean Race.
“It is amazing that we have a Vendée Globe with 33 entries with eight new boats plus a handful of semi-new boats, so it’s a very good fleet,” he said. “Not only numerous but of amazing quality and out of those eight new boats, some of those will be able to do The Ocean Race and I really hope they will be there”.
In the meantime the top Spanish offshore ocean racer is busy in Auckland until March, trying to help Britain win the America’s Cup. “We just need to keep working,” he said of the team led by Ainslie, “and hopefully I really think we are in good shape.”
The Vendée Globe is the only sailing race round the world that’s solo, non-stop, and without assistance, and it is all systems go for the 9th edition on November 8, 2020. Beginning in 1989 with 13 entries, the start line this year has 33 skippers set to take off from Les Sables d’Olonne, France.
The development of the IMOCA Class toward foiling will see these boats hurl themselves around the world, teetering on carbon skates through inhospitable regions, chasing the record set in 2016-17 by Armel le Cléac’h of 74:03:35:46.
1989-90: 13 boats at the start
1992-93: 15 boats
1996-97: 15 boats
2000-01: 24 boats
2004-05: 20 boats
2008-2009: 30 boats
2012-2013: 20 boats
2016-2017: 29 boats
2020-2021: 33 boats
Fabrice AMEDEO: NEWREST – ART & FENÊTRES
Romain ATTANASIO: PURE – BEST WESTERN
Alexia BARRIER: TSE – 4MYPLANET
Yannick BESTAVEN: MAÎTRE COQ IV
Jérémie BEYOU: CHARAL
Arnaud BOISSIÈRES: LA MIE CÂLINE – ARTISANS ARTIPÔLE
Louis BURTON: BUREAU VALLÉE 2
Didac COSTA: ONE PLANET ONE OCEAN
Manuel COUSIN: GROUPE SÉTIN
Clarisse CREMER: BANQUE POPULAIRE X
Charlie DALIN: APIVIA
Samantha DAVIES: INITIATIVES-CŒUR
Sébastien DESTREMAU: MERCI
Benjamin DUTREUX: OMIA – WATER FAMILY
Kevin ESCOFFIER: PRB
Clément GIRAUD: COMPAGNIE DU LIT / JILITI
Pip HARE: MEDALLIA
Boris HERRMANN: SEA EXPLORER – YACHT CLUB DE MONACO
Ari HUUSELA: STARK
Isabelle JOSCHKE: MACSF
Jean LE CAM: YES WE CAM !
Stéphane LE DIRAISON: TIME FOR OCEANS
Miranda MERRON: CAMPAGNE DE FRANCE
Giancarlo PEDOTE: PRYSMIAN GROUP
Alan ROURA: LA FABRIQUE
Thomas RUYANT: LINKEDOUT
Damien SEGUIN: GROUPE APICIL
Kojiro SHIRAISHI: DMG MORI
Sébastien SIMON: ARKEA – PAPREC
Maxime SOREL: V AND B – MAYENNE
Alex THOMSON: HUGO BOSS
Armel TRIPON: L’OCCITANE EN PROVENCE
Nicolas TROUSSEL: CORUM L’ÉPARGNE