This year’s Vendee Globe has been a Darwinian battle of attrition. Of the 30 boats that started, 18 have been forced to retire. Mike Golding, who lost his mast on Ecover 3 says “Engineers have a lot of questions to answer, and the designers.”
Just a few days before his race ended, Golding was concerned about the keelhead failure that had caused the Swiss skipper Dominique Wavre to abandon. Golding’s keel design was exactly the same and he had noticed cracking around the casing three weeks earlier. With the final ice gate approaching before the plunge deeper into the Southern Ocean, Golding tried to gain reassurance from the engineers.
“Both Dominique and I had specified separately that we wanted a keel to get us round the Vendee Globe. We said, ‘Don’t risk anything, don’t minimise it, make it last’, but it failed and no-one wants to be responsible. I was furious about Dominique’s keel failure.”
In a statement last week, IMOCA said:
It goes without saying that IMOCA is not happy about the percentage of abandonments. But it is worth remembering that most of the past editions of the race have seen 40-50% not finishing. The Vendée Globe is a race without outside assistance, which intrinsically means it is a race of elimination – it will obviously be necessary to follow this race with a thorough assessment on how to strengthen the boats in the interest of the owners, sponsors and above-all the sailors. Through their association with the Class, sailors have worked on improving their monohulls, particularly in terms of stability, hulls and safety.
Sébastien Josse was interviewed after he was swept over by a gigantic wave If I’d had a ’96 Vendée Globe boat, the wave would have completely capsized me and I wouldn’t have self-righted. Another factor is the progress made in terms of safety, weather reading, and adapting to the iceberg zones with an increased number of icegates.
Fully aware of the difficulties involved in around the world races, especially single-handed ones, IMOCA has been working since the beginning of 2008 on an evolution of the rules alongside the majority of the skippers, with the aim of simplifying and limiting the power of the boats. The solutions are not obvious and the knowledge drawn from this edition of the Vendée Globe will contribute largely to any future decisions.
When asked about it by the race organisers before the race start, IMOCA stated: We have to be careful: the temptation to change is great during a moment of euphoria, but we have to remember what helped the Class grow in the first place. The Vendée Globe dictates the rhythm of the IMOCA Championship, without doubt it creates great champions and great sailors, but with it, it teaches us so much, and we will learn from everything it teaches us; it’s the big sailing adventures that remain the real judicators.
It is too early now to make a full assessment. We will have to wait for all the sailors to return to hear about all their exploits and performances – and we will then examine the cause of all the differing kinds of damage and abandonments as well as looking at the role the weather has played in the race – the weather in this edition has been much harder than the last two and is similar to the 1996/97 race. For the time being we hope that the Southern Ocean does not claim any more casualties and that the race continues to be just as fascinating and intense right up until the very end.