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November 4, 2016

The Race for Glory Begins

Four years since the last contest and practically two years in the making, the big day is finally upon us. Around the world people are anxiously wondering who will win, weary from the long build-up and preparations of a seemingly endless campaign. Yes, the Vendée Globe — the biggest single sailboat race on the planet — begins on Sunday in Les Sables d’Olonne, France.

The new foiling IMOCA 60s may be getting the lion’s share of attention in the days leading up to the start of the Vendée Globe, but this edition’s only previous winner, Vincent Riou (2004-05), can’t be counted out with his highly refined VPLP Open 60 PRB. 

© 2016 Vendée Globe

Twenty-nine skippers from a record 10 nations will depart France’s west coast under sail and race some 26,000 miles around the world — solo, nonstop and without assistance — on 60-ft IMOCA monohulls before finishing back in Les Sables d’Olonne. If you’re not fortunate enough to be one of the estimated two million visitors to stroll through the impressive race village or the 300,000 fans who will attend the start on Sunday afternoon, don’t despair — the race organizers and international sailing media have got you covered.

The docks at Les Sables d’Olonne have been packed during the three weeks leading up to the start of the Vendée Globe.

© Vendée Globe

For starters, the official Vendée Globe website is an excellent resource, but for those on the go, the official Vendée Globe race app is a must. It’s free for iOS and Android platforms. At the top right of the website’s home page, one can find convenient links to follow the race via email newsletters, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and more. The race tracker will be available on both the website and the app. You can also play the Virtual Regatta for free.

American Rich Wilson will begin his second Vendée Globe. He’ll use the race to educate children around the world through his Sites Ailve! program.

© Mark Lloyd / DPPI

Live coverage of the race start begins about five hours before the starting signal with English language commentary from sailing legends including Britain’s Dee Caffari. This coverage can be viewed via Facebook, DailyMotion’s Vendée Globe TV channel and YouTube.The race starts at 1:02 p.m. local time on Sunday in France, which translates to 4:02 a.m. Sunday for our West Coast (PST) based readers. Don’t forget to set your clocks back at 2 a.m. if you don’t want to watch an extra hour of excellent pre-race coverage.

See our preview in this month’s edition of Latitude 38, and follow ‘Lectronic Latitude for periodic updates.

The forecast conditions for the race start are so excellent that two VPLP-designed maxi-trimarans are also scheduled to leave on Sunday for separate attempts at round-the-world records. To take advantage of the forecast 15- to 25-knot northerly winds, both Thomas Coville on the 111-ft Sodebo Ultim and Francis Joyon and crew on the 104-ft IDEC Sport will leave from Brest to make attempts at the solo round-the-world record and the Trophée Jules Verne fully crewed round-the-world record, respectively. With weather models that potentially show just one jibe to the equator, both teams are currently ‘code orange’ for departure. Follow IDEC Sport here and Sodebo here.

Summerwind Aground in Baja Ha-Ha

The 350-mile San Diego-to-Turtle Bay first leg of the Baja Ha-Ha cruisers’ rally featured the strongest, most consistent leg-long winds in the 23-year history of the event. After a 2.5-hour rolling start — motoring allowed — out of San Diego on Monday morning, the wind filled in nicely to the 18- to 25-knot range, just south of the Coronado Islands. It was just as Commanders Weather had forecast, and blew all the way down to Cedros Island, if not to Turtle Bay itself.

The only time the wind didn’t blow at all for some boats was during the last few miles before the finish line to Turtle Bay, which is why it was so curious that it was in these benign conditions that, for the first time in a Ha-ha, a boat was lost on the shore. This was Steve Brodbeck’s San Diego-based Newport 41 Summerwind. More on that later. 

The grounding of Summerwind was reported to have been about seven miles north of the broad entrance to Turtle Bay, possibly at or near Punta Rompiente (upper left) which translates as "shoal."

© 2016 NOAA / Google Earth

The wind on Leg One was generated by a high-pressure system, rather than by a daytime/nighttime high-pressure gradient between land and sea, so the wind didn’t die the first evening as it traditionally does. It just blew steadily, absent the usual gusts. And it was reported to be just as windy, if not windier on the second day. The Ha-Ha fleet was spread out over more than 100 miles, so conditions varied from boat to boat. One boat reported seeing more than 30 knots, while we on the 63-ft mothership Profligate didn’t see anything higher than 22 knots.

While the conditions weren’t too much for 74-year-old Tom Carr on his Mirror Offshore 19, the smallest boat in the fleet, a few others had trouble. Matthew Miller’s Long Beach-based Ericson 27 Vital Spark snapped her boom and wasn’t alone in tearing her white sails. One boat had a headsail tear out of the top of its furler, and a number of autopilots couldn’t handle the conditions. 

Some crew had trouble also. A number of sailors who previously had been immune succumbed to mal de mer. One crew on a boat that had temporarily lost steering got a little freaked, expressing strong interest in being transferred to another boat, as difficult and dangerous as that would have been given the conditions. She was eventually consoled via VHF radio by the crew of other boats. 

The event’s Grand Poobah and crew aboard Profligate found the sea conditions to be surprisingly small, given the wind. For whatever reason, it was a very smooth ride no matter what jibe we were on. Profligate, the biggest cat in the fleet, hit lots of mid-teens and topped out at 21 knots. However, the seas did seem to temporarily build north of Cedros Island, where the bottom contour rises up. Sailmaker Chuck Skewes, a veteran of many offshore races, was surprised to see a few seas that he described as 16 feet high. "The conditions were fabulous," said Skewes, who was sailing on the La Cruz, Mexico-based Varianta 44 Nuevo Luna/Ullman Sails, owned by Rodrigo ‘Pollo’ Cuellar Dipp. The two men are partners in a new Ullman loft at La Cruz.

Previous to this year, some of the strongest winds seen on the Ha-Ha were during the 2009 event. But as seen above, seas were bigger and more confused that year.

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"We ‘went down’ three times," recalls Skewes, "but because we were surfing down big waves, not due to the wind. The last time we were pinned, so I had to crawl out of my bunk with a knife and cut the vang to get the boat upright again." The conditions constituted great fun for the more aggressive Ha-Ha participants. Most, however, sailed much more conservatively and didn’t have problems. About a dozen decided to wait out the strongest weather by anchoring for the night at San Quintin.

An unusual number of boats reported being pooped during Leg One. The crew of Chris Perkins’ San Diego-based Hylas 56 Manuela woke up on the second morning to discover that their eight-man Switlik liferaft was gone, apparently having been washed away by a wave. The Poobah reported the loss to the US Coast Guard, whose personnel forwarded the report to the Mexican Navy. 

Yesterday’s cruiser/Mexican kids’ baseball game was a grand slam, with by far the most participants ever. After the game, more than $3,000 worth of new baseball equipment was donated to local boys and girls.

The three men aboard Summerwind departed Turtle Bay before the Poobah was able to debrief them, but given the fact there was little if any wind and no seas where the Newport 41 went aground — seven miles north of the Turtle Bay entrance — human error is suspected. The owner wasn’t injured, nor was his 22-year-old son Andrew or 75-year-old crewman James Algert. The wreck was discovered, and the rescue effected by the Mexican Fisheries Patrol. The boat is a total loss but was insured. During the rally’s 23-year history, this is only the second boat out of the 2,500 that has been lost. The first was a J/120 that sank after colliding with a whale in heavy seas.

Today is beach party day at Turtle Bay, so gotta run. 

Flashgirl’s Homecoming

Flashgirl is home after a decade in the South Pacific.

It wasn’t what we’d call an ideal photo op, but somehow Nancy Tompkins’ camera managed to record this shot of Flashgirl returning through the Golden Gate to her Sausalito homeport on Wednesday night.

© Nancy Tompkins

In July, while anchored in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Warwick ‘Commodore’ Tompkins’ beloved Wylie 39 was struck by lightning. The pretty red girl was partially sunk and all her systems destroyed.

Tomorrow, Saturday, November 5, Spaulding Marine Center in Sausalito will host a benefit BBQ/party, ‘Float Commodore’s Boat’, from 2 to 6 p.m., to raise funds for Flashgirl’s refit. Beer will be provided by Lagunitas Brewing Company. Billy D will be the opening musical act; the Waterfront Pickers will play from 3:40 to 5 p.m.; Ramblin’ Jack Elliott will close the show.

A $50 donation is recommended. To RSVP Call (415) 332-3179 or email

Here comes the sun. . . One of the coolest things about sailing in the 750-mile Ha-Ha rally is experiencing little ‘gifts’ from Mother Nature, such as splendid sunrises and sunsets — not to mention night skies salted with a gazillion brilliant stars. 
Guess what city in Baja is welcoming the Ha-Ha fleet once the event is over?