November 7, 2016

Vendée Globe Off and Running

Frenchman Armel Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire VIII is leading the Vendée Globe as of Monday morning, having taken over the lead from Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss following the Brit’s jibe in toward the coast of Portugal.

© 2016 Vincent Curutchet / DPPI

A race alone around the world, with no stops and no assistance, the Vendée Globe is truly the ultimate extreme sporting event. It’s also France’s leading sporting event, with more than 350,000 people cheering the competitors on at the start on November 6 in Les Sables d’Olonne. Spectators piled onto boats in the harbor and lined the channel to the ocean, with many camping out overnight along the seawall to save a front-row spot for the parade of boats. It was complete mayhem on the water with 1,000 boats seeking the best position to view the start.

A typical sight along the seawall — even the photo boats were cheered as they motored out to the start. 

© 2016 Leslie Richter

Over the course of the three weeks prior to the start, the Vendée Globe Village reportedly had one million visitors, primarily from France. The pontoon where the boats were docked was packed with throngs of people from the moment the village opened in the morning until closing.

Wall-to-wall people crowded the pontoons for a close look at the boats and the hope of catching a glimpse of the skippers. 

© 2016 Leslie Richter

Of the 29 competitors, 20 are from France, and two are American. The preparation challenges for non-French sailors are tremendous, so it’s impressive that Rich Wilson, on Great American IV, is competing in his second Vendée Globe, having finished the 2008-09 race in the top 10. It’s the first Vendée Globe for Conrad Colman, 32, competing under the USA and New Zealand flags on Foresight Natural Energy. Sailing one of the oldest boats in the fleet, Colman isn’t likely to be competitive, but he expects to gain the experience for a more competitive campaign in the future.

Chaos on the water just after the start. Security boats had a challenge in clearing a way for the competitors through the spectator fleet. 

© Leslie Richter

The talk on the docks was whether the seven boats outfitted with foils will set a new pace for the race and beat the current record of 78 days, 2 hours, 16 minutes set in 2013 by François Gabart. Can the foils survive the ~28,000-mile journey? Will the wind conditions allow them to utilize the advantage that the foils bring? Only time will tell, and armchair ocean racers around the world will be glued to the race tracker until the finish.

Spaniard Didac Costa turned back yesterday afternoon after he found water coming in and an electrical problem aboard his IMOCA 60 One Planet One Ocean. He was escorted by a French lifeboat-service boat.

© 2016 Vendée Globe

Champagne and Sashimi Sailing

The Baja Ha-Ha is a two-week event that, thanks to the nonstop activities, seems as though it’s at least a month long. Now that we’re in (foggy!) Bahia Santa Maria following the second leg, the costume kickoff party in San Diego seems so very long ago. The Baja Ha-Ha is fun, but it’s a grueling bit of fun, particularly for doublehanders.

Our last Ha-Ha report was posted from Turtle Bay on Friday just prior to the beach party. And what a ding-dong of a beach party it was! While the water was a little too cold this year for boogie-boarding, surfing and swimming, the weather was perfect for hiking, picnicking, volleyball, icy cervezas, and meeting lots of new cruising friends. In a Ha-Ha tradition the women won the annual tug-of-war contest against the men. 

A beach volleyball game in Turtle Bay during last year’s Ha-Ha.

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"Where did all these people come from?" the Poobah kept asking himself. The record 605 participants came from 146 boats of every possible type, from light racing machines to heavy cruisers. The Poobah isn’t sure if the number of starters in this year’s Ha-Ha is a record, but 605 participants certainly is. And what a great group of folks!

There was some concern in the fleet for the Kettenburg 50 Cut to Heal, as they’d reported a torn main about 180 miles north of Turtle Bay. Their engine was out and they were hoping to repair their mainsail with 5200. When they weren’t heard from for a couple of days, a relative of the skipper called the Coast Guard, which sent a cutter to the boat’s previous position. As you might expect, they didn’t find her.

Having seen this ‘movie’ a number of times before, the Poobah wasn’t overly concerned about the ‘missing’ boat. Sure enough, Cut to Heal reported in 50 miles north of Turtle Bay the morning the rest of the fleet set sail on the second leg.

"This is champagne sailing," said crewmember Pat McCormick on the mothership Profligate during the early afternoon of the first day of the second leg. The wind was blowing 16-20 knots from the northwest with a very large swell but small seas. "Champange and sashimi sailing," corrected George Durden of the Marina del Rey-based Jeanneau 45 Epiphany. Yes, Ha-Ha folks were starting to reel in tuna, dorado and ahi during the second leg.

Some of the boats had to sail the second leg because of engine or transmission problems — for example, the Solaris 36 catamaran Striker, which came up with not one, but two, dead engines in Turtle Bay. Fortunately after a slow start in the morning, the afternoon winds came up as forecast by Commanders Weather. The wind did die in the early hours of the second morning but came up again late on the second day, allowing a number of boats to sail all of the 240-mile second leg.

You know how a photo is worth 1,000 words? It would have taken five million words to describe last night’s sunset at Bahia Santa Maria. There was a brilliant fluorescent pink that we’ve never seen in nature before.

Those who have done the Ha-Ha know how beautiful it is to wake up to the sunny mountain-backed anchorage of Bahia Santa Maria. But wait — what’s with the thick morning fog? You couldn’t see 100 feet! Two hours later the fog was gone, replaced by clear blue sky.

Next up on the Ha-Ha agenda: the party on the bluff in Bahia Santa Maria.

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Today is a lay day, so the Profligate crew had prosecco with breakfast. Ah the Ha-Ha life! Tomorrow is the surreal party on the bluff with a rock ‘n’ roll band from La Paz. Next day is the start of the last leg, 170 miles to Cabo and Gomorrah. 

Effort to Recover Qingdao China

It’s now been nearly two weeks since Chinese singlehanded sailor Guo Chuan went missing off his 97-ft trimaran Qingdao China while en route from San Francisco to Shanghai on a solo record attempt. After his tragic separation from the boat (formerly Francis Joyon’s IDEC 2), the US Coast Guard conducted an aerial search of the area. The US Navy sent a large ship to Qingdao China’s position to verify that Guo was not onboard and to tidy up the vessel. As time passed and any reasonable expectation of locating and recovering Guo from the water expired, so did the search for his whereabouts. While the sailor may have been lost, his maxi-trimaran is still out there drifting downwind west of Hawaii.

Qingdao China departed San Francisco Bay on October 18, bound for Shanghai.

© 2016 Erik Simonson / Guo Chuan Racing

It’s of great importance to the team to recover the vessel, not only to return it to his sponsors but also to complete Guo’s mission. During the middle of last week, Guo Chuan Racing’s project manager Liu Lingling traveled to Honolulu to oversee the rescue and salvage effort. First, the team flew in a crew of four top French professional sailors who have worked with the team, including the legendary Jacques Vincent and the team’s boat captain Quentin Monegier. The team then found a local boat captain named Brandon and chartered his 86-ft work vessel Betty H. At a cruising speed of about 8 knots, the Betty H is currently motoring toward Qingdao China’s position, aided by an onboard GPS tracker. Qingdao is drifting farther away in the east-to-northeast tradewinds and was believed to be 1,200 miles away when the team left Honolulu last week. They believe that the journey to reach Guo’s trimaran will take about a week.

The goal will be to sail the big red trimaran back to China, but with a large headsail dragging in the water and after a couple of weeks at sea unattended, there may be unforeseen damage to the boat. According to Lingling, the worst-case scenario will be to tow Qingdao China to Honolulu, but the goal is to sail the boat first to the team in Qingdao and then up to Shanghai to complete Guo’s mission of sailing from San Francisco to Shanghai. After the boat reaches Shanghai, it will again return to the team in Qingdao. Ideas floated for the boat’s future range from turning it into a sailing museum dedicated to Guo Chuan to using it to inspire and train other Chinese sailors.

As Eric Tabarly inspired legions of French sailors, Guo Chuan has undoubtedly inspired a future generation of sailors in China. Since leaving the corporate world, Guo Chuan dedicated his life to sailing and became the first Chinese sailor to set multiple world sailing records. From solo around the world on a Class 40 to the Northeast Passage on the maxi-tri, Guo’s legacy will be one that will be remembered for many years to come. In the words of the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” This sums up Guo’s all-too-brief but brilliant sailing career.

Latitude 38 would like to offer our most sincere condolences and well wishes for Guo’s team and family. Since sailing out of San Francisco on his final voyage, Guo Chuan has become our family as well.

Four years since the last contest and practically two years in the making, the big day is finally upon us.
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
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.