Solo Vendée-Arctique Still Anyone’s Race

Beginning on July 4 in the famed French port of Les Sables-d’Olonne — starting place of the Vendée Globe around the world race — the inaugural Vendée-Arctique race marked a return to some type of normalcy in the sailing world. The first major ocean race of the COVID era, the race welcomed an impressive fleet of 20 singlehanded IMOCA 60 yachts, including several brand-new builds.

A recently scheduled race that essentially took the place of two canceled transatlantic races, the Vendée-Arctique is of huge importance to many teams who are preparing for the quadrennial Vendée Globe, which begins in November. Some teams are using the race as a final speed test against their rivals. Others are using the race as a first major shakedown for a new boat and/or a much-needed opportunity to officially qualify for the race.

One of the major story lines leading up to the race was the impact with a floating object and subsequent holing of the bow on Armel Tripon’s brand new L’Occitane, the first IMOCA designed by famed designer Sam Manuard. Hauled out and repaired in near-record time, L’Occitane was on the start line — and what a start. In a shot heard ‘round the world, Tripon rolled over the two very early leaders — to windward no less — right off the starting line. He managed to hold a small lead to the first turning mark, which was just a handful of miles into the 3,600-mile race.

Vendée-Arctique start
Isabelle Joschke on MACSF battles with Jérémie Beyou on Charal. Joschke has sailed a masterful race in her older-generation VPLP (formerly Marc Guillermot’s Safran), but a broken boom has seen her fall down the leaderboard in the last two days.
© 2020 Eloi Stichelbaut/polaRYSE/IMOCA

Once past the initial turning mark, the fleet began making way to the top mark on the course, a UNESCO buoy all the way up at 60° North, just southwest of Iceland. The sailors negotiated a classic North Atlantic low-pressure system in the early stages of the race. The breeze would only increase after the start, which saw a blustery 20 knots of wind.

Just three hours into the race, Sebastien Simon on Arkea Paprec — one of the pre-race favorites — sheared off his starboard foil and returned to port. The Juan K-designed Arkea Paprec has shown great speed potential. But after breaking its first two foils and going to an all-new foil design that was rumored to be the thickest in the fleet, Arkea Paprec’s most recent failure is surely bad news when preparing for a round the world race. Next up was Armel Tripon on L’Occitane, which sustained structural damage to the area on the starboard bow that had been repaired. Tripon safely returned to port. The team immediately got to work on repairing and then further reinforcing the area, which they stated was the original plan since before the race started.

Thomas Ruyant on his new Guillaume Verdier-designed LinkedOut has been among the front runners during this entire race, oftentimes running alongside Apivia and Charal. Ruyant led the fleet around the top mark of the course, near Iceland.
© 2020 Pierre Bouras/TR Racing

A trio of boats have been constantly swapping the lead. Thomas Ruyant on LinkedOut, Jérémie Beyou on Charal and Charlie Dalin on Apivia — all brand-new builds for this Vendée Globe — have proven to be the quickest in the fleet, though incredibly seven boats have managed to hold the lead at one point or another. Having just recently passed the last turning mark on the course, which was shortened to 2,800 miles due to a ballooning Azores High and some very light air that would have swallowed the fleet’s back markers, the leaders are now negotiating a complex weather window to the finish.

Apivia and Charal
The racing has been this close for much of the race with Charlie Dalin on Apivia and Jérémie Beyou on Charal battling it out for the entire duration of this inaugural Vendée-Arctique.
© 2020 Eloi Stichelbaut/polaRYSE/IMOCA

Currently sailing in light air, the leaders should see an increase in pressure out of the north, which will set up a quick beam reach for the last 500 miles to the finish. Light airs have compressed the fleet. Incredibly, the top five boats are just 11 miles apart after 2,300 miles of racing, and it’s still anyone’s race at this point.

The Vendée Globe, the crowning jewel of the IMOCA circuit, starts on November 8.

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