The first lessons from the New York – Vendée transatlantic race

The first lessons from the New York – Vendée transatlantic race

The New York – Vendée (Les Sables d’Olonne) Race was the final solo battle before the Vendée Globe and was one the 14 competitors and the spectators were looking forward to. This was particularly the case, as it allowed us to compare the new generation IMOCAs fitted with foils and the leading boats with straight daggerboards. In the end, it was a hybrid that came out on top. Jérémie Beyou’s Maître Coq is the only boat from a previous generation to have been fitted with foils. Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) took the remaining places on the podium, which went entirely to foilers. As we publish this information, two other skippers have crossed the finishing line in Les Sables d’Olonne: Paul Meilhat (4th) and Vincent Riou (5th). The first lessons need to be considered with caution, as the start of the race was so chaotic…

Three foilers take the first three places. At first sight, the outcome of the New York/Vendée seems to be very clear. However, we must not forget all the collisions that happened shortly after the start, which put an end to the lofty ambitions of some competitors, starting with Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII). The recent winner of The Transat is so far the only skipper to have retired from the New York/Vendée, with eight competitors still racing today (Friday morning). However, four other skippers had to turn back to carry out repairs in Newport: Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir), Morgan Lagravière (Safran), Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac) and Pieter Heerema (No Way Back). As for Vincent Riou (PRB), he had to carry out a pit stop in the Azores, once again because of a collision.

First solo win on an IMOCA for Jérémie Beyou

These incidents should not take anything away from the incredible performance achieved by Jérémie Beyou, who won the event after 9 days, 16 hours and 57 minutes. “I’m well aware that there were boats forced out, a lot of damage, but I managed to keep ahead of some skippers, who are real champions,” he declared. “Alex Thomson is a reference in the IMOCA class, and we don’t need to present Sébastien Josse, who has so many qualities.  Maître Coq also managed to hold out against two big teams, Gitana Team and Hugo Boss.” Finishing as the winner in Les Sables d’Olonne probably gives Jérémie Beyou the desire to repeat that… “This win is extremely important in itself, as this New York/Vendée is a major ocean race, but it is also important as we look forward to the Vendée Globe. There’s no hiding place for me now.” With this win, Beyou and his team have also seen that their bold technical choices were the right ones. “The visible part of the work we did in the yard concerns the foils, but we also made a lot of other improvements so that everything works well and so I can feel more or less at ease,” added Jérémie. With a huge boost to his confidence, Beyou is now very well placed with five months to go to the start of the Vendée Globe.

Sébastien Josse and Alex Thomson convinced by the foils

They too got a huge boost to their confidence as we look forward to the round the world race later this year. Winner of the Transat Saint Barth/Port-la-Forêt, but forced to retire from The Transat, Seb Josse came in second this time, less than 2h30 behind the winner. “It’s important to complete races and to be well placed,” he stressed. “For Gitana Team, this result strengthens our determination to attempt to win the Vendée Globe, even if that remains an adventure and you have to make it all the way around on what is the most difficult course there is. This race threw a lot at us. We had some strong winds, moderate conditions and then some light stuff at the end, which meant it wasn’t the easiest of situations. You have to know how to get the most out of the boat in all sorts of conditions. That meant it was a fantastic exercise. We can see that the foilers are performing better and better downwind, but also upwind, even if there is still progress to be made.” Seb Josse enjoyed the fight between the three frontrunners, which saw him do battle with Jérémie Beyou and Alex Thomson. “It was great! I decided to adopt a pace close to what we will need to achieve in the Vendée Globe. There are ways to improve the level of comfort on board the boats. I think the sailors get used to everything. In the beginning, I found it hard, but as time has gone by, I have come to terms with that. In my opinion, the pace set by Alex Thomson, averaging 25 knots on a foiler isn’t something we should be doing. Alex needed to test his boat’s potential to see how she measured up against the others. He can be reassured. He did a great job.”

“This boat scares me”

Alex Thomson did in fact lead the fleet during the largest part of the race, setting a hellish pace for his rivals. The British skipper had quite a scare when his autopilot failed causing his boat to go over, which enabled his two nearest rivals to overtake him. “Finishing third is a fantastic success, not just for me, but for the whole team,” declared a pleased Alex. “Just weeks ago the boat was in the shed, undergoing major repairs (following damage in the Transat Jacques Vabre – editor’s note). Today we crossed the finish line in third place, in what was an incredibly challenging race. This result has put us in a fantastic position ahead of the Vendée Globe. We are incredibly confident that we have built a racing yacht which is capable of winning the race and its performance over the past 10 days has only reinforced that. The performance level we achieved has simply strengthened our belief. Foils are fantastic! It feels really incredible. This is the future for sure. Upwind, I think my previous boat was a little faster. But reaching and downwind, this boat is much, much quicker.” This gain in speed means it is even more uncomfortable, as Alex explains. “On board, I have to crawl around on all fours like a baby. It’s not at all comfortable. Losing concentration for a second and the boat slams into a wave, coming to a standstill and you get thrown forward. It really is very uncomfortable. Everything is hard. It’s going to take time to get used to this boat. On the previous boat, I always felt at ease. On this one, it feels scary.”

Paul Meilhat: “I think I’m where I should be”

He feels quite pleased about finishing fourth. After finishing fourth too in The Transat, Paul Meilhat (SMA) has achieved the same result in this New York/Vendée, while learning a lot. Paul Meilhat, explains, “I feel like I know a lot now, that I have changed. I think I’m where I should be now. Not believing I’m better than I am for the moment. That’s good. We mustn’t be too greedy. I feel like I am learning a lot and taking all that aboard. Finishing fourth in two transatlantic races is perfect. That’s where I am now, and if I work hard, I could do even better. I have become aware that being good in every area on these boats in a transatlantic race is hard to achieve. That’s something I have discovered. Sailing downwind, gybing in 7m high waves. That’s something you don’t do while training. I managed to do it. I sailed wisely and am pleased about that. Now, I have to develop my strengths and work on the rest. The experience will help. In just six months, I have practically done 4 transatlantic races, including two and a half sailing solo. I needed that.”

Paul Meilhat was the first to cross the line with an IMOCA fitted with straight daggerboards. He was joined in Les Sables on Friday morning by the mighty Vincent Riou (5th), whose PRB is without doubt the most advanced of the boats from the previous generation. But as we saw, Vincent was not able to join in the battle at the front.

The contest between boats from the 2008 generation

Behind, we can see three skippers competing on boats built for the 2008-2009 Vendée Globe, a generation that will be well represented in the next solo round the world race. There is Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives-Cœur), Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh) and Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut). Tanguy de Lamotte has once again shown us his talents as a repairman and should take sixth place. He may be followed by Kojiro Shiraishi. A great performance from the Japanese skipper, who is discovering his boat in this New York/Vendée. As for Fabrice Amedeo, he is continuing his preparation, after completing the Transat Jacques Vabre and the Saint Barth/Port-la-Forêt.

Eliès, Lagravière, Dick: a three-way fight after pit stops

“Since the start in Newport, we have had it tough. You just have to look at the pace set since we set off again. Even if the spotlight is not on us, we’re all doing our utmost…” Morgan Lagravière sums up well the contest he is having with Yann Eliès and Jean-Pierre Dick, who also had to turn back to Newport before setting off again. We should add that a closely fought duel is taking place between Lagravière aboard Safran, and Yann Eliès on Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir, which is none other than the former Safran. The speed differential has not been that great. Jean-Pierre Dick was left a bit behind following his option to pass south of the Azores. “Jean-Pierre took a gamble in this part. He could have won a lot, if the weather patterns had shifted in his favour or lose a lot if the reverse happened. I thought he was risking too much. When I saw Yann gybing northwards, I stuck with him,” explained Lagravière, who on Friday leads this gang of three. Still further back, there is another contest taking place between the Dutch sailor, Pieter Heerema and the New Zealander, Conrad Colman. They still have a relatively long way to go: more than 700 miles…

Rankings in the New York/Vendée (Les Sables d’Olonne) at 0700hrs UTC on Friday 10th June

  • 1/Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ). Finished at 14:37:52 on 8th June after 9 days 16hrs 57mins 52 secs
  • 2/Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild). 2 hrs 28 mins 57 secs behind the winner
  • 3/Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss). 4 hrs 5 mins 41 secs behind the winner
  • 4/Paul Meilhat (SMA). 19 hrs 21 mins 35 secs behind the leader
  • 5/ Vincent Riou (PRB)

Still racing

  • 6/ Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives Cœur) 57.8 miles from the finish
  • 7/ Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh) 106.3 miles from the finish
  • 8/ Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut) 124.2 miles from the finish
  • 9/ Morgan Lagravière (Safran) 510.3 miles from the finish
  • 10/ Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir) 591.3 miles from the finish
  • 11/ Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac) 574.6 miles from the finish
  • 12/ Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) 736.8 miles from the finish
  • 13/ Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy)  756 miles from the finish

ABD Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII)