Drama at the last in triumphant first New York – Vendée Race
The drama continued all the way to the end as the inaugural 2016 New York – Vendée (Les Sables d’Olonne) Race presented by Currency House and SpaceCode drew to a close on Monday. After the American-New Zealander, Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy) finished 12th in the small hours of Monday morning, the last solo skipper out there, Dutch skipper, Pieter Heerema (No Way Back), had to divert to Lorient with dangerous conditions forecast to coincide with his predicted arrival in Les Sables d’Olonne.
Sadly for Heerema he will miss one of life’s great experiences. If the sailors were wide-eyed under Manhattan skyscrapers at the start in New York, the finish in Les Sables d’Olonne evokes something deeper; a sense of achievement mingled with layers of history and memory that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Rain or shine, day or night, French or foreign; sailors returning from races through the Port Olona channel on their way to the pontoons are given a huge welcome by the passionate Les Sableans.
Both in its own right, and as a testing North Atlantic warm-up for the Vendée Globe, this has been a universally welcomed addition to the racing calendar. It was a last chance for these teams to see where their skippers and boats are before they return to Les Sables d’Olonne for the start of the 2016-17 Vendée Globe on November 6.
“This has been a truly fantastic race, a real classic transatlantic sprint,” Alex Mills, commercial director of OSM/IMOCA Ocean Masters, said. “The start in front of the New York skyline was spectacular and the race saw every kind of conditions: from fog at the start to violent low pressure systems in the mid-Atlantic. And, of course, to finish an ocean race in Les Sables d’Olonne is also very special; the public in this great town provide a huge amount of support for the skippers, who I know are very appreciative of it. I want to congratulate our winner, Jérémie Beyou, and his team at Maître CoQ, on an amazing performance, and I also want to congratulate Alex Thomson and Hugo Boss for setting the Delma 24hrs Speed Record during the race. We are very pleased that this new race has been a success and we very much hope this race will become a regular fixture on the IMOCA Ocean Masters circuit.”
Jérémie Beyou, the 39-year-old formidable French sailor on Maître CoQ, showed his readiness and class by winning a tight race through a whole spectrum of conditions: from the big low to the tactical three-way finish in a shifty Bay of Biscay. But even he admitted that the 42-year-old British skipper Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss, who finished close behind in third on one of the new generation foiling boats, had showed a turn of speed that could be significant when the boats are deep in the South Seas in the Vendée Globe.
Having left Manhattan behind on Sunday, May 29, everyone needed their share of luck to avoid the damage the morning after the start, which saw five boats - Pieter Heerema (No Way Back), Yann Eliès (Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir), Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel – Virbac), Morgan Lagravière (Safran) and Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) - head back to port for repairs on Monday, May 30. That narrowed the odds for Beyou, sailing a last generation boat retrofitted with foils, because the last four of those were potential winners, with the last three on new generation foiling boats.
In a thrilling downwind opening phase to the race, Thomson set the pace in a 20-25 westerly wind and held the lead for just over four days, until Saturday, June 4, when Beyou edged ahead as they passed the longitude of the Azores, to the north.
A key moment came late on June 2, when, having sped further north than the others, Thomson lost 80-100 miles after a crash tack at 28 knots in 40 knots of wind caused by a corruption of his autopilot. If Thomson was perhaps dicing with storm force winds, Beyou showed his all-round ability, riding the low and navigating the nail-biting slow-motion finish.
Having covered 3,000 miles at an average speed of 16 knots in a week by the end of Sunday, June 5, as they approached the Bay of Biscay, the last 450-odd miles took two and half days, with Beyou always looking the likely winner. It added extra spice to the lead-in to the Vendée Globe as Beyou had never won a solo IMOCA transat before. It meant that the last three solo IMOCA races have been won by boats with foils. The three skippers on the podium were presented with unique IMOCA Ocean Masters branded Delma Shell Star Automatic watches and Thomson will never have an excuse for running late again after winning a second watch for setting the Delma 24hrs Speed Record for the race, with 487 miles at an average speed of 20.3 knots up until 0500 UTC on June 1.
The final two
Early on Monday morning, Colman (100% Natural Energy) was the 12th to finish. 12 of the 14 boats that started finished, with Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) being forced to retire because of damage at the start and Heerema diverting.
“I had averages of 18 knots with old sails, and I don’t even know this boat well yet, I'm really happy,” Colman, who started 24 hours behind the fleet in order to sort out some technical details on his 2005 generation boat, said. “This transat has allowed me to plan for the Vendée Globe; it’s a round-the-world race that’s made for me; I’m more of a marathon runner than a sprinter.
“The last time I finished here, it was for my victory on the Class40 Global Ocean Race, I told myself then that I should come back with a slightly longer boat...and here it is. I’m on the right track and I hope that I'll be back in a few months.”
Heerema, the 65-year-old IMOCA novice, had been expected into Les Sables at around 16:00 (French time), but in conjunction with the Race Office and his own technical team, diverted north to Lorient, in Brittany, where he should arrive this evening (Monday). The IMOCA60, No Way Back, is experiencing technical problems, preventing Heerema from starting the engine.
Colman crossed the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne on Monday, June 13 at 04:35:57 (French time). Colman covered the course in 14 days 06 hours 55 minutes and 57 seconds. He finished 4 days 13 hours 58 minutes and 05 seconds behind the winner, Jérémie Beyou, (Maître CoQ), having sailed 3,686 miles at an average speed of 10.75 knots.
Delma, Official Timekeeper of the New York-Vendée presented by Currency House & Spacecode.
A special IMOCA Ocean Masters edition Delma Shell Star Automatic will be presented to the first three skippers home in the New York - Vendée (Les Sables d'Olonne) as well as the holder of Delma Record, for the boat which has made sailed the most miles over a 24 hour period during the race.
At present the outright singlehanded IMOCA 60 24 hour record is held by François Gabart and MACIF who covered 545.34 miles at an average of 22.72 knots average, during December 2012 which crossing the Indian Ocean en route victory in the Vendée Globe 2012-2013.
Hugo Boss' 487 nautical miles passage up until 0500 UTC Wednesday 1 June, has not been bettered, and Alex Thomson wins the Delma Record in the New York - Vendée Race.
Founded in 1924, Delma has been creating high-quality mechanical watches for both women and men for more than 90 years. Delma is one of the last independent Swiss brands specialising in the manufacture of chronographs and diving watches. It continues the union of traditional crafts, contemporary and functional design.
CHECK OUT ALL STORIES AND IMAGES OF THE RACE ON:
RANKINGS 13 JUNE AT 17h30 BST
1/ Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) in 9 days 16h 57min 52s
2/ Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) : +2h 28min 57s
3/ Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) : +4h 05min 41s
4/ Paul Meilhat (SMA) : +19h 21min 35s
5/ Vincent Riou (PRB) : +1 day 18h 01min 01s
6/ Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives Cœur) : +1 day 22h 40min 47s
7/ Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh) : +2 days 08h 23min 48s
8/ Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut) : +2 days 13h 22min 23s
9/ Morgan Lagravière (Safran) : +3 days 13h 01min 53s
10/ Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac) : +3 days 13h 23min 32s
11/ Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir) : +3 days 13h 58min 44s
12/ Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy) : +4 days 13h 58min 05s
13/ Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) : 85.1 nm to the finish (headed to Lorient for safety reasons)
Ab Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire VIII)