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Going alone on the ‘north face’… is Boris Herrmann gambling for the win?

After finishing runner up on the recent outwards solo Transat race to New York, losing out to winner Yoann Richomme by just two hours and 19 minutes, it seems like Germany’s Boris Herrmann (Malizia Seaexplorer) might be gambling to go for outright victory on the fifth day of the New York Vendée Les Sables d’Olonne. But Dalin holds the lead again and will continue to do so for the forseeable future.

Boris Herrmann
Boris Herrmann
© Boris Herrmann

After jumping clear of the pack yesterday as the first two to escape through a low pressure trough, this afternoon Charlie Dalin (MACIF Santé et Prévoyance) and Herrmann are already nearly 300 miles ahead of third place. And with just over 1600 nautical miles to the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne the top pair are still putting miles on their pursuers. 

Rolling the dice? 

But while the French ace Dalin has chosen to route under, south of an anticyclone and so will be racing into headwinds,  Herrmann is heading more directly north, going the long way around the system to find the reaching and downwind conditions which are his boat’s strongest point of sail. The German might look set to be sailing more miles than his rival but in fact the two routes are quite similar in terms of Great Circle distance (as they go north because of the curves of the earth the distance between the two points effectively reduces). And the computer modelling shows him covering that distance quicker and pipping Dalin for the win. This time he might not be bridesmaid. 

Hermann’s British co-skipper Will Harris highlights the risk factor, “It is a marginal routing there is a lot of high pressure and a lot of light winds to get through, so it is a risk, maybe finishing lower than second, but if it works out – as the routing shows now – he finishes ahead of Charlie.”

Harris outlines, “I think what Boris is doing is he has said to himself: ‘right I am far enough ahead of the fleet that it is just Charlie I need to worry about.’ He probably thinks Charlie’s boat is still a bit faster upwind and so he is going for the north route where he gets some downwind towards the end and Malizia is a very good boat downwind. I think he is trying to use his boat to its strengths rather than going head -to-head with MACIF which is a very strong upwind boat. He seems to be thinking ‘they will probably just beat me to the finish if I take the same route’. It is a risk going to the north because he is not covering the fleet at all, going way to the north. Initially it will look bad for Boris as he will be sailing far from the finish – but let’s keep an eye on it….” 

The big burning question

And indeed Dalin is back in the lead at some 500 miles north west of the Azores. He is on a close reach on starboard tack making 18 knots. 

The New York Vendée Les Sables d’Olonne race’s weather adviser Christian Dumard concurs, “The problem for Malizia is the high pressure which is over the west of Ireland at the end of the week. How that evolves will be key. The route does see him coming back south super quick but he could be blocked by the high pressure. That is the big burning question of the day, how this anticyclone will evolve.” 

The land of GuinNess or the Azores? 

In the main group places are being traded regularly. James Harayda, the second youngest skipper in the fleet on a 2008 boat Gentoo Sailing Team, is now up to fifth after taking a big hitch to the north, away from the fleet and his rivals. His moment of glory might be short lived if he has to converge back and follow round to the south of this blocking weather system on a course which will likely take them south of the Azores. 

“To be fair I am still deliberating. Azores or Ireland? It is a very good question. The goal short term is to compress back to Violette (ed note: Dorange, James’s most regular rival who is younger than him by three years) and then make a decision on the next big move.”  Smiled Harayda this afternoon. 


Kojiro Shiraishi, skipper de DMG MORI Global One
Kojiro Shiraishi, skipper de DMG MORI Global One
© Thomas Deregnieaux - Qaptur / DMG MORI

Mental strength counts too

But in terms of actual distance to the finish between fourth placed Thomas Ruyant and Britain’s tenth placed Pip Hare (Medallia) there is only a tiny ten miles. 

Hare tells us, “This is so not the race anyone was expecting. The routing has switched from trying to find a path between the low and the high to the north of the Azores and it has given up on that and it is telling me to go south of the Azores and that is conclusively for the last 36 hours, all models all routes are agreeing and we are seeing probably another nine days of racing in really moderate conditions, This race is more and more about the head rather than the physical stuff. It is different, especially for me as I have been so focused on getting to grips with this boat, learning to sail if fast in rough conditions. We need to remember that as sailors we have to take everything that is thrown at us. That means this kind of lighter airs, nurturing the boat to keep it going, And for sure right now the non foilers can gain as our foils are not really making much difference,” 

Ahead of the tenth edition of the Vendée Globe, this final big race is proving a test of mental tenacity, the ability to stay focused and control the controllables, attributes that are as important on the legendary solo race non stop around the world as a solid, reliable boat. 

One international skipper who has long since proven his incredible mental fortitude is Japan’s Kojiro Shiraishi. Vendée Globe followers will remember his painstaking mainsail repairs and his tenacious course thereafter. In 24th today he called in, “The first few days have been very difficult it was so different from what was forecast. It was hard to download the GRIB files and every day the route on Adrena was so different to before. Whatever I choose God will decide what is right in the end. A lot of it is instinct in the end. Since yesterday there were so many squalls around, I have been in the cockpit all the time taking a reef, letting them out and trimming and changing sails all the time. But since this morning I have been able to take a rest, sleep and it is a bit more stable now and so I will be able to prepare the next steps. There are two routes – one to the south of the Azores or another to the north and I have just decided to go north and so I have just decided to gybe and let us see how it plays out.” 

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