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Not normal

Normally the 3,200 nautical miles New York Vendée-Les Sables d’Olonne solo Transatlantic race should be a downwind sprint. On their last big singlehanded race before the Vendée Globe, the race back to the historic home of the ‘Everest of the seas’ would be expected to be a prolonged sprint, a test of precision timing and positioning, finding the low pressure systems and riding them eastwards at speed to Europe.

Inside Malizia-Seaexplorer
Boris Herrmann is on good form in third place
© Boris Herrmann/Team Malizia

But as the 28 boat fleet of IMOCA solo skippers enters the third full day of racing on the second edition of this key indicator of form ahead of November’s 10th start to the solo race round the world, it is becoming increasingly clear this race is going to be one of small strategic choices, multiple mixed up weather systems and a big dose of upwind, rather than normal downwind sailing. 

Trough test 

The leaders are starting to negotiate a low pressure trough this Saturday morning, positioning themselves best to get through it at a narrow point and find the best breeze on the other side. Wily Charlie Dalin (Macif Santé et Prévoyance) set himself up slightly to the south of the pack yesterday – taking the short term pain of slightly less breeze to get a better transition – and is back in the lead this morning just two miles up on Nico Lunven (Holcim PRB) and Germany’s Boris Herrmann (Malizia Seaexplorer) who led last night. Both the skippers who raced together last year on The Ocean Race on Herrmann’s IMOCA, Lunven as navigator made gains in the north in more breeze. 

Lunven, just two miles behind Dalin this morning, reported, “Now the future is really very uncertain with the passage of the trough that we have on the cards for this Saturday, with a slight deepening of the depression. We'll see how we get through this trough. The Gulf Stream currents make a big difference. They don’t seem to flow in a straight line. It's a bit of a zig-zag, meandering... and the data models we have at our disposal are not super precise. There's always a bit of luck involved. When you get some, you're happy but you never really know how long it will last. In any case, when it happens it’s nice to take advantage of it. The future? This afternoon, once we have passed this small low pressure trough, we will have wind which will settle in the south-southeast sector. We could have 30-35-40 knots for a few hours before it calms down slowly during the night from Saturday to Sunday and we get back to more pleasant conditions.” 

And he muses: “The rest of the crossing? We will have a lot of upwind.  We have been joking for the last few days we are doing everything in reverse because The Transat (the outward race which was sailed in early May) is supposed to be upwind and we had a lot of reaching and downwind and now this New York Vendée which is supposed to be a downwind race, it might be  almost completely upwind!” 

Right now it is difficult to draw conclusions of whether the north or south will pay but speeds and headings are very different. 


“There are no big surprises when you look at the tracking this morning. The sailors are dealing with a very weak and very changeable wind, both in strength and direction. It likely that they see a few small squalls. They started gybing a few hours ago with the objective of getting through this bubble as quickly as possible,” summarises Hubert Lemonnier, the Race Director of this New York Vendée – Les Sables d’Olonne. 

For example Herrmann who led yesterday has slowed this morning and was making just five knots to Dalin’s 7.5 though he was moving back north. Britain’s Sam Davies (Initiatives Coeur) is furthest south looking at getting underneath the system along with Sébastien Simon (Groupe Dubreuil) and perhaps Transat CIC winner Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa). 

“It is going to be about picking a time to gybe and cross this system and everyone is going to have to do that. They are looking for the narrowest part of the front and the extension of this low pressure which is quite wide, it won’t be so sudden because it is quite an old front and after they gybe they might have to point away from the finish for a while, I think it is a waiting game. But this might decide quite a lot.” Explained Will Harris of Team Malizia last night. 

After a brutally disappointing outward Transat when she had to stop in the Azores to make repairs, Clarisse Crémer is having a strong race so far on L’Occitaine en Provence lying in tenth place, just behind the lead group which contains Switzerland’s Justine Mettraux (Teamwork-Team SNEF) in eighth. 


Just as Crémer is delighted to be back in the fray, so too is Swiss German Ollie Heer who is in the thick of it. He struggled to finish the Transat CIC and after a chapter of problematic previous Transats is just super happy to be fighting for every mile as top daggerboard boat in 15th.

Heer reported, “ It feels so good to be out here racing again, my number one thing now is just to bring the boat back to Les Sables d’Olonne in one piece and collect the miles for the Vendée Globe selection but I am a little bit of an ambitious person and a competitive person and an ambitious person and so OCS at the start kind of showed I am not here just to collect the miles. I have had a really good two days, I have a little bit of a problem in that I have no J2 and so no gennaker and so I have quite a limited sailplan. So I can only do the best I can with the sails I have on board so broad reaching, it is quite nice. I have about 18kts of wind. I have just made a routing decision to head east. I guess the others have decided too. And my routing does not look too bad, it kind of fits my sailplan. It looks like a lot of reaching and not too much upwind or VMG downwind, quite light a lot of reaching which I can do with my J1, so I am really happy, happy days. Number one priority is take it easy, take it easy, don’t break the boat and arrive in Les Sables d’Olonne with a big smile on my face and all the miles in my pocket.” 


Vendée Globe champion Yannick Bestaven lost a lot of miles against the leaders in light winds and is 18th more than 130 miles behind Dalin, “Morale is good. It's always hard to be behind, stopped, with no wind while in front they are galloping off. It was a fairly difficult start to the race but you have to take what you have and move forward little by little. It's like that. There are much more serious things in life. I'm a little upset because before that first waypoint I was with Boris Herrmann and Nico Lunven. They crossed again and I didn’t. It was a bad option but very, very expensive. So of course the situation is very complex. There is a front of a depression to get through. They’ll extend from the front, I think. Afterwards, a lot more will happen. Nothing is clear behind it. There are going to be stops for everyone, I think. We're going to make do with what we have but it's true that it's very complicated weather. I look at the weather files and try not to make mistakes. I’ve made enough mistakes since the beginning. The problem is that the files don't agree with each either. There are a lot of uncertainties in this North Atlantic.” 


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