545.3-nautical miles in 24-hours…SOLO

vendee view

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545.3

“Is this guy f*#king serious?  545 NM in twenty-four hours and he is EATING FOIE GRAS AND DRINKING WHITE WINE while doing it!  Folks – that is faster than almost any monohull has ever sailed, and this dude is alone, on a 60-footer.  Momentous stuff from young Monsieur Gabard on the Macif.  Thanks for the subtitles to SA’er ‘popo’ (hint: click “cc” if you don’t see them)…”

This Ronnie Simpson Vendee Globe report is brought to you by Bruce Schwab Energy Systems.

545.3. Let me repeat that for you: Five-Hundred Forty Five decimal three…. No, that’s not the bar tab from a liquor-infused office Christmas party, it’s the number of miles that 29-year oldVendée Globe rookie Francois “the Golden Boy” Gabart sailed in just 24 hours onboard his VPLP/ Verdier designed Open 60 MACIF, en route to absolutely shattering both the previous IMOCA class record and the solo monohull 24-hour record. Besting the previous IMOCA class record (set doublehanded by Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron in the last Barcelona World Race…) by nearly 40 miles, Gabart maintained a previously unthinkable average of 22.3 knots of boat speed during his record-breaking 24-hour run. The best part is that it wasn’t just for show, it was for position as the incredibly talented young French skipper stole miles away from race leader Armel Le Cleac’h, re-gaining the race lead for a short while before losing it yet again to perennial race leader Le Cleac’h, winner of second place in the last Vendée

MACIF and Banque Populaire are virtually tied right now, engaged in an intense match race that’s been raging for weeks. Every time that I log onto the Vendée tracker, I expect to see one of them back off or break, but instead they just keep accelerating and somehow getting closer. The two skippers, generally heralded as the two most talented sailors in this fleet, have opted for greatly differing routes and strategies a number of times during the first month of this Vendée Globe, only to consolidate and re-engage in their thrilling speed test after each separation. The younger Vendée rookie Gabart has proven to be much faster in terms of outright speed than the slightly older and more experienced Le Cleac’h, while Le Cleac’h is proving to be a tactical genius in the Southern Ocean. The gap had only recently increased to 14, advantage Gabart, as of this writing.

But the biggest story of the last half-week of racing has to again come back to the staggering mileage that Gabart put up on MACIF. 545, let’s look at that for a moment. In the first Vendée Globe in 1989-90, Tituoan Lamazou had a best 24-hour run of 309 miles. In the sixth and most recent edition, MIchel Desjoyeaux had a 466.6 mile day onboard Foncia. Overly simplifying things a bit, but the boats basically got 157 miles faster in 20 years. Francois just piled an additional 80 miles onto the Vendée record; by far the single biggest jump in Vendée history, and half of what the fleet could accomplish in 2 decades and 5 races. It begs the question to me, how is he doing it?

Are the boats that much faster? After the renowned multihull design firm VPLP collaborated with Guillame Verdier to produce Safran and Groupe Bel, there has been a gradual shift that has seen the majority of top French sailors choose VPLP/ Verdier designs as their weapon of choice; the partnership is responsible for 4 of the 6 new boats built for this edition of the Vendée. With experience designing ultrafast cats and tri’s (think Banque Pop and Dogzilla the BOR 90), the team clearly has learned a thing or three about daggerboards and generating lift. In fact, 3 of the 20 boats that started this year’s Vendée had curved boards (Virbac-Paprec 3, Safran and PRB), and several of them have played with the angle of the boards, includingMACIF and Banque Pop.

Some boats in the fleet are said to have undergone major, and expensive, refits to mimic the VPLP’s angled board designs. So is this the reason why the boats have gotten literally 15% faster in just 4 years, because they’re now generating lift on the leeward side of the boat when sailing fast? Or is it the ground-breaking advancements in structural engineering that have allowed the boats to be light-weight, theoretically generating lighter loads and maintaining reliability. Or is it the sails? When reading skipper’s radio interviews and logs, they’re often wondering out loud about what other boats are flying. With the boats continually getting faster and apparent wind angles continually moving further forward, the sails have undergone continual development and there’s a lot of secrecy in the way some teams are sailing the boats and which sails they have. Or are the sailors just pushing that much harder? The intensity of this race is bordering on insanity. Gabart and Le Cleac’h have been machine-like in their ability to maintain consistently high speeds at a never before seen level. Or is it a combination of all of the above…?  For more visit Sailing Anarchy website!

– Ronnie Simpson

…Nice Vendee write-up on Sailing Anarchy website by my watch-mate from the TransPac Race – Ronnie Simpson 😉  Meanwhile, my new ARIES windvane is aboard sitting in the cockpit tonight ready for installation aboard ‘Gitano Banou’!  She’s had a long flight from Denmark with DHL but she’s drop-dead beautiful and awaiting a nice winter baptism in the Pacific – stay tuned!