Sunday, November 20, 2016

J/Sailors Leading Vendee Globe

(Les Sables d'Olonne, France)- The 25,000nm “sprint” around the world, The Vendee Globe, started on Sunday, November 6th from Les Sables d’Olonne, France.  The Vendée Globe is the hardest and most famous sailing race in the world. Nicknamed the “Everest of the Seas”, it involves sailing around the world alone, without stopping and without assistance, setting sail from and finishing in Les Sables d’Olonne, after rounding the three legendary capes: The Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, Cape Leeuwin in Southern Australia and the infamous Cape Horn at the tip of South America. They therefore have to sail twice in the North and South Atlantic – on the way down and on the way back – and sail clockwise around Antarctica by crossing the Indian Ocean and the huge Pacific.

Twenty-nine skippers are sailing the race.  It looks like a one-design race for the top foiling boats.  And, not too surprisingly, at least three J/sailors are amongst the leaders- Alex Thomson’s HUGO BOSS, Jean-Pierre Dick’s ST MICHEL-VIRBAC and Morgan Lagravière’s SAFRAN.  All three are sailing the newest “foiling” IMOCA 60s!

Alex Thomson- Hugo BossHUGO BOSS
Alex grew up sailing in the United Kingdom on the South Coast and for years could be seen racing on a variety of J’s, fine-tuning his one-design and offshore skills on J/24s, J/80s, and J/109s. Alex is not just someone who dives off the top of a mast in his best suit (although it takes skill to dive 29 metres while moving) for the PR requirements of his sponsor- Hugo Boss. That picture was seen around the world on Internet, but Alex has greater sporting ambitions: he wants to become the first British winner of the Vendée Globe.

He does indeed have what it takes with a foiling boat built by Green Marine in England. In the last race (3rd in 2012/2013), Alex Thomson showed everyone that he could make it to the podium with a second-hand boat. He is often shown as an example of what can be done with an older boat by his peers.

IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss Vendee GlobeBut this was not the only moment of glory along the way for Alex, who can boast an exciting past. This fan of speed grew up on the South coast of England and back in 1999 became the youngest sailor to win the crewed race around the world, the Clipper Round The World Race, which he achieved at the age of 25. Forced out of the Vendée Globe twice in 2004 and 2008, this is now but a distant memory. Alex is a phenomenon, able to push back his personal limits and those of his boat. Just like when he smashed the solo Atlantic crossing record or sailing double-handed came in second in the Barcelona World Race. The British sailor is certainly determined and very experienced. Like Vincent Riou and Bertrand de Broc, this will be his fourth attempt when he lines up at the start of the Everest of the Seas. He really wants this one to be the big one. He is certainly up there with the favorites. One day, a non-French sailor will indeed win the Vendée Globe. Alex Thomson may be the man to do it.

Jean-Pierre Dick- sailing Vendee GlobeST MICHEL-VIRBAC
Jean-Pierre was famous for racing hard, fast and aggressively in J/24s for nearly 20 years, racing across France and the U.K., nearly winning a J/24 Europeans one year.  JP also has had experience racing in the highly competitive J/80 class in France.  According to JP, “If you try hard enough, one day it will pay off!”

The tall fair-haired sailor has everything going for him: loyal partners, plenty of talent, always charming and friendly, a lot of experience… This will be his fourth attempt at the Everest of the seas. On two occasions out of his four attempts, he was so close to the podium. Jean-Pierre Dick has shown he is the master of double-handed sailing. He has won both of the big double-handed races: the Transat Jacques Vabre on three occasions in 2003, 2005 and 2011 and the Barcelona World Race twice, in 2008 and 2011.

Sailor of the year in 2011, the sailor originally from Nice has a rather different background from the others. A postgraduate from the elite HEC school, he is a qualified vet and at the start of his career, Jean-Pierre seemed more interested in racing around the buoys, even winning the Tour de France in 2001!   But, he went on to become a real ocean racer, capable of sailing solo around the world.

Safran- Morgan LafabrieveSAFRAN
Young Morgan had been sailing all season in the French J/80 championship against many of the best one-design sailors in France.  That focus and experience has been paying off so far in the race.

Could Morgan repeat the success of a certain François Gabart?  He could win the Vendée Globe on his first attempt while not yet 30. Like Gabart, Lagravière will be setting out around the world on a new generation boat designed to win. Like Gabart, the skipper of Safran cut his teeth in dinghy and then Olympic series sailing, before a brief and yet successful time in the Figaro circuit, where he made it to the podium twice in three seasons in the very demanding Solitaire race.

Just as at ease around the buoys as offshore, Lagravière was confident about handing in his application in the selection process in 2013 to replace Marc Guillemot, a post that was sought after by some of the major names in ocean racing.  But, it was Morgan who got the job and took up the helm of the new SAFRAN. A dream come true for this lover of extreme sports, who spends most of his time out on the water. It is not uncommon to see him kitesurfing or racing a J/80, foiler Moth, paddle boarding or windsurfing in Quiberon Bay. As he goes from one type of machine to another, it is above all because he enjoys it, but it is also a good way to build up your skills to be used on other boats, including of course, the 60-foot IMOCA.

It all happened very quickly for this sailor, originally from Reunion Island, who had no hesitation at the age of 17 of leaving the island to take up an education in sport and sailing and then to become a professional. Unlike François Gabart and Armel Le Cléac’h, the two who led the way in the last Vendée Globe, Morgan Lagravière has not trained as an engineer. He admits he is less of a scientist and does things more by feeling and intuition when sailing. Morgan is a very methodical worker. Practically a rookie in the IMOCA circuit, he is very friendly and open ashore, Lagravière becomes a killer out on the sea. He will set out with the intention of being up there with the frontrunners.

Follow these sailors here on their epic battle racing around the planet.