Competitors are now becoming sailors, seamanship takes priority in the Great South
Between 2013 and 2017, onboard a 65-foot German Frers design, Morgane Ursault-Poupon sailed almost 30,000 miles alongside her co-skipper Arnaud Dhalenne on an expedition in the Patagonian canals, in Antarctica, French Polynesia, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile. Morgane, the skipper of the Class40 ‘UP Sailing’ therefore knows the inhospitable conditions awaiting the Vendée Globe fleet as they enter the Southern Ocean.
For Morgane this is the first time she’s really followed a Vendée Globe. “During previous editions I’ve been at sea, not in front of my computer to follow it closely” she explains. “It’s really very addictive and a really crazy adventure. I’m playing ‘Virtual Regatta’ for the first time, it’s intense, you’ve got to understand the weather, the tactics, I’m really enjoying it!
The Extreme South
Like a large number of race fans around the world, Morgane followed closely the events that took place earlier in the week. The sinking of PRB was a terrible lost but the recovery of Kevin Escoffier was a delight to hear of. “For me several factors allowed for the rescue of Kevin by Jean Le Cam, but, it is complicated to understand the ins and outs of such an event. I’ve spent 5 years in the south, these are extreme conditions, it’s one of the most difficult places to navigate, it’s not a place for mankind. The cold is biting, it’s currently around 7 degrees but that’ll drop further. Dexterity is reduced, your fingers are numb. It’s pretty grim. Good conditions are defined by 25-30 knots, that’s manageable. Beyond that it gets interesting. The nerves kick in, your stomach does somersaults, things become complicated. The sea is powerful. It’s a circling system with a never-ending fetch making for more powerful waves than we see in the Atlantic.”
“It’s impossible to imagine an IMOCA60 literally breaking in two. Christ, it could have ended badly but a succession of good management, common sense, mastery, experience and a bit of luck meant we most certainly avoided a tragedy…”
The first element is Kevin’s reaction time, getting in the life raft at the optimal moment. You have to be a great sailor to be able to manage this situation so quickly and get the sequence of events so properly executed. His survival suit had to be in the right place. Anywhere else and it could have been inaccessible, this is crucial. Secondly JLC was relatively close proving again that your closest competitors are your closest friends. Jean arrived quickly, he located Kevin, even communicated with him before losing sight of him. This feeling must have been heart breaking. Three further boats were then tasked with assisting the search and a search pattern was defined, you have no idea how difficult this is to do on your own and in a foiling boat. Some 11 hours later Kevin was located again and brought from his life raft onboard Jean Le Cams boat. It’s unbelievable – but if you’re wanting to be rescued by someone then JLC is top of the list, his experience is vast, he really is a legend of the sport.
“Questions obviously remain and even though we as competitors are looking to limit the boat’s weight, PRB was light but well built. In fact, Kevin said right after his recovery that they added an additional 200kg of carbon into the structure. Full disclosure I’m not a structural engineer but I have questions. Was the addition of foils into a boat designed for daggerboards part of this? Is it due to the power and angle of the waves we’re not used to seeing? The boat launched at 27 knots; the loads are increasingly scary. I’m reminded of the difference between theory and reality. The Great South is a place we do not know well. It’s hugely complex. My 30,000 miles within it gives me some ability to talk about it but it’s scary, I think it always will be.”
The Race so far?
“The Race has been fantastic, the level has been excellent and although over 3,000 miles, or a transatlantic, now separate first from last most have taken very clean paths. The delta in distance is due, in my opinion, down to the sheer differences in boat design as opposed to overall ability.”
Apart from the first week of the race where we saw a nasty front and a tropical depression the weather has been good so far. From now on we’ll see the effects of the south. The competitors physical and mental strength will be severely tested. The humidity and the cold eats away at you. The smallest of issues can become race ending. Kevin’s damage was felt throughout the fleet. Emotions run high when things like this happen. Beyond all, our competitors are our friends, we race in solitude but safe in the knowledge the experience is shared by our family at sea.
We’re a third of the way through, competitors are now becoming sailors, seamanship takes priority, the race will continue soon. The road remains long.