Vendée Globe: A Battle of Attrition

In the front, a traditional IMOCA skipper weighs his chances of winning the race, while in the middle of the fleet, skippers find reassurance in nearby boats.


Despite the foilers dominance early in the race, Yann Eliès believes that his traditional IMOCA still has a shot at winning the Vendée Globe. Alexis Courcoux / Queguiner

Sixth-placed French sailor Yann Eliès insists he can still win the Vendee Globe despite conceding he can’t keep up with the new generation of foiling boats. As the race reached its 22nd day Eliès was trailing race leader Armel Le Cléac’h by 1,200 nautical miles, crossing into the Indian Ocean more than three days behind the frontrunners.

His 60ft IMOCA raceboat is not fitted with foils, which give lift and therefore speed in certain conditions, but Eliès made an impressive passage through the South Atlantic over the past week to remain in touch with the leaders.

The Vendee Globe is known as a ‘race of attrition’ – in the 2012/13 edition of the race only 11 of the 20 starters completed it – and indeed three of the 2016/17 skippers have already had to pull out. Eliès knows that, of the five in front of him, second-placed Alex Thomson is sporting a broken starboard foil. And he is banking on more of his rivals in the leading group being knocked out by damage before reaching the finish, all the while making sure his boat Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir makes it back to Les Sables in one piece. “I’m not looking forward at the boats in front of me, and I don’t look at the performances of the foiling boats because they are faster than me,” Eliès said. “I was able to cross with a small front a few days ago, and now it’s important for me to find the best route for this Vendee Globe. It’s very hard to find the right sails for the wind and the waves, and to not break anything. I’m just trying to sail alone and do my own thing, and if I can do that perhaps I can finish in the top five or even in first place.”


The fact that Eliès is even competing in the Vendée Globe again is a show of his incredible strength and determination. In the 2008 edition Eliès broke his leg when a monster Southern Ocean wave smashed into the side of his boat 800nm from the coast of Australia. He spent two days stricken in his bunk unable to move in agony from the injury before being rescued by an Australian navy ship and whisked to hospital. Had he not received urgent treatment he would undoubtedly have lost his life, but the harrowing episode was not enough to prevent Eliès, one of France’s most successful offshore racers, coming back for another tilt at the title.

The main man to catch this afternoon was Le Cléac’h, who had extended his lead over sole British skipper Thomson to 30nm as they race towards the Kerguelens, an archipelago of 300 islands that form one the most isolated places on earth.

Some 7,000 miles away, Tanguy de Lamotte became the first skipper to make it back to Les Sables d’Olonne. Unfortunately for the 38-year-old Frenchman, his return marks his official retirement from the Vendee Globe just over two weeks since he turned back with damage to the mast of his yacht Initiatives Coeur. Although unable to complete his second Vendée Globe de Lamotte was welcomed back a hero, thanks in part for raising awareness – and funds – for children with serious heart diseases. “I am trying to be positive about the situation,” de Lamotte said. “I’m the first back to Les Sables d’Olonne but I haven’t been all the way around. Since I set off again from the Cape Verde Islands a fortnight ago, I have had time to get used to the idea.” In a parting gift, De Lamotte sailed the shape of a heart just before retiring so that it showed up on the race tracker.

St Michel-Virbac


Jean-Pierre Dick crossed the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope just under eighteen hours after Yann Eliès in sixth place and 4 days and 22 hours behind Hugo Boss. Photo Yvan Zedda / St Michel-Virbac

The View from the Middle

In the middle of the South Atlantic, the group in the middle of the fleet can look forward to getting away from the calms associated with the high.

A huge distance away from the frontrunners, some 3400-4000 miles, there are only 200 miles between the 11th and 20th boats. These sailors are not even thinking about the supermen out in front. None of them had any huge ambitions in terms of the result before the start from Les Sables d’Olonne, 23 days ago, but each place matters and they are racing against each other and aiming to complete the round the world race as well placed as possible. Tough, if they have only sailed 21% of the race course, while the leaders have covered 35% already. What matters is finding your rightful place.

The New Zealander, Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy) declared that “it is highly motivating to have other boats around you to race against. He took advantage yesterday of the lack of wind to dive under his boat, which shows how light the conditions are. Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut) sent back a video howling with joy at spotting Conrad Colman again after he had got 40 miles away from him.


Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) is having the finest race in this bunch, although suffering at each of the hurdles along the route since the start, while the frontrunners made it through them all unscathed and were therefore able to extend their lead. Louis is in the front of this group of ten battling it out in the calms of the St Helena high. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. In a few hours they should be picking up some more wind with a 12-15 WNW’ly forecast. This group of ten can be split into three sub-groups: Stéphane Le Diraison (Compagnie du Lit-Boulogne Billancourt), Nandor Fa (Spirit of Hungary) and Rich Wilson (Great American IV) to the south of Bureau Vallée; Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh), Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut) and Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy) to his north. It is going to be a bit longer for Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline) and Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys), who are currently engaged in a duel 150 miles behind Louis Burton.

The Swiss sailor, Alan Roura (La Fabrique), Irishman, Enda O’Coineen (Kilcullen Team Ireland) and the flying Dutchman, Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) will not be able to close the gap in terms of distance from East to West that they have built up rounding the high via the West. Moving up from the back of the pack was a good attempt (as remaining lined up behind the others would have served no purpose) and they may well get closer to the boat currently in twentieth place, Eric Bellion.

Much further back, there’s a battle raging for penultimate place in the fleet of 25 still racing. Around 900 miles back from Louis Burton and 4200 miles from Armel Le Cléac’h, the duel is on between Sébastien Destremau (TechnoFirst-faceOcean) and Didac Costa (One Planet One Ocean). In terms of distance to the finish, the Catalan has got back to within 80 miles of the French skipper.


Further forward, Jean-Pierre Dick crossed the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope at 0915 UTC. The skipper of StMichel-Virbac was the seventh to pass this longitude after 22 days, 21 hours and 13 minutes, one day and just under eighteen hours after Yann Eliès in sixth place and 4 days and 22 hours behind the new reference time set by Alex Thomson.