Almost as scary as coronavirus: the Vendée Globe this year

Previously on this blog: Godforsaken Sea, a book about a round-the-world solo yacht race.

This year… “‘Just terrifying’: Vendée Globe sailor rescued after yacht breaks in half” (Guardian):

“I didn’t have time to do anything,” said Kevin Escoffier. I just had time to send a message to my team. I’m sinking, I’m not joking. MAYDAY.”

Escoffier, 40, the French sailor who was lying in third place in the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race, was talking after his dramatic rescue. On Monday afternoon, 840 miles south west of Cape Town, in strong winds and heavy seas, his 60ft carbon fibre boat PRB slammed into a wave at 27 knots and broke in half. PRB is one of the latest generation Imoca 60s with foils to lift it up so that it is practically flying. Escoffier abandoned ship and took to his life raft.

Escoffier was at 40°55′ S, 9°18′ E (source), confirming the old saying:

Below 40 degrees south there is no law;
below 50 degrees south there is no God.

5 thoughts on “Almost as scary as coronavirus: the Vendée Globe this year

  1. I cannot see myself ever participating in a sailboat race with a carbon fiber vessel that (one can only hope, now!) doesn’t break in half in rough seas with a World Wildlife Foundation sponsorship sail. Not my kind of thrill or challenge, but I’m glad he’s OK and hope he races again.

    Biblical: “The closer to the light I got, the clearer I saw it,” he told the Vendée Race Committee. “It is amazing because you switch from despair to an unreal moment in an instant.”


    “The very experienced pilots were indeed more skilled but they used their skill to take more risks and tackle more ambitious projects, pushing right up to the point where the statistical risk they took was the same as when they’d started to fly.”

    Humanity always balances on the edge, right down to our circulatory system. From Medical School 2020, Year 1, Week 17:

    “We live every second on the edge between bleeding to death and death by heart attack,” exclaimed the young hematologist attending. She introduced us to the coagulation pathway and the lucrative and life-sustaining hematological drugs…Simply resting one’s arm on a table creates cuts in the microcirculation. Our finely-tuned coagulation system is able to plug these cuts to prevent severe bleeding, while not creating too many blood clots that would obstruct flow to tissues.”

    Security is an illusion but freedom is real.

  2. Having practiced sailing rescues off the shores of Nantucket in reasonable winds, it is not an easy task. Escoffier is very lucky, but I like when he says “When I found myself on board with Jean, we hugged each other. He said to me: ‘Shit you’re aboard. That was tricky!’ I replied: ‘I have spoilt your race. You were doing so well.’ He replied: ‘That doesn’t matter. Last time it was me who upset Vincent’s race.’” Is this some A1 LeCam-araderie?

  3. I’ve been watching the numerous YouTube channels related to the Vendée Globe. During the coronaplague I have watched all sorts of YouTube videos on stuff I was not familiar with before. I got into sailing videos by watching a video of a 30ish ex-Disney Imagineer who quit to sail single-handed to Hawaii on a 23-foot sailboat and then sail around the islands.

    I’m not sure where this stands as far as danger goes versus the Vendée Globe. But it really appealed to me. Sailing solo on a three-week passage sounds great to me as an introvert who likes to read and cook for myself. The main problem would be sleep. Solo sailers have to sleep no longer than two hours at a time in blue water, a half hour near the coast or in shipping lanes, for three weeks or so. On the other hand, if you believe the Vendée Globe sailers, they sleep for 20 minutes max before waking up to check things, for three months or more.

    Here are two videos of the transfer of the rescued Kevin Escoffier from his rescuer’s (Jean Le Cam) boat to a French Navy frigate out of Réunion Island, one from the boat’s point of view, and one from the point of view of the frigate and its RHIB boat. Escoffier donned an immersion survival suit, which turns you into a small boat for all practical purposes, and jumped into the Indian Ocean off of Le Cam’s boat and the French sailers dragged him out of the water into their RHIB.

    France has not only Réunion in the Indian Ocean, but also the larger, more southerly Kerguelen archipelago, occupied only by scientists most of the time (post whaling era). Their naval presence means they do rescues to the west, while Australia does rescues on the eastern half of the Indian. You may remember the 16-year-old Los Angeles girl who was dismasted in the Indian Ocean during a round-the-world solo attempt and was rescued by a French supply ship headed for the Kerguelens after being spotted by Australian air searchers.

    • Norton: You’ve reminded that in pre-coronapanic times, the Vendee Globe participants were notable for being locked down without human company. Now millions of childless young folks and elderly folks in France, Spain, California, etc. are being subjected to the same treatment, but without any glorious trophies at the end!

      Maybe to make the Vendee Globe seem wilder and riskier, they should force sailors to sail together and share the confined space of the boat. That would shock the public!

    • Philg says, “the Vendee Globe participants were notable for being locked down without human company”

      An ironic thing about the Vendée Globe sailers is that, yes, they are solo and alone during the race (unless they rescue a fellow sailer). But they don’t seem to be introverts, because they have to stay in touch with the race authorities, and post endless YouTube videos and blog posts. During the 90 percent of the time between races when they are not on the boat, they have to hobnob with sponsors, raise money, do press and media, and work with naval architects, boat designers, and their race staff.

      Philg says, “Maybe to make the Vendee Globe seem wilder and riskier, they should force sailors to sail together and share the confined space of the boat. That would shock the public!”

      An outfit called 11th Hour Racing has converted an IMOCA 60 class boat, the kind used in the Vendée Globe race, to handle six people, a skipper and four crew, plus a media reporter.

      “Six crew is something else entirely.

      “Everything we do right now is a compromise. There is no true galley. There is no head. There is realistically one bunk, and one fan. The nav station mandates you sit in the companionway. The cockpit is small, with proper seating for one. Even though it’s a big and beamy boat, the layout and fit-out are all engineered for one – so you can imagine the load six is creating.

      “There are often times when four of us are up, crowded in the cockpit under the sliding roof. Or there are other times four of us are trying to sleep, scattered around the interior on bags and against bulkheads.”

      Since that was written they have made some additional changes to handle six people:

      From about 2:10 in this video. They build iterative full-scale mockups of the innerds of the boat to test out changes::

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