Legend, Rookies And Words From The Wise As Vendée Skippers Prepare For Sunday's Start
The Vendée Globe pilgrims arrive in ever greater numbers, ready to bathe in the unique atmosphere that prevails in Les Sables d'Olonne with just a few days left until Sunday's start.
For the skippers the endless rounds of media calls continue, making sure their sponsors are happy in between looking ever closer at the meteorology models which predict what awaits them for the first few days of the epic solo round the world race.
Just as there are favourites, drawn to the race by the sheer size and competitiveness of the field, there are rookies aplenty, drawn to take on the challenge of the solo ocean racing's pinnacle event.
Alongside the genuine first timers like Britain's Jonny MALBON, ready to take on his first ever round the world race with the powerful Simon ROGERS designed Artemis Ocean Racing, there is Switzerland's Bernard STAMM who has won two back-to-back solo round the world races but has yet to finish the Vendée Globe, and Mike GOLDING (GBR) who returns to the race for the third time, with winning as his sole focus but hoping he has come out on top of 11 months of difficult boat preparations.
MALBON has made the step from preparateur - shoreside technician - to skipper of a new unproven boat which he has only been able to sail seriously since June and has no race miles to speak of. He may be a race rookie, with the Vendée Globe as his first ever solo ocean race on an Open 60, but he has been actively involved in the Open 60s for eight years and knows the boats inside out. What he lacks is sea miles with his boat.
"I am concerned about managing myself. But on my qualifying passage I was managing myself pretty well by the end of it, a lot better that I was at the start of it, but that is just down to confidence in the boat. I know the boat is strong and solid, and so I have confidence in it, but it is a massive thing managing yourself, physically and mentally, that is something I have to learn.
"It is a very, very long way and I am not going to be making any attempts to be first of the line. That is not my first goal. At the moment we are just looking at the weather for the first three or four days.
"I am an underdog, but this has given me a low level of stress from the point of view of expectations, but I just have this burning desire to get out there and do it."
STAMM has a well proven boat and few skippers have sailed more miles than he has since the last Vendée Globe finished, one which he missed out on due to pre-race problems with his keel. He started in 2000 but had to retire. Is this to be third time lucky? "In 2000, it was complicated to line up for the start, as the boat wasn't ready, but I was convinced I could have my say. While it lasted [nine days] I was up with the pack, which gave me confidence. I got over that quickly and then went off to do other things. In 2004, it slipped away from me. The boat was ready in May, a lot earlier than this year. I knew her by heart, as had already been around the world on her [Around Alone], but we got it wrong, where you must never get it wrong: the keel. It all ground to a halt in the Transat in June"
STAMM continues: "This is a new project. I took the decision to buy a boat that already existed and was very competitive [Jean-Pierre DICK's former Virbac-Paprec]. However, she did require some modifications and consequently, we sailed less than planned. Having said that, we are here now in the best of shape. The whole project makes sense. I'm pleased to be sailing with this boat, pleased just to be sailing in fact."
Winning is everything, but STAMM says that he could be content at the finish if: "The people who believed in me, followed me and helped me prepare this project can be proud of me. Personally, though, I'd only be pleased with first place. However, if I finish 18th two hours behind the winner, that wouldn't be bad either!
"We have prepared for a race and prepared for a win, although there are 20 others, who say the same thing and that is what makes it a race."
GOLDING, back for a third time with ECOVER 3, is no stranger to ill fortune on this race. He is sure that ECOVER 3 is the tool to do the job: "The last 11 months have certainly not been easy but I think that they have been worth it now, because now I feel like I have the tool to do the job. But it is has been tough and as a consequence of that I have had much less sailing time with the boat than I would have wanted. We had two boat testing planned in Portugal which just did not happen, but we had a good period when we learned a lot in August,"
said GOLDING. "Winning is the only thing I want, obviously, but, yes you ask yourself who will be up there in this field, and I still think it will be the 'usual suspects' and I would like to think I'll be one of them."
And for the rookies, like MALBON, French solo legend Isabelle AUTISSIER had these sage words today about the Southern Ocean: "To go there alone you have to really love sailing, because it will hard to be keep that love. The weather is bad, the sky is grey it is cold, the sea is rough and you feel really far from the human race, mentally and physically. To go through that kind of thing, you have to be cool headed, you simply have to be happy to be there. It is not a matter of doing a race and wanting to win, you have sometimes have to just find your own personal balance, that is the point."
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