The final briefing with Race Direction and Alain Gautier took place this morning. Tomorrow the 29 skippers will set sail at 1202hrs UTC. Ahead of them the Cape of Good Hope, Leeuwin, the Horn, but before that they have a final few hours to spend with their family and to say their goodbyes. Emotions, fears, relief… The sailors tell us how they feel 24 hours before the start.
Jacques Caraës, Race Director: “The final briefing is always important. It’s the last time we get to talk calmly to the skippers. Tomorrow they will look very different. It’s very emotional. Alain Gautier helped us give them the final recommendations and we talked about Guo Chuan, who was lost at sea. That helps put things in perspective, but we mustn’t over dramatise either. They all know that they are setting off around the world and it’s not going to be easy. I told them to enjoy themselves and reminded them that the Race Directors are with them 24 hours a day Conditions will be fine for the start, so there isn’t as much to worry about. They will be setting off downwind, but that doesn’t stop them from needing to be cautious, as they will probably be sail changes. The leaders will be off Cape Finisterre in around 20 hours.”
The day before the start is more often marked by dark clouds hanging around the race dock, if not literally then at least figuratively. Typically, Saturday’s emotional farewell gatherings are spirited and well meaning but usually in the full knowledge that the Bay of Biscay will deliver a kicking within the first 24-36 hours. But in light of a ‘to order’ forecast of downwind conditions off the start line giving way to fast, straight line reaching into the Portuguese trade winds, the mood around Port Olona in Les Sables d’Olonne was positively festive. Bathed in the warm Autumn sunshine which seems to have prevailed for days, the skippers’ miles were wide and genuine – rather than the usual forced grimaces – when they left the final weather briefing this morning. The fast reaching and running conditions are expected to immediately benefit the foiling IMOCAs which should be up and off, literally flying south in a straight line towards Finisterre where winds should lift and build to 25-30kts.
The party mood ashore, tens of thousands passing through the race village, spread to the race dock, which is closed to the public to allow the skippers space and time to share their last day on shore with those close to them, friends, extended family, sponsors and VIPs. Enda O’Coineen seemed to half of the Irish nation visiting at one point. Jean-Pierre Dick assembled his entire shore team on the deck of St Michel-Virbac for a photocall. Japanese skipper Kojiro Shiraishi showed continued patience and enthusiasm as his legions of friends and supporters from home took endless selfies and videos with the first Asian skipper to start the Vendée Globe. Alex Thomson looked cool and calm as he completed his lunchtime live stand up interviews with British TV media beside his Hugo Boss. Sébastien Josse is bright eyed, relaxed and ready as he quietly went about his final media commitments around the media centre. Sébastien Destremau took time out from his hectic final preparations – his faceOcean was crawling with technical shore team, friends and family early on – before a particularly poignant moment having his 1998 Finot design blessed. Conrad Colman and his team on the now renamed Foresight Natural Energy continued to re-brand his hull, sails and cockpit after finding a last minute sponsor.
Morgan Lagravière, Safran: “This evening, I’m going to enjoy myself with my friends and family. For the start, the strategy is clear. I’ll run through things again today, but it looks simple enough. I’ll be going to bed earlier than last night and getting a good meal before a good night’s rest in my own bed.”
Jérémie Beyou, Maître CoQ: “Between choosing the right sails and carrying out manoeuvres, there is going to be plenty to do. We’re going to have to be cautious, as there are lots of people fishing off Cape Finisterre. We’re aiming to get 100% out of the boat rather than 95 or 97. I’m glad my kids have left, as it would be hard for me and for them. It’s always tough on the day of the start. It’s not easy saying goodbye. Now that they are 9 and 13 they understand better. They know there are risks and that I could fail…”
Vincent Riou, PRB: “Things are getting clearer about the first few hours of racing. I have studied what is coming up and am getting to grips with that. It’s now time to get out there and not make any mistakes. The weather is good, so it’s going to be fast. We’ll need to be in good shape tomorrow morning. This evening I’ll have a nice meal with the family and deal with a few final things. I’ll look at the weather and then go to bed.”
Yann Eliès, Queguiner – Leucémie Espoir: “This evening I’ll be eating with the kids and my wife, who has prepared a loin of pork and carrots… We watched the TV together yesterday evening. I’m trying to keep things as normal as possible. It will be bed at around 10 or 11 to wake up in good shape tomorrow, although I’ll probably have butterflies in my stomach. I have been working on my strategy with the key moments I have to deal with. I’m going to have to remain on watch and not rely too much on the AIS. That can be a trap in the first few hours, because of all the pressure that has been building over the past few weeks.”
Nandor Fa: “I am a little excited. I am confident in myself and the boat. I will do a couple of hours of cleaning then attach the J1 (jib) before tomorrow. I like the forecast very much. I will spend the evening with my family, with my wife and girls. They have organised a pub on the beach and we will listen to some music with friends and enjoy a glass of red wine. I will go to bed around 10pm after some nice times with the family and friends. I will relax because at least the next three days will be hard work. I am really happy, it will be fast. It is great to not be going out into tough weather. I can’t remember start weather like this.”