There normally comes a time in long ocean races like the Vendee Globe or The Ocean Race where the interest of even the most ardent spectator wanes a little. We can all it ‘fan fatigue’ if you like, but at a certain point – usually after a good few weeks or even months after the start – people’s attention on the daily updates tends to taper off a bit.
That is not the case for the current edition of the Vendee Globe however – far from it, in fact.
I haven’t seen the stats for the official race website, but a quick glance at the readership numbers for Vendee Globe stories here on the Yacht Racing Life website clearly indicates that interest in the race is going up, not down.
Beyond the ins and outs and highs and lows of the racing – the new foiling boats, the weather, the breakdowns and repairs – it’s the individual characters of the skippers and the way they continually get tested that keeps people coming back for the latest updates.
Cards on the table, I have no aspirations of ever racing in the Vendee Globe – not any, not even one tiny one. But no way does that stop me from secretly musing on how I would have fared if had been one of the skippers in this edition.
Like for instance Kevin Escoffier who was galvanised into action rather than frozen with panic when his boat broke up beneath his sea boots; or Alex Thomson who was faced with an on-the-water carbon repair job that would have most high-tech boatyards scratching their heads and sucking their stubby pencils; or Samantha Davies who, after the crushing blow of being forced to retire from the race through no fault of her own, somehow found the inner fortitude to repair her boat and then head back out into the desolation of the Southern Ocean to complete her lap of the world.
For the record, I don’t stack up well at all in how I would have dealt with any of the above scenarios – or indeed any of the multitude of minor challenges the solo skippers face every single day.
However, the chances are that there will be people following this race right now who believe they could cope with the challenge of racing nonstop around the world singlehanded and unassisted. For these people, wherever they may be, this Vendee Globe is more than just a sporting spectacle – it’s the first draft of a roadmap leading to the fulfilment of what is likely to be a lifelong dream.
Case in point, 41-year-old French skipper Damien Seguin who is currently battling for third place aboard his 12-year-old non-foiling IMOCA 60, Group Apicil.
Raised in Guadeloupe, Seguin was quickly evolving into a promising young sailor, but had little interest in ocean racing. That all changed when, at age 11, he watched the boats finishing the 1990 Route du Rhum transatlantic race. It was a moment in his life which he describes as being “a revelation”.
“I remember these giant boats, the great sailors who were being asked for autographs: Florence Arthaud, Mike Birch, Alain Gautier, Laurent Bourgnon,” he said. “They were like rock stars. I wanted to do that very same thing, to follow in their wake.”
Initially Seguin opted to pursue his Paralympic career (he was born without the use of his left hand) because he knew it would: “provide a good structure and foundations to get more into ocean racing.”
After four Olympics cycles in the 2.4mR class during which he won four world championship titles and collected two Olympic medals – two gold and one silver – Seguin refocused on his ocean racing aspirations, serving his time first on the Figaro circuit before switching to the IMOCA 60 class in 2018.
Fast forward to today when Seguin – in his first tilt at the Vendee Globe – is very much in the hunt for a top five rounding of Cape Horn this weekend.
“That would be crazy, but it’s what I’m really going to try to do,” Seguin says from his boat, alone at the bottom of the world. “It will be by Sunday or Monday I think. But this last week before Cape Horn is going to be tough. The models all see different things.”
Seguin may be living out his childhood dream of racing around the world but don’t let that fool you in to thinking that he is having an easy time of it.
In recent days he has been missing out on hot food and proper sleep as he first struggled through the uncertainties of a prolonged light wind zone over the Christmas period, and then went on the attack during the complicated transition into the stronger winds that followed.
But all this effort and sacrifice has paid dividends as today Seguin finds himself in third place in the Vendee Globe fleet.
“I’m delighted to be third,” he said. “I’m due to pass Cape Horn on Sunday morning. At the moment it looks pretty complicated with the low-pressure system coming in from the north, but there are still around 1,500 miles to go and varied conditions to contend with before I get there.
“But I am holding out hope that I’ll pass Cape Horn for the first time with not too much of a fight.”
At 2100 UTC tonight Seguin was 127 nautical miles (nm) behind second placed Charlie Dalin on Apivia with race leader Yannick Bestaven a further 105 nm ahead. Sixteen miles behind Seguin lies fourth-placed Thomas Ruyant on LinkedOut.