- Elaine Bunting
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Vendée Globe: day of the big beasts
This is a significant day in the Vendée Globe race, one that feels highly charged and emotional. It's the day that the Big Game arrive: Jean Le Cam, Mike Golding and (although disqualified) Bernard Stamm.
These make up the generation of sailors which has been around longest and now they are in their fifties. Golding is the eminence grise of the race, having competed in four editions and finished three. Each of these sailors set out with every hope of reaching the podium, but it was not to be. Generation Y has conquered, and decisively.
The next race puts another four years on the clock. It may well be, as Mike Golding implied back at Cape Horn, that he and others of the big beasts are tearing off their last mouthful of this savage race.
Jean Le Cam was the first to arrive at lunchtime today - Golding due late tonight and I will post again about that tomorrow. He looked shattered after a very hard night in big winds and punishing seas. But then he looked that way when he left. (And, by the way, his mega hairstyle, which has been on its own gargantuan adventure, was looking majestic and serpentine).
Le Cam was nonetheless full of good humour and jokes, a characteristic for which he is famous and very well loved in France. At the end of his press conference, "voilà" he got up on the table and danced.
His claims on a future podium spot may now look thinner than before, but he makes up for it by being one of the best of the beasts at media duties. He sent back more than 60 videos, including one shot in the very stormy conditions during his last night at sea. Le Cam likes to make fun, goad his rivals, tells it just like it is and treats his avid fan base to the famous Le Cam-esque humour. He is a cherished character.
He jested archly about his intense duel with Mike Golding, making their rivalry out as a pantomime spat. What did he not like about him, he was asked, apart from the fact that he is English? "These are not things I can talk about in public. It's disgusting. There are only innuendos in my answers," Le Cam replied.
Le Cam got a rousing cheer for completing the race and managing to win in the final days the long dogfight he has had with Mike Golding. Four years ago Le Cam's race ended when had to be rescued from his upturned boat after the keel failed west of Cape Horn.
This race has had its fair share of keel failures as well, added to by the disconcerting news today that Bernard Stamm's keel ram has become disconnected and he is nursing his boat home with the keel moving free.
Le Cam was asked about this and became the latest voice calling for something to be done. Some sacrifice of performance should be made, he said, to increase safety.
As he walked away from his boat for the first time after 88 days at sea, Le Cam was greeted by other skippers. Marc Guillemot arrived to congratulate him (will he be back, I wonder, or Kito de Pavant?), as did Jean-Pierre Dick.
Congratulated by Jean-Pierre Dick, who finished two days previously after sailing the final 2,600 miles without a keel
Skippers' meeting (left to right): Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, Marc Guillemot and JP Dick
Another there to cheer him was Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, who did the race twice in 1989 and 1992 and is now long retired from ocean racing.
Retirement. Relinquishment. The ‘R' word. The thought must occur to these sailors, what with the triumph of the new guard, the punishing treadmill of the solo circuit and ever more physical boats.
But the trouble with the Vendée Globe is that every near miss only seems to make it more addictive to sailors. Perversely, the winners find it easier to move on. Those left in their wake are sure they could have done better and tend to become obsessed, in some cases maybe even cursed, by the pursuit of this Sisyphean quest.
Bernard Stamm will surely try to return. I'd bet on it. He has yet to complete this race and get a result after three times of trying. Surely no-one could leave it like that.
That's how the Vendée Globe gets people. With the exceptions of Titouan Lamazou and Ellen MacArthur, no-one ever really sees the marks at the finish.
Thanks to my pal Thierry Martinez for the cuddly toy finish photo of Le Cam, top.