The race committee is protesting skippers who infringed the Cape Finisterre TSS. I explain why I think this is so important

Dramas in the Vendée Globe just keep on coming, with the news trickling out today that a protest is to be heard against nine solo skippers. This is for an alleged infringement of the collision regulations in Traffic Separation Scheme off Cape Finisterre four days ago.

First, let me explain what I understand happened and then why I think this protest is important and could be significant overall in the race.

The protest was raised by Hugo Boss against Virbac, Maitre Coq, Synerciel, Acciona, Group Bel, Mirabaud, Energa, and Initiatives Coeur. I believe that Alex Thomson informed the race committee and wanted them to protest, but the committee wouldn’t instigate without an initial protest from a competitor.

Clearly the committee looked into it, and besides the group of eight they spied Gamesa’s track and added Alex’s pal and former saviour Mike Golding to the list. You can see the various boat tracks in the screen grab above.

This actually shouldn’t really have been much of a surprise to anyone. At the skippers’ briefing in Les Sables d’Olonne last week, to which all the press were invited, Vincent Riou specifically asked about the Cape Finisterre TSS. The skippers were told in no uncertain terms by race director Denis Horeau that this separation scheme was covered by the sailing instructions.

So here we have several boats sailing on through the zones regardless, while skippers such as Alex Thomson, Sam Davies, Arnaud Boissiere, Louis Burton and others gybed to avoid it. Clearly, that’s a disadvantage competitively, so one can understand how this all kicked off.

I’m aware from comments that there’s something of a split in reactions to racers barging their way through separation zones and ignoring the regulations – and it’s a topical subject because of about Marc Guillemot’s little problem with the UK Coastguard.

Some observers think it’s a piffling concern of jobsworths who don’t get the importance of yacht racing; others (probably the majority of boatowners) can’t understand why racing sailors – and sailing solo! – think they are higher than than the law and shouldn’t be allowed to flout a basic rule of the sea that exists for everyone’s safety.

The skippers involved have been asked to submit a screen grab of their track during this period to the race committee, along with any comments. If penalties are given, they could be a stop-and-go penalty. Brian Thompson reminds me that he got one during the last race for a rule infringement at the start. He had to cross a chosen position, wait four hours and then re-cross it while monitored by the race committee. The position was of his choosing but the penalty had to be taken before a certain latitude.

At the finish Thompson said he believed the penalty he took in the North Atlantic had gone on to cost him 3rd place overall. Even relatively short delays can cause enough separation to affect the race outcome.

But it seems to me that the business of respecting international collision regulations is far from trifling. It goes to the race’s reputation, integrity and these professional skippers’ respect for other mariners who earn a hard living at sea. A protest like this may be the most effective way to discourage it, and is all part of the racing game anyway, but if doesn’t then the race will have to add waypoints in future.