Michel Desjoyeaux claims a historic second victory in the Vendée Globe. Elaine Bunting reports from Les Sables d'Olonne
When a leaking ballast tank and electrical problems forced Michel Desjoyeaux back to port a day into the Vendée Globe in November and delayed his restart by 40 hours, almost no-one thought he could go on to win. The fleet was considered too full of quick boats and too rich with talent and experience. He might claw back a top three place maybe, but a victory was surely beyond his grasp.
Yet Mich Desj, ‘Le Professeur’ – whatever his fans and followers want to call him – was crowned the undisputed king of solo sailing today when he sailed his IMOCA 60 Foncia across the finish line of the Vendée Globe to arrive back in Les Sables d’Olonne in a new record time of 84 days, 03 hours, 09 minutes, an average round the world of 12.3 knots.
Desjoyeaux smashed the course record by over three days in spite of his 419-mile starting deficit and a route that is 1,200 miles longer this time than in previous years because of the northerly positions of the ice safety gates. Incredibly, he has also managed to finish 1,300 miles ahead of his nearest rival.
The 43-year-old Breton had taken a risk in returning to solo round the world sailing after winning this race in 2001 and moving into multihull racing. Anything less than a 1st place would merely emphasise that he’d been supplanted.
Desjoyeaux had no such misgivings and his apparent lack of self-doubt has been brilliantly vindicated. As damage, disaster and retirements scythed the Vendée Globe fleet in half he managed to sail a perfectly calibrated race. From the rear of the fleet, he chased and outran each sailor in turn.
Desjoyeaux benefited from more favourable winds than the leader while chasing in the South Atlantic and arrived just behind the front pack of 10 boats as they reached 40°S and the gateway to the Southern Ocean.
Aware that he needed to be in same weather system as this group as they met their first low pressure, Desjoyeaux drove Foncia hard, helming for 20 hours a day for two days under full main and his big spinnaker to make up the gap. As he joined them, the first big blow scattered the pack. Other boats were eliminated by damage and breakages and Desjoyeaux at last had his chance to take lead when Mike Golding was dismasted on 16 December.
After that, only Roland Jourdain was able to match Desjoyeaux’s pace, but while Jourdain was often quick his speed was never quite as consistent as his rivals. Desjoyeaux went on to lead the race for the remaining 46 days of his 84 days at sea.
The only serious threat to Desjoyeaux’s dominance was a rudder breakage on Christmas Day, which he chose not to reveal until last week. The port rudder, already weakened, was side-swiped by a wave and the attachment broke. Desjoyeaux spoke of how the rudder went under the boat and through a stroke of good fortune slotted back into position so that he was able to jury rig a repair.
There is no doubt that Desjoyeaux has had some luck – you need it to finish competitively in the Vendée Globe. But luck is of no use unless all the other elements of success are in place. Two-times Vendée competitor and holder of the westabout solo record, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede analyses it thus: “He’s very hard, very experienced, he has a really good team round him and the boat was very well prepared.”
Dominique Wavre, a fellow skipper whose keel problems brought his own race to a premature end, comments: “Intellectually he’s 100%, psychologically he’s 100% and he is incredibly talented. Maybe it’s his talent that brings along the luck.”