Elaine Bunting gets ready for the 'invasion des anglais' as three British solo heroes return to a massive homecoming
It’s almost party time in Les Sables d’Olonne. The ‘invasion des anglais’ is in full swing as friends, family, shore teams, sponsors and sundry others, such as we journalists, all gather in anticipation. The British are coming home.
This is going to be an extraordinary weekend as Samantha Davies, Brian Thompson and Dee Caffari all finish the Vendée Globe race within a few days – ie parties – of each other. Sam is on the verge of at least a 4th place and very possibly even 3rd if Marc Guillemot slows down. Who would have thought that British sailors were going to take 3rd (or 4th), 5th and 6th from a fleet of 30? Just as extraordinarily, all three are Vendée first-timers and Sam and Dee are the only two women in the fleet.
Though it’s sad Alex Thomson, Mike Golding and Jonny Malbon are not here the results are something to be proud of. This has been a particularly tough Vendée Globe, with high winds and seas in the Southern Ocean, and the results of the remaining British sailors is a great testament to their preparation and seamanship.
Together with the amazing Steve White, who has been a real treat in this race but is still some way behind in his old boat, the British sailors account for 4 out of the 11 finishers.
And if you have followed their progress and read their logs you’ll know that you each has had his or her own voice and different story to tell. The quantity of British sailors has served to emphasise the variety of characters that make solo racing so special. They have been paid back by an enormous audience, predominantly through the superb bilingual Vendée Globe website.
Of course it’s invidious to make comparisons but I do think it’s worth a look at how the Volvo Ocean Race has gone down compared to the Vendée Globe. The former race tends towards being industry-centric – by the elite for the elite – whereas the element of adventure makes solo racing more accessible at many more levels to a wider public.
We’re never going to get absolute detailed traffic figures for both, but this traffic analysis (above) produced by Alexa is a perfectly good representative sample. The blue graph above is traffic for the Vendée Globe and red for the VOR.
What I am saying here is that, regardless of the fact that solo sailing still lags behind in peer credibility and kudos among professionals in the business, I hope more British sailors can consolidate on what Sam, Brian, Dee and Steve have done. There should be plenty here for sponsors even in a recession and, thanks to the work done by the Vendée Globe team, the audience is three times what it was four years ago, with no reason to think it can’t be bigger yet.
But whether we’ll ever see such a concentrated British fiesta I don’t know. So why take a chance? Don’t call me, I’m out tonight.