On Sunday, six British solo sailors start the round the world race in some cracking new Open 60s. We look at their chances
On Sunday, six British solo sailors sets off on the Vendée Globe round the race. It’s Britain’s strongest ever contingent, and the so-called Britpack have, among them, some of the newest and quickest Open 60s.
What are their chances in the most competitive fleet to date? Who’ll do well, who might struggle, who should we watch for? Elaine Bunting gives a personal view of their chances:
Dee Caffari – Aviva
Dee has a great boat in Aviva, a sistership to Mike Golding’s Ecover that some say is better built, and it has been prepared to a tee. This generously funded project has lacked nothing and as a professional operation has impressed longstanding Open 60 teams.
Dee herself has managed to sail more than 12,000 miles since the launch of the new boat this spring, and in her two years in this class has done four competitive Open 60 ocean races, including two solo transatlantics. This summer she has been training hard to gain confidence to push the boat downwind.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that Dee just hasn’t been that fast and her natural inclination is not hard-driving. The chances are she won’t keep pace with most of the other new boats and in fact I think she’ll have a job to keep up with Sam Davies, on whom she has her eye.
However, the overall picture is bigger. If she completes she will be the first woman to sail solo non-stop round the world in both directions, an achievement with potentially massive media leverage. In the end, for her sponsor, that’s what will count.
Sam Davies – Roxy
Sam has a foot in both the English and French camps. She has a French sponsor, lives in France, has sharpened her considerable skills on the Figaro circuit and is part of the formidable, collegiate-style offshore training circuit in Brittany in which some of the top solo skippers pool their experience.
So well-steeped is she in the French training ground that she has tended to be overlooked in the UK. That’s a pity because she is one of the most naturally talented solo sailors we have.
Her boat Roxy won the last two Vendée Globe races as PRB but has been slower than the new generation of boats on the last three transatlantic races. But on a round the world race with a high rate of attrition, you just can’t count her, or the boat out, out. Don’t forget, this boat won the last race in 87 days. That time ought to be good enough to get on to the podium this time, if Sam can drive it to the same level as did Vincent Riou in 2005.
Sam knows this boat inside out. She’s quick and tactically astute. If anything goes awry for Mike Golding (see below), she would be my bet for the best result by a Briton.
Mike Golding – Ecover
By dint of having been around a long time and never having won a solo round the world race, Golding has slipped from the list of race favourites. But look at it the other way round: he’s been on the podium on almost every major race for the last 5-6 years. In a fleet full of Figaro newcomers, you also have to count his experience and seamanship in the Southern Ocean.
Stringent, focussed and as uncompromising as ever, Golding mustn’t be discounted. He is Britain’s best hope of a Vendée win.
Solo race aficionados aren’t inspired by his choice of new boat, a development of the Owen/Clarke-designed Ecover 2 – it’s not extreme or flashy. But that’s a choice based on his experience. Golding reckons on having a solid, all-round, reliable platform and then making his skill count. Since there is no area he’s weak in that’s a logical choice.
The pressure of expectations is off Golding this time, which might make it a little easier for him. Let’s hope he can shake off a 10-year run of hard knocks and bad luck at long last?
Jonny Malbon – Artemis
Jonny has come to France to find himself the whipping boy of the fleet. The French audience here (massive, of course) is extremely well informed and they’re not especially impressed by the Artemis project. Malbon’s complete lack of solo racing, the fact that his boat is quite extreme, late to launch, had problems meeting class stability requirements and is untried competitively contribute to misgivings.
Malbon exacerbated this by admitting in a French interview last week that he hasn’t even had a chance to sail the boat fully ballasted under full sail. Race fans conclude, rightly or wrongly, that this is a flawed project with the odds stacked against success.
It’s up to Malbon to prove them wrong. On his side, he’s a smart guy with plenty of crewed sailing experience of Open 60s and a lot of practical knowledge of their workings. He is unlikely to be up with the leaders; the realistic aim would be, if possible, a respectable finish result.
Alex Thomson – Hugo Boss
His boat is proven and fast, he’s fast and he’s been trying to cultivate caution and moderation. Alex still hasn’t managed to sail round the world non-stop (he had to stop with rudder problems in the Barcelona World Race), so pacing things could still be an issue.
Following the collision before the start and the big repair on Hugo Boss it wouldn’t be too surprising if there was a ripple effect on the boat or gear later on. And, equally, it wouldn’t be surprising if that affects him mentally. Deep down does he believe he’s been winged?
All, in all, Alex is probably not the best bet for a podium place this time. If there is a knock-on from the collision – rigging problems come to mind – it could even force a retirement. But make no mistake, he has what it takes to win, and eventually he will.
Brian Thompson – Bahrain Team Pindar
Of all the British sailors, Brian Thompson has the broadest experience to draw on, from Minis to maxi multihulls such as Cheyenne. But his solo experience is limited compared with some of his rivals.
Just as importantly, in the Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed Bahrain Team Pindar he is sailing a very powerful design of boat that was not originally of choosing and has taken a lot of time, effort and extra money to make serviceable. How such a demanding boat will perform against others is unknown, as is how it near its potential it will be in solo mode – ie trimmed for average settings and steered by autopilot.
That said, Thompson is a great talent and with this boat he rates a dark horse. Supposing he has tamed this beast, he could do really well. An outside bet for a podium position.
Steve White – Toe in the Water
Steve fits into the adventurer category – and that is by no means a criticism. The former Global Challenge training skipper and car mechanic has had a tough, tough struggle to get here, remortgaging his house in Dorchester three times to keep his boat going (a fixed keel Open 60 that was formerly Josh Hall’s Gartmore).
His wife Kim has been working flat-out for the project, too, and with four young children at home, some might think White completely bonkers. He has at last managed some frugal funding that will pay the bills over the winter and is realising a longtime dream in reaching the start line.
The boat is very tired compared with almost all the other competitors, but Steve White is totally at home with her. Ironically, he has probably as good or a better chance of finishing than some of the new boats.
Although modest and quiet-spoken in the flesh, Steve White writes terrific diaries that give a wonderful and often reflective insight into life on board during races – look out for them. The underdog of the race, his story has all makings of a good book or documentary. He’ll have one of the great tales of this race and I wouldn’t be surprised if this made him a bit of a star at home.