Yannick Bestaven declared the 2020/21 Vendée Globe winner after the tensest finish in the around the world solo race's history

In not only the closest, but also the most complex finish in the Vendée Globe‘s 32-year history, Yannick Bestaven has been declared the 2020/21 Vendée Globe winner. Bestaven was 3rd across the finish line overnight, but earned the win thanks to a time compensation of 10 hours and 15 minutes which he was awarded for his role in the search and rescue of fellow competitor Kevin Escoffier back in November.

Bestaven, who is the 48-year-old skipper of Maître Coq IV, finished in a fast pace to cross the finish off Les Sables d’Olonne at 0319 this (Thursday) morning, 28 January.

On a tense final night after 80 days of racing, the first boat home was Charlie Dalin on Apivia, who finished at 19:35 yesterday evening, completing the course in 80d 06h 15min 47s. At that point, Dalin did not yet know whether Boris Herrmann on SeaExplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco, or Bestaven, would be able to finish within a close enough time margin to take the title of Vendée Globe winner.

Apivia skipper, Charlie Dalin at the finish of the Vendee Globe. Photo: Jean-Marie Liot/Alea.

Both, along with eventual rescuer Jean Le Cam, had been awarded redress by the international jury after they went to the assistance of Kevin Escoffier when his PRB suddenly broke up and sank on November 20. Escoffier was left drifting 850 miles south-west of Cape Town in a liferaft and survival suit, without his sat phone or VHF. For their part in the search and rescue operation Herrmann was awarded 6 hours of time compensation, Bestaven 10h 15m, and Le Cam 16h 15.

Herrmann crashes out

After Dalin took line honours, four skippers, including Herrmann, Bestaven, Louis Burton and Thomas Ruyant, were left steaming across a wet and windy Bay of Biscay into Les Sables d’Olonne at 16-20 knots, with the margins too close to predict who would finish ahead. However, Herrmann’s chances of becoming the first non-French skipper to win the Vendee Globe dissipated just minutes after Dalin’s victory, when shortly before 2000hrs came news came that his SeaExplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco, which was in 3rd place at the time and still well within his six-hour margin to overtake Dalin, had collided with a fishing boat some 90 miles from the Vendée Globe dock.

Watch Herrmann explain how he collided with a trawler in the final hours of the race

Herrmann, who was sleeping at the time, was unhurt, but reported damage to the starboard foil, rig and bowsprit. His boat speeds on SeaExplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco plummeted from high teens to just 7 knots. Although Herrmann continued racing towards Les Sables, any chance of becoming the Vendée Globe winner had disappeared in the final hours. “I’m really gutted, it’s the worst nightmare that has happened to me so far,” explained Herrmann.

“I don’t know why it happened, I have all my alarms on, I have OSCAR on, and it was all working perfectly. When I came up here there was no alarm at all. How can the radar not pick up that ship? I have no idea.”

Louis Burton on Bureau Vallee 2 crosses the line in the Vendee Globe. Photo: Olivier Blanchet/Alea.

The second skipper home was Louis Burton, who finished four hours after Dalin in 80d 10h 25m, while third was Thomas Ruyant on LinkedOut, both of whom sailed exceptional races, but neither of whom had been involved in Escoffier’s rescue so had no time compensation to apply to their final time.

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The final chance for victory lay with Yannick Bestaven, who had to cross the line before 0550 (UTC) this morning in order to take the win. In the end, he beat the clock easily to be declared the 9th winner of the Vendée Globe.

A determined Vendée Globe winner

For Bestaven this was his second tilt at the Vendée Globe, having dismasted in the 2008/09 edition. Between times the former Mini sailor turned to the Class 40 fleet, honing his skills before securing sponsorship to buy the former Safran (from the 2016 Vendée Globe) and working on his company Watt&Sea, the hydrogenerator makers. He sailed a relatively cautious first leg of this Vendée, but by the approach to the Cape of Good Hope had moved up into the top five behind Dalin, Ruyant, Escoffier and Le Cam.

Yannick Bestaven celebrating his win. Photo: Olivier Blanchet/Alea

When Escoffier’s EPRIB went off, Bestaven was one of four skippers sailing towards Escoffier’s last known position. Bestaven was tasked with sailing north of the point where he abandoned ship, to begin searching a portion of the ever-widening area where race control calculated Escoffier may have drifted. Fortunately, Le Cam spotted and retrieved Escoffier safely, and all four boats involved in the search were able to resume racing.

Despite sailing a previous generation IMOCA, a Verdier-VPLP design from 2015 with modest foils, Bestaven was able to push hard in the tough conditions of the Indian Ocean, breaking away from the pack to first reach, then overtake early leaders Charlie Dalin and Thomas Ruyant.

He topped the rankings as he passed Tasmania on December 16, extending his lead after Christmas to nearly 15 hours  at Cape Horn. However, despite a 400-plus mile advantage in the South Atlantic, a cold front off Brazil’s Cabo Frio slowed his progress, and Bestaven’s lead evaporated. The front of the fleet had an effective restart, and after almost 20,000 miles of racing the top eight boats were all within 100 miles and the race was too close to call.

Despite holding a 10hr advantage, Bestaven did not have victory secured until the very final hours of the race. He opted to sail north of the Azores, staying in the stronger winds which he has excelled in all race, and thundering into Les Sables d’Olonne from the west-north-west at the highest speeds of the front-runners. His final elapsed time of 80d 13h 59min 46 translated after redress to an official corrected time of 80d 03h 44min 46s.

Bestaven celebrates in the traditional Vendée winners’ style. Photo: Bernard Le Bars/Alea

Speaking after the finish, Bestaven said:

I feel like I’m living a dream, hallucinating. You go from total solitude to this, to this party, to these lights, these people who are there despite the complicated context, I don’t realise what’s going on. I’m still in my race. It’s a child’s dream. 

“I always believed I could do it, but in what position? I thought I would win at Cape Horn, but then I thought that if I finished 25th, well then that would be good enough. We prepared a lot for this Vendée Globe, I knew I had a reliable boat and I was able to pull it off. The weather conditions meant that it never started from the front, it always bunched up, it was often tight. It has been historic.

“You have to look deep down inside yourself. These boats are stressful, noisy, and life on board is difficult. There are also times you feel lonely…

“This result is beyond my expectations. I imagined living many things, and I have lived many others. After having fought as I have fought, bringing a victory to Maître CoQ IV is a dream!

Dalin, who took line honours on his first attempt at the Vendée Globe, in a boat with a badly damaged foil, was gracious about relinquishing the victory.

“What I’m going to remember is that I was first over the line – no one can take it away from me. It’s normal for boats that stop to help others to have time compensation and that’s out of my control. But whatever the outcome I’m here in front of you now and I’m happy that I’ve done a good job.

“Before leaving I said that finishing this round the world race would be a victory. Now I am even more aware of it – each of us has had many problems to overcome – and just to finish is a victory.”

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