The ninth Vendée Globe had promised to be a lightning-fast head-to-head between two or three boats, a sprint around the globe that would surely lower the 74-day record and herald a new era in offshore racing.
In the event, the two big favourites had serious collisions that ended their podium dreams before the race passed Cape Town.
What we were left with was something far more open and arguably far more exciting, a group of nine or 10 boats that stuck together around the world, each successive attempt to break away reeled in by the pack.
And the finish, overnight on 27 January, was as gripping as sport could be, with the closest ever winning margin and a victor that nobody could predict even in the final hours.
The global press woke up to the fact that this was likely to be a true epic in offshore racing as the fleet sailed up the south Atlantic towards the equator. Off Rio, on 12 January, there were no more than 120 miles covering the first nine places. The race was effectively reset – for the nine contenders, it would be a 4,000-mile sprint back to France.
The skippers readied themselves for a gruelling test where they knew the tiniest mistake might mean the loss of a podium position. Any of the leading pack had the ability and the desire to win, but what we didn’t know was the condition of their boats. After more than 20,000 miles at sea, all would be nursing tired machinery and given the high stakes, it was likely that not everyone was being 100% open about what disabilities they were carrying.
The leading fleet comprised IMOCA 60s of vastly different ages and theoretical abilities. The latest generation foiling boats had proved difficult to sail at speed in the big southern ocean conditions. Now they might have shown their pace, but several had suffered collisions and were carrying broken foils or other damage.
Attention focussed on the race’s only German entrant, Boris Herrmann, who had amassed a global army of supporters for his engaging videos and seemingly unflappable personality. His boat, Sea Explorer-Yacht Club de Monaco, possessed the biggest foils and given the right winds, had a clear chance of doing well.
Almost immediately, however, the German skipper’s dreams were put on hold, as he was caught in a fiendish Doldrums and failed to make the predicted breakaway.
The leaders were Charlie Dalin, the quietly spoken naval architect who trained at Southampton Institute, in Apivia, and the rugged Saint-Malo man Louis Burton, whose campaign on Bureau Vallée 2 was being managed by his wife Servane, herself an accomplished sailor.
Also in the running as they entered the north Atlantic was Thomas Ruyant on the latest generation foiling boat Linked Out, one of the pre-race favourites, and Yannick Bestaven on Maître Coq IV, who had led the race through the south Pacific and around Cape Horn.
A fascinating chess game developed, with pundits on land poring over the weather models and routeing options for each boat. The fleet fanned out, with Burton taking a bold westerly option and Dalin sailing a more direct route. Herrmann had got back in the running was third, but Ruyant and Bestaven were neck and neck just behind.
A few miles to the east and not to be discounted was one of the most remarkable stories in Vendée Globe history. Damien Seguin was born with the use of only one hand. He won medals at the Athens, Beijing and Rio Paralympics, but when sailing was dropped from the Paralympics, he turned to offshore racing. This was his first Vendée Globe and his achievement was all the greater as Seguin’s boat, Groupe Apicil, was designed in 2008, with daggerboards, not foils, yet he had kept pace with the latest generation IMOCAs all the way around the world.
Not far behind him was France’s beloved veteran, Jean Le Cam, in his boat Yes We Cam!, responsible for rescueing Kevin Escoffier from his liferaft850 miles off Cape Town earlier in the race.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Choosing a traditional-looking boat doesn’t mean going low-tech, as Sam Fortescue discovered when he sailed the Spirit Yachts’ new 44E
It won’t be long before boatyards around the coast are humming with the noise of sanders and the chip-chip-chip of owners removing old flakes of antifouling. Sam Fortescue looks at the latest products
It ain't over til it's over
An edge-of-your-seat Vendée Globe thriller came down to the final hours, with a last minute drama that shocked millions
Fitness from home
There has never been a better time to train from home than now. Even in normal times, just think how much time you would save. Jon Emmett provides some pointers on best technique
Can they be beaten?
Emirates Team New Zealand is lying in wait in the America’s Cup, due to take place from 6-15 March. We take a closer look at the team to beat
Rats and sailors share an uneasy relationship going back almost to the beginning of time. When Jess and crew received an unwelcome visitor, drastic action was required
Tea on the Nile
When you’re living in the middle of the Sahara desert and the government is a military dictatorship it can be a challenge to find fun things to do
Nick Huxford narrates a voyage that took him from Southampton to Norway’s Lofoten Islands
Night watch on a long offshore passage is a real test of will and concentration but a memorable night encounter underlined the need for vigilance to Tom
As the Vendée Globe wraps up, skippers are alreadly looking to the future and the next race. So what are the prospects for the class of 2021
NOTHING TO STOP YOU
WHEN PLANNING AN OCEAN PASSAGE, HOW DO YOU ENSURE YOU CAN KEEP GOING NO MATTER WHAT? RUPERT HOLMES FINDS OUT WHAT VENDÉE GLOBE SKIPPERS CAN TEACH US ABOUT MID-OCEAN REPAIRS
The joys of winter hunting know no limits. Drifting leaves and slanting sunlight may be the abiding images of autumn, but winter’s austerity is an acquired taste, like rare woodcock or straight whiskey.
Be Our Guest
GH’s Steve Burton (Jason) reflected on his daytime career and many on-screen loves as a guest on Digest’s podcast, Dishing With Digest.
MORE THAN SKIN DEEP
LAVONNE LEONG bites into the apples of the future.
On the Hunt with the Black Pumas
MEET THE BLACK PUMAS’ ADRIAN QUESADA AND ERIC BURTON — AN UNLIKELY PAIRING THAT WORKED OUT UNBELIEVABLY WELL
Sheree Burton Interview: Her Tips On Fitness, Nutrition & Motivation
“You just wait!” That’s what Sheree Burton has heard repeatedly over the years from people.
JIMMY'S BREWING UP ESCAPE
Burton battlers back in mix
JIMMY'S BREWING UP ESCAPE
Burton battlers back in mix
JIMMY IS BACK AT BREWERS
Hasselbaink’s huge challenge
GROVES IS BACK IN THE GROOVE WITH TIGERS
GLOUCESTER CITY’S New Meadow Park home is a world away from Maccabi Haifa’s Municipal Stadium in Israel, but for new Tigers boss Paul Groves it’s been the perfect transition.