Vendée Globe 2020, all hail Jean Le Cam!

Great to see an AIS MOB device helping with the amazing rescue of Vendée Globe solo racer Kevin Escoffier early this morning (Universal Time). At 14:00 UTC yesterday afternoon, he’d had to transition from surfing his foiling IMOCA 60 PRB at 25+ knots in 10-13 foot seas about 840 miles southwest of Cape Town — 3rd in what was then a 32-boat fleet — to grabbing a survival suit and jumping into his liferaft, all in about two minutes. Yike!

But with guidance from race headquarters and MRCC Cape Town, Jean Le Cam on Yes we Cam! diverted course and located Escoffier a few hours later, though it took much of the night to find him again and also get slowed down and close enough that Escoffier could grab a tossed life ring and join Le Cam aboard. Hero!

Yes we Cam! -- with Escoffier as passenger -- is back in the race, only 17,680 nm to go
Yes we Cam! — with Escoffier as passenger — is back in the race, only 17,680 nm to go

Actually, I and many other Vendee fans, plus the racers, have already been admiring Le Cam for weeks. For most of the race the aging Yes we Cam! has been the only non-foiling boat in the top ten — check this Nov 13 homage — while 61-year-old Jean is easily the oldest skipper among them (I’m pretty sure). And, look, he was right back at it earlier this evening, making 17 knots while his new passenger Escoffier presumably stays out of the way. Kevin, in fact, may well be sleeping, given that PRB’s “Retired” designation on the Vendee Globe tracking map seems rather understated.



Kevin Escoffier after rescue
Kevin Escoffier after rescue

The screenshots above are from a must-see video showing an understandably exhilarated Escoffier talking with nearby racers on VHF while an exhausted-looking Le Cam was apparently sending the scene ashore via a Skype/satellite connection. The communications on these boats is also remarkable (and great for fans), but what happened to PRB is definitely “something {they} need to look at” (maybe said a little stronger in the original French?):

It’s unbelievable what happened. The boat folded up on a wave at 27 knots. I heard a bang, but to be honest, I didn’t need to hear that to know what had happened. I looked at the bow. It was at 90°. In a few seconds, there was water everywhere. The stern was under water and the bow was pointing up to the sky. The boat split in half in front of the mast bulkhead. It was as if she folded up. I promise. I’m not exaggerating. There was an angle of 90° between the stern and the bow.

At any rate, there’s good coverage of the rescue at the Vendée Globe site, Yachting World, the Guardian, and many other places I’m sure. But I’m still not clear about what combination of EPIRB, AIS MOB, and satellite texting/phone helped the racers and rescue centers coordinate. Then again they are just tools exceptionally well used by Escoffier, who seemed to do everything fast and right, and Le Cam(!). I hope we’ll learn more about the details of his heroic seamanship, and it only seems sweeter that Jean himself was similarly rescued in the 2008 Vendée.

Alex Thomson fixed his damaged bow but then...
Alex Thomson fixed his damaged bow but then…

I’ve been following the Vendée and other ocean races for years, especially when I’m home in winter dark just when the Roaring Forties are somewhat reasonable for relatively small racing sailboats. The 2004 race was especially memorable because my friend (and battery guy) Bruce Schwab was able to blog from Ocean Planet, including how he monkeyed himself aloft and way, way aft to fix his PC radar mount, underway and alone.



While there are no Americans in this year’s Vendée, the content coming off the boats is ever better. And there’s no better place to see what’s possible than the Alex Thomson Racing Hub. Well, “was” is more accurate now that they’ve taken down all the live boat and human sensor info, like the decibel level measured where Thomson tries to sleep on his latest Hugo Boss… often a roaring 110 at speed in a seaway.

But you can watch Thomson talking about the noise from “The Beast’s” indoor cockpit, or up on deck, as he romped to first place as Boss crossed the Equator. Then he had to spend days repairing structural damage in the bow, successfully, and I was still excited. Except then one rudder got damaged irreparably, and now he’s headed to Cape Town, obviously knackered. Drat!

But there are also three English women on the Vendée course during my very hunkered down December, and I’ll certainly keep an eye on Jean Le Cam (while trying to recall all those French classes I did poorly in). Are you watching? Have a favorite racer? Or a favorite site for following the race?

Jean Le Cam, hero
Jean Le Cam, hero!



Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

32 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Dang, I managed to publish this just after midnight, so my “today” perspective actually means Tuesday, December 1.

    Also, I just watched a good video rundown of the rescue details at Sea Wolves TV…

    https://youtu.be/dpx0i0hjRtk

    … where the same well-informed Captain Flo frequently posts Vendee videos:

    http://seawolvestv.com/

  2. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Interesting! It turns out that racers Samantha Davies and Romain Attanasio are a couple with a nine-year-old son at home, and she’s currently ahead:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/10/sports/sailing/sailing-vendee-globe-yachts.html

  3. Jan says:

    Hello Ben, cool to see this iconic event finds its fans in the US too while Macron chatskypes with Jean and Kevin about the rescue to pay respect about this french event of highest national importance 🙂 Me being german following it full on since 2012 edition ( VG does not have too many spectators in GER either ), Alex professional media work lured me into it while myself I’m really far from being a racer… I’m into relaxed classic champagne sailing … so sad to have Alex dropping out, not checking the 4h00 UTC tracker anymore since then … still it remains pulsating fun to watch all theese small vlogs uploaded via sat. Even when the skippers try hard to come across professionl, cool, calm and collected, it tells so much between the lines about this massive hardcore challenge they’ve put themselves in.

    Its an analogy about life itself, racing is just one stone of the mosaic.

    Beyou mentally putting himself back together to go offshore again way behind everyone else, Pip who fights so hard to race with her charming old bucket while writing this beautiful deeply philosophical emails in the middle of the night. Alex to loose 20 years of blood sweat and tears within a blink right after this heroic repair, Louis Burton who pushes so hard with his small funds in the background with Armel’s racewinning boat from 2016.. and his wife as teammanager… Jean, Kevin, Thomas, Charlie, Sam … I was really worried all night when Jean lost sight of Kevins life raft and more boats were called in to help with SAR ops one by one… I feel deeply connected with them on my sofa… and last but not least Boris holding up the german flag for the first time in this race, doing a steady job. In his initial vlogs he came across a litte bit too german and slightly arrogant I thought but now I feel he found the right authentic style to really let us know about his planet.

    I’m really hooked to all this drama trickling thru in steady drops for 80 days… while I consider myself very far from being a guy who frequentliy watches sports events. Well, I started following sailing races once a while since 2012 … VG for me is a deeply philosophical event.
    Wow.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Very good to hear from you, Jan. I was feeling a little lonely with my Vendee obsession!

      I’m watching the latest “Vendee Live {EN}” right now, and heart’s out to Sam as she arrives in Cape Town with the intention of fixing her boat and finishing the course as an unofficial racer. Also, toward the end, they go live with your countryman Boris Herrmann, who seems amazingly relaxed. Also some interesting info about how he’s using his autopilot.

      https://youtu.be/MUUjYDGE_O8

      But you’ve probably already watched 😉

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        PS My interest in offshore solo racing goes back to the early 70’s and got intensified by a very lucky encounter with Eric Tabarly just as he won the ’76 OSTAR, by surprise after weeks of no radio contact. I happened to up on deck at dawn in Newport Harbor (because we were on a mooring for a much smaller boat 😉 when Pen Duick VI glided in, all sails dropped to the deck, and Tabarly’s shore team came alongside and helped him to a dock.

        So I rowed over and was among about 15 people — mostly European press — who greeted him (after he walked over to a phone booth and apparently called his mom). I even tagged along and got to see where he navigated the big ketch, along with the large crocks of butter and jam in his galley.

        It’s a story I might write up someday because it left an indelible impression. In fact, he became a hero to me and for the days afterward I would occasionally yell out “Éric!”

        https://rwyc.org/club-history/ostar-history/ostar-1976/

        https://www.morganscloud.com/2013/06/12/eric-tabarly/

  4. Jan says:

    Great story, Ben !
    Yes, heartbreaking indeed how Sam lost the russian UFO roulette, she and her well prepped boat package were totally ready to make it all the way up possibly onto a top three podium as the first female solo sailor, now the pressure is on for Isabelle Joschke.

    Only two out of eight brand new and well funded 2gen foilers still in competition with a reasonable chance for the podium and only Apivia is without greater damage at this point.

    PRB / Escoffier pushed too hard and broke the boat in two pieces.
    Juicy sidenote from 2008/9 VG when Vincent Riuo / PRB rescued Le Cam:
    https://www.yachtingworld.com/blogs/elaine-bunting/prb-goes-to-court-for-rescue-costs-14100

    King Jean.
    Writing history with his small partially self-fund-raised campaign on an old and on paper utterly non-competitive daggerboard boat perfectly keeping the pace with the high end campaigns,
    mainly because the mostly high seastates until now have not allowed full throttle for the foilers very often.

    And Jean has shown swift routing always close to the shortest route.

    The boat name YES WE CAM ! was born when he could’nt find a main sponsor for the boat name.
    Jean’s campaign well under one million.

    This was final funding for 2016 on the very last minute :
    https://www.boatsnews.com/story/23042/support-jean-le-cam-in-his-participation-in-the-vendee-globe

    For comparison, Boris campaign with Yacht club de Monaco and a 2nd gen foil-pimped boat from 2015 is at approx 15million, campaigns with new builds like HUGO BOSS or APIVIA are estimated to be double at least.

    ++++++

    Louis Burton now with autopilot problems, loosing plenty miles, sigh.

    ++++++

    Speaking of, AP’s are on a mindblowingly hole new level in this edition,
    massive amount of sensor data which can be used to drive the boat.

    Alex AP’s most likely were the most sophisticated ones :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azHMHj3zax0&t=1s

    Boris showing AP options:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBiKHe8kx5w

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zS6-wfao0Fo

    B&G H5000 pilots as a hardware base, running hardcore racing software :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAQzos_EMlA&t=2s

    No false alarms with Halo :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9lzyvWkwRU

    Anti-collision system OSCAR also plugged into AP’s

    https://www.oscar-navigation.com

    P.S.

    VG for a intro fix….45min documentary RELENTLESS on Alex’ 2016

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puIgYu7q7ck

  5. Jan says:

    Usage of digital distress beacons.

    There’s some mixed information about the usage of the EPIRP but this is what I think I gathered how the tools at hand got used perfectly:

    – a short text distress message via regular satcomms to his team

    – manages to grabs survival suit, EPIRP, and emergency grab bag

    – manages to free life raft container from cockpit floor already under water

    -activates EPIRP in life raft

    -also activates AIS MOB beacon he’s used to carry in his foul weather gear pockets under the survival suit

    -Le cam is the first to pick up the AIS beacon locally before EPIRP gets picked up by MRCC’s

    -my understanding EPIRP signal is overlayed onto drift models later into rescue ops by Meteo france /VG race direction / MRCC’s

    VG live english Dec 1st:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGdROVw3Rac

    interview VG race director, english subtitles
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnASA6Pjjuo

    in french:
    Kevin’s account of activation sequence of the beacons 4:10 – 4:35 min into the vid
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojFCUzsWGVo

  6. Jan says:

    Louis Burton does not want to disclose the bouquet of problems which slowed him down but he seems to be very happy and back in the race again… his etmal is back to “normal” …YT automatic subtitles are a bit messy like my rusty french skills…and like his boat after frantic repairs….also pressing thumbs for him while he’s not shooting so many vlogs… Louis also is capable to keep the pace on continously impressive levels with an underdog-budget like Le Cam. Hats off!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSF2Bf-uKQs

  7. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Jan, I love your posts and am slowing working my way through all the interesting links. THANKS!

    My little detail of the day was when the French Navy picked up Escoffier in a RIB and…

    “Le Cam’s request for additional food to replace that required to feed shipwrecked Escoffier was granted and the 61 year old Le Cam who enjoys fine food took a bag containing dry crisprolls, salted butter and fine Henaff Breton pate.”

    It turned out easy to buy various Henaff pates plus Pommery Meaux mustard and Petits Toasts online, so I should be able to toast Jean in style soon.

  8. Graham Hunter says:

    A good website to get info on the Vendee Globe is a youtube channel called “Sea Wolves” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2nxFvnRF7w

    Its run by a fellow from Amsterdam and he gives good guidence to the race with respect to technical aspects like weather routing, sail selection autopilot etc.

  9. Graham Hunter says:

    I should have read all the comments first. Sorry you guys are allready watching Seawolves

  10. Jan says:

    …and with my comment about the first women on VG podium I unfortunately forgot about Ellen Mc Arthur who made it to second place in 2001..at the age of 24….so its less pressure for Isabelle Joschke in 2020 after all…

    “MacArthur first came to general prominence in 2001 when she came second in the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world sailing race in her Owen Clarke/Rob Humphreys designed Kingfisher(named after her sponsors, Kingfisher plc), and subsequently MacArthur was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to sport. At 24, she was the youngest competitor to complete the voyage.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellen_MacArthur

    Didac Costa, a spanish firefighter from Barcelona is sailing former Imoca Kingfisher also in this years edition with a underdog budget

    +++

    http://www.gitana-team.com/en/news_actu.aspx

    One of the Ultimes hit an ufo and damaged rudder or foil north of Cape Verde Islands and turned back to home port so unfortunately, the ultimaitve match race on Jules Verne trophy 🙁

    Boris Herrmann used to be part of the Idec Sport crew, the Ultime Trimaran who holds Jules Verne trophy to date.

    Sodebo still 600nm ahead of Idec Sort record from 2017.

    https://tropheejulesverne.sodebo.com/#cartographie

    +++

    Whale collision:

    This might have happened to Sam Davies…
    Kito de Pavant, another french sailing legend had to abandon his Imoca during 2016 edition,
    Kito took the videodisks with him so on a rare occasion the collision opponent, a whale could be identified :

    2:29 into the vid

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsbp2hRZCf4

  11. Jan says:

    Idec Sport is quite an old Ultim Tri with famous skippers.

    This link gives a good overview of the status of Ultime projects in and out of water, also good reference for keeping track with boats histories and skippers.

    https://www.ultimboat.com/solo-banque-populaire-vii

    Breymeier who’s hosting VGlive this week has Ultim background too.
    Is it only me or is he cracking jokes a bit on the decades old Imoca-boats still going on the race track ? 🙂

  12. Jan says:

    See how Damien Seguin celebrates successful AP repairs with tribute to Le Cam.
    Damien is a true single handed sailor, paralympic medal winner… he races in steady pace with only one hand.
    Le Cam helped him extensively getting his boat ready.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4x3_7YroDM

  13. Jan says:

    Thanks Ben, did’nt know Malizia is the only VG 2020 project to plug OSCAR into AP,
    also thanks for the nice round up on OSCAR and very interesting comments on the Oscar-thread.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-glEzGsJwlc

    VGlive english from today, a french mental coach with strong sailing background finding the right powerful and equally humble words, describing the beauty of this wholistic planet of blue water sailing embedded in this race / event.

    And he perfectly describes the apologues/allegories to every day life challenges on land.

    Things change so fast, another comment draft which I did’nt send became outdated within 12hours,
    the majory down to UFO’s russian roulette.

    Both Jule Verne attempts stopped after unrepairable damages to foils and rudders,
    Sodebo Ultim in the indian ocean at arround 40% of total distance.

    With Apivia / Charlie Dalin reporting severe foil damage at 1800 UTC yesterday EVERY pre-race favorite with potential to enter the podium with one of the eight new boat projects has been hit with severe damages beyond the daily minor ones now.

    Many skippers had to climb the mast, quite a few ripped J2 head sails which needed patching and sowing.

    The three non foilers with mindblowing performance lead by King Jean are stuck in light winds at the moment, five boats so close to each other within 2nm, this has never been the case in the southern ocean according to the experts.

    This editions southern oceans weather continues to be very different from the regular symmetric chain of strong lows heading east, so many sailors reporting heavy lack of rhythm in wind and waves.

    I’m still super hooked while I really miss the true vlog-master of the human touch in english, Alex Thomson.

    Cheers,
    Jan

  14. Jan says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqLU6aMZ-LQ

    Dec 15 1200 UTC tracker, five boats next to each other in the southern ocean

  15. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    The latest Vendee Live #30 [EN] includes an interesting interview with Kevin Escoffier, much of it about the details of when he abandoned PRB.

    https://youtu.be/scDR3FB-p8U

    And happy to add that Jean Le Cam has been given a minus 16 hour 15 minute finish line time compensation for his rescue work, and so he’s even closer to a win than his current 4th place position looks.

    https://www.sailingscuttlebutt.com/2020/12/16/jury-award-for-vendee-globe-rescue/

  16. Jan says:

    Indeed. Watching VGlive english version gives my days its rythm to date. Andi Robertson is my priest and not-from-this-world Ryan Breymeyer performed as worthy stand-in last week.
    I’m even back to check 0400 UTC tracker which I lost ambition for when Alex had to retire.
    So many skippers and boats of different age and different polars still within contact to the podium in the southern oceans, this is quite new for VG.

    #roijean is trending on french Twitter, he won a special price dedicated to him only during the popular french vote for the sailor of the decade hosted by french sailing association.

    https://twitter.com/hashtag/RoiJean?src=hashtag_click

    https://twitter.com/FFVoile/status/1339560631473762305?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1339560631473762305%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.lequipe.fr%2FVoile%2FActualites%2FFranck-cammas-elu-marin-de-la-decennie%2F1206849

  17. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Love Jean Le Cam’s “Nuit de Noël” Facebook live video:

    https://fb.watch/2AzmtUOv-t/

    Merry Christmas to all!

    • Jan says:

      Yes, merry X-mas everyone!
      Spotted two McMurdo AIS EPIRPs in Jeans noel-vid….seems strange to me its still the only one ( I think ) on the market with integrated MOB AIS…Escoffier-rescue ( again ) was a nice proof of concept for MOB AIS signals even when VHF gets blocked so fast in rough seas… dear Santa can I wish for occasional faster innovation circles in yachtie electronics please 🙂

  18. Bruce Schwab says:

    Happy NY guys! What a great race to watch. Yes, I get nostalgic at times and wish I’d had another shot…but then I wake up.

  19. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    “The 61 year old veteran on his fifth Vendée Globe crossed at 2018hrs UTC. Rounding in seventh place it is Le Cam’s seventh rounding of the Cape and his second consecutive solo rounding on the same boat.”

    We celebrated Jean Le Cam’s Cape Horn rounding with a good Cabernet, Henaff French Pork Pate de Campagne, and Pagen wholegrain KrispRolls. The old dude’s got good taste too, and these long lasting items will be regulars in Gizmo’s special snacks locker:

    https://www.mypanier.com/products/henaff-french-countryside-pork-pate

    https://www.amazon.com/Pagen-Wholegrain-Complets-Krisprolls-225g/dp/B0886ZQ5N2/

  20. Jan says:

    What
    an
    incredible
    race.

    Soo many changes in rankings and close match racing, smaller budgets on consinstent competitive levels, way more high pressure / light wind challenges and statistically less boats who need to retire.

    Impressed how transparent Boris, Pip and others share their mental highs and lows with us.

    Miss Alex.

    Wow.

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