Vendee Globe training

Roxy skipper Sam Davies recounts her three days of intense Open 60 training out of the Figaro training centre

Friday October 3rd 2008, Author: Sam Davies, Location: United Kingdom
I've just finished my last training session at Port La Foret Finistere Course au Large, before the Vendee Globe start.

I am totally exhausted, but really pleased with the three days of intense sailing that we have done, in the sort of conditions you would call "challenging!" - 20-30 knots of wind all the time!

The line-up was:
Jean Le Cam - VM
Michel Desjoyeaux - Foncia
Seb Josse - BT
Jeremie Beyou - Delta Dore
Armel Le Cleach - Brit Air
Yann Elies - Generali
Bilou - Veolia
Bernard Stamm - Poujolat
and ..... ME - Roxy!

The first thing to say that it is great to have all the nine boats together. Seven of us moored in Port La Foret, and two in Concarneau, that is great for all the teams to get together and compare their side of the action!

As we were in Port LaF, the briefing was held at 08.30 every morning in the class room at the Centre d'Entrainement. There is a debrief (with photos, previous days recorded tracks/weather and video) that is pretty interactive - as well as the skippers, there were our coaches, and some 'experts' that were on board selected boats so we discuss what we thought of the days work and compare our set-ups in order to analyse why the guy who was fast was better than the rest!

Then there is the briefing for the day - where we set objectives and a course. Then we zoom out to join the boats (our shore teams take them out whilst we are in the briefing) and set off.

Tuesday was the most tiring day of the three, as we had been set a few exercises to do. The objective for this 'stage' was solo, so we did all manoeuvres in mode 'solitaire' and we were not allowed to steer, but use the pilot all the time (except the start, of course!) First of all, we did two starts to practice. The second start was the real one (lucky for me as I was over early in the first!). The first leg was reaching, with the objective to be one reef more than the desired configuration. 10 minutes after the start, we had to shake out a reef. We were fast reaching 1 reef + solent. Then the next leg was an upwind leg. In order to be able to compare boat speed, the fleet re-groups at each mark, so the leaders slow down, and we all line up as we're used to doing in the Figaros to set off on a 'speed test'. Then, before the windward mark, we had to do a headsail change (plus the required tacks to reach the mark!) By this time there were 25 to 30 knots of wind, we bore away and it was open choice for the downwind leg, I went for my big gennaker because I wanted to check my pre-twist in my gennaker cable and check that rolling it in the breeze was okay. So, after the big effort of the hoist, we wizzed off downwind - too fast because it was only too soon that we had to roll, drop and gybe for the speedy reach back to the finish line in the bay!!

Wednesday was a bit easier - a course around the Glenans - with no extra sail changes (other than required by the wind / leg). We were also allowed to have help to hoist and drop our downwind sail in order to be able to compare speeds a bit better for a bit longer. I went for a smaller gennaker, sailing a bit higher. There were all kinds of configurations ranging from spinnakers, small gennakers, and some boats just going for genoas. The beat back was a bit harder, as I got stuffed in the line-up by Bilou, who messed up his position in our line, and gave me a big dose of dirty air - he did apologise after!

Thursday was a bit more complicated, as many of us had rendez-vous with the helicopter for a photo shoot, so we did our usual two starts, and one tight reach (in a 35-knot rain squall!!) before each heading off towards our shoot / base.

As you can imagine, we're all pretty knackered at the end of the three days. I was pleased because Roxy managed to more or less keep up with the new boats. It is SO much fun racing solo around the buoys in our Open 60s in these tough conditions. I'm pretty amazed at how close we manage to stay, and how, even solo in 25-30 knots, we are now able to sail them pretty much like we sail our Figaros! The only thing is that if you want to have fun and send it downwind, you have a LONG LONG beat back home!!!

And..... who was fast? Well, I wasn't at the front, but sometimes I wasn't last either! Although I can still see the difference in power between my Roxy and the new boats, I know that sometimes I will struggle to keep up and sometimes I will manage to sail the same speed. From my viewpoint, BT seemed to be doing the best on average, with the others taking it in turns at the front. It's going to be a very interesting Vendee Globe.......

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