Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI / Vendee Globe

King of the oldies

Jean le Cam home in fifth in the Vendee Globe

Wednesday February 6th 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

Le Cam’s elapsed time is 88 days 0 hours 12 mins 58 secs. His average speed over the theoretical course of 24,394 miles is 11.5 knots. He actually sailed 27,575 miles at an average of 13.1 knots.

SynerCiel arrived 9 days 21hrs 56 mins 18 sec after race winner François Gabart on MACIF and 1 day 21hrs 09 mins after fourth placed Virbac Paprec 3, skippered by Jean-Pierre Dick. Sixth placed Golding had just 88 miles to the finish when Le Cam crossed the line.

Jean Le Cam has once more proven himself one of the most experienced, talented and wily skippers on the Vendée Globe course, not only delivering a good result considering the relative lack of racing miles he had completed in the IMOCA class since he abandoned in the 2008-9 race, but again the charismatic Breton skipper has shared his experience with the public widely, passionately and with typically understated humour throughout the highs and lows of his race.

A late project

In fact Le Cam could be considered lucky to have made it into the race at all. Nine months before the start he still had hardly any backing for his quest to compete in his third Vendée Globe. Since his dramatic capsize following the bulb falling off the end of his VM Materiaux's keel just before Cape Horn in the last race, it had seemed like an uphill struggle for Le Cam to land a major backer this time. And starting and not finishing the last Barcelona World Race, due to a broken mast (ironically on Golding's present Gamesa), did not help his cause, especially considering the straitened economic times.

It was through the help of Jean-Pierre Dick's Absolute Dreamer organisation that Jean Le Cam was able to set off on this race. In February when he started the project the clock really was ticking. He took the Farr-designed former Gitana Eighty of Loick Peyron, which led the last Vendée Globe before dismasting in the Southern Ocean. The boat then became Renault ZE and completed the last Barcelona World Race sailed by Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris, coming home third. In that race it finished undamaged in any way. In Le Cam's hands it was given a serious weight loss programme to try and allow Le Cam to be more competitive with the newer generation boats.

Given the limited time before the start, Le Cam chose to focus his efforts on the preparation of the boat rather than training against his contemporaries in Port La Fôret. “To compare you need to be evenly matched otherwise it is useless," he said prior to the start. "I prefer to work to be ready and save my energy instead of pretending against guys who have been training for two years.”

The race itself runs something close to expectations. Le Cam, along with Mike Golding took an easterly route south down the North Atlantic and ended up falling behind the leaders who went west earlier and then were never able to recover.

The speed potential and weather conditions generally favoured the leaders in this race, also playing to the strengths of the newer boats. Behind, Le Cam found himself quickly locked into a group of close contemporaries he knew well, including Mike Golding and Dominique Wavre.

On entering the Roaring Forties, King Jean got a net wrapped around the bulb of his keel and he had no choice but to dive to release it. As soon as he succeeded in the operation he made sure, typically, that he sent images of his adventure. Short Le Cam videos are informative and entertaining, like when he learned of the penalties for the alleged infringement of the traffic separation zones off Cape Finisterre.

On the morning of 7 December Le Cam and Dominique Wavre found themselves side by side mid-Southern Ocean. Two of the most experienced ocean racers, friends with huge respect for each other, sailing within a few metres of each other on a flat sea watched by an attendant albatross. It was one of the iconic images of this race. They sailed in company for a few hours before their courses diverged.

On 22 December he positioned himself better than his rivals relative to a depression moving south fast down the Indian Ocean and this move caused him in three days to get nearly 500 miles ahead of Golding.

Across the Pacific he maintained a relatively comfortable lead over his pursuers. He passed Cape Horn in fifth position close to the tip of Tierra del Fuego in the early morning with the Cape Horn light still illuminated. But in many respects this was the start of an Atlantic climb which was purgatory.

The South Atlantic offered little mercy to Le Cam and the group in their pursuit of the leading four boats. Winds were light and variable, the seas often confused, and most struggled with inaccuracies of the weather models. Increasingly Le Cam had to watch the comeback of Mike Golding, who from being nearly 500 miles behind in the South Pacific were swapping the lead between Rio and Recife. But Le Cam managed to hold and slowly extend his lead over his British rival approaching the Equator.

But the finale to their race proved to be a chess game around the Azores high pressure. Le Cam, who had the small speed advantage, went west – sailing more miles but to be rewarded with faster downwind and reaching angles – while Golding went east, fighting lighter winds but trying to sail shorter miles.

Le Cam’s popularity in the race is evident at the finish. The crowds in Les Sables d’Olonne always ask to dream the Vendée Globe dream, but Le Cam – more than most – lives the dream and shares it from the heart in glorious technicolour.

His overview of the race: “This Vendée Globe was very difficult, especially towards the end. There has been very few good moments, but because they were so rare, they were exceptional. When you spend four days off the coast of Brazil so shaken you can’t have coffee or piss, the slightest calmer moment feels so great. The contrasts is the most important.”

On his popular on board videos: "Videos were made to share. You shoot one and then you watch them and you’re supposed to edit them. But I didn’t want to cut or remove anything, I kept it all, even if it cost more money in the end.”

On passing Cape Horn where he capsized last time “Cape Horn was a great moment, of course, I was lucky enough to sail very close to it and to see the coast. It was part of my history in this race because that’s where I capsized in the past and of course you really remember that kind of thing.

He said that finishing the Vendée Globe at all is a victory “There are so many types of victories, regardless of the rankings. Participating in this Vendée Globe is one because a year ago, we had nothing. We worked hard and I want to thank my team for agreeing to take up the challenge with me, with so little means and so little time. Being here today is a victory. If that is not a victory, I really wonder what is.”

Et ……..Voilà, Le Cam’s stock phrase “ I tend to say “voilà” a lot. We use too many words and sometimes, it makes things more difficult to understand. It’s the tone that means the most.”

On diving to remove a net off the keel: “When I found out about the net stuck in my keel, I knew I was in deep shit. I tried many different things but I couldn’t find a solution so I decided to dive. I wasted a lot of time with that, because first I sailed at 12 knots instead of 15 or 17 and then I had to stop for several hours. But it feels so great when you finally take it out!”

On being happy with his performance: "Because we had so little time to prepare this project, I was even happier to be part of it and to be in the race. So of course it’s been tough, it’s been a difficult challenge, but that made me feel very comfortable with the project, and even happier. And I couldn’t have done better than 5th, against people who have had sponsors for ten years and who have been training for four! I’m so happy with my performance!”

On winning the battle of the 'oldies': “I’m the first among the skippers in their fifties. I had thought about many possible titles or things to win, but not that. At one point I was stuck between two roastbeefs (nickname the French have for the Brits), it was like a reverse sandwich, where I would be the bread!”

Sailing or acting? “Between sailing and acting, it’s hard to tell which one I prefer. I love the performing arts, it’s what I do in my videos, in a way. And during that race, I got to do both!”

On his nemesis, Mike Golding: “If I had finished behind Mike Golding, I would have been mad! Finishing last wouldn’t have been a problem, as long as Mike Golding is even further behind! (He laughs). I don’t even know what I’ll do tomorrow, so I can’t say when I’ll visit the school again. Already knowing your schedule for the next day is so boring…”

Highs and lows…. “On the whole I like contrasts. Yesterday I was close to tears, with terrible weather, and today it all got better, and there were so many people to greet me. That made this race a true victory for me, a victory you, the public, gave me. When it comes to that, there’s no need for ranking, it’s my victory and it’s yours. I thank you for that.”

Burnt finger: “I have my finger in a plastic cup of cold water because I burnt my hand with one of the flares I used to celebrate. They keep telling us about safety, but this is ridiculous! Out there I could burn my hand, it would fall on the floor, set fire to my sleeping bag and eventually burn the entire boat!

On choosing not to train at Port La Fôret but to focus on working with a small team to prepare the boat: “I chose not to go to the Port-la-Forêt training centre and I think it was a good move because if I had been there, training with the 'jet planes', I would have been completely depressed at the start. It was such a smart decision. And anyway, even if I had wanted to join them, I had no time and no money to do so. “

On his race story, value for money! "When you look at how things go one race after another, you realise there’s no choice but to have huge budgets and means to win the Vendée Globe. I’m in favour of making sure money and financial criteria have less impact in the world of sport. And because of that, maybe my 5th place on this boat this year is even better than my 2d place in 2004-2005. What I know for sure is that it is a more beautiful performance this time, we’ve turned the race into a beautiful thing, along with the people who helped and supported me. We did something nice and we wrote a beautiful story.”

The Vendée Globe of Jean Le Cam in figures

Biggest distance covered in 24 hours : 432 miles (18kts average) on the day of 30 November
- Les Sables – Equator : 11d 20h 08mn (does not beat his own record from 2004-1005 of 10d 11h 28mn)
- Equator to Cape of Good Hope : 12d 16h 40mn (record JP Dick 12d 02h40mn)
- Good Hope – Cap Leeuwin : 14d 03h 25mn (record F Gabart 11d 06h 40mn)
- Cap Leeuwin – Cap Horn : 20d 03h 03mn
- Cap Horn – Equator : 16d 11h 41mn
- Equator – Les Sables d’Olonne : 12d 17h 14min


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