Vendée Globe: these foils that can turn against their skippers

The six boats that left the Vendée Globe until Sunday December 20 were all equipped with the latest generation foils. This is a statistic that nobody can be happy about, but which confirms Jean Le Cam’s oracle before the start: “I wish them a lot of fun, I would rather be in my place than in theirs”, said the one who would become the lifeguard hero of the 2020-2021 edition, after having blown away everyone in the descent of the Atlantic. Without imagining the hecatomb, the “King Jean” was worried about the grip (width) of the foilers extending over more than 20 meters, twice as much as the traditional boats with right daggerboard, and therefore more exposed to shocks.

Lack of time to test the foils

After forty-two days at sea, the skipper Damien Seguin, who has prepared his boat in the yard belonging to Jean Le Cam, says nothing else, by phone, from the south of New Zealand where he sails. “ My boat and Jean’s are old, but we have made them considerably lighter, they are safe and we know them by heart. The recent foilers have been penalized by the confinement, they have few hours at sea ”, said this private browser with one hand (read below) who experienced a gennaker damage (front wing NDLR) on the night of Saturday 19 to Sunday 20 December.

The absence of the large front jib risks depriving it, at the finish, of the fair reward of an exceptional performance so far. “Sailing problems we all have. They have nothing to do with the design of the boat. Foilers, they are confronted with shocks, but it goes beyond: the giant mustaches installed on the new generation boats have never been confronted with the conditions of the great South and it is not certain that they are adapt to it one day. “

“We’re not doing so badly”

Armel Le Cléac’h certainly won the Vendée Globe in 2017 with foils, but his had nothing in common with those of today and he had, moreover, hardly used them. In light weather conditions and not too rough seas, large whiskers work wonders, but not in the crossed seas of the great south, with recurring winds above 30 knots (60 km / h) which oblige skippers. foilers to slow down their powerful machines.

On pain of taking enormous risks, like Kevin Escoffier who was on the attack in heavy weather when his boat broke up. “I sail in Port-la-Forêt and I trained with the fastest foilers, continues Damien Seguin. In the regatta, we can’t do anything against them, but we knew very well, Jean and I, that the verdict of the great South would be different. Tells him that we are sailing in the second division… Maybe, but frankly, we are not doing so badly. “

Weather models ill-suited for foilers

Who wants to go far must be able to rely on his mount and spare the guy. However, boats with straight daggerboards are less stressful to adjust, since the skipper does not have to spend his time monitoring and possibly modifying the angle of entry into the water of the foils.

Since the start of this atypical edition, the foilers have also been handicapped in terms of weather conditions by not very beneficial wind conditions. Crosswind tacks were rare, and they often had to navigate with the wind in the nose, a configuration which was not favorable to them.

Vendée Globe: Kevin Escoffier recovered by the French Navy

But the most unexpected downside is that marine forecasters, so good for traditional boats, have largely lost their Latin for foilers: mathematical models to anticipate swell conditions for mustache boats simply do not exist in the great South.

“We’re not going to create weather factories for ten guys who come by every four years, exclaims Damien Seguin. Here the shape of the waves is particular, one could say natural since it does not meet any earth in its path, and that poses a lot of problems for them. ” This is confirmed by the very experienced Yann Eliès, who took part in the preparation of Charlie Dalin’s foiling boat, leader for three weeks: “The computer has trouble interpreting the different kinds of sea for foilers”.


Damien Seguin, the Vendée Globe in one hand

“We have to stop talking about his missing hand, he’s a great sailor, period. “ The formula of the great Loïck Peyron pleases Damien Seguin, born without a left hand, even if the message that sport is within everyone’s reach is fundamental for him. Double Paralympic champion in 2004 and 2016, Damien Seguin then embarked on ocean racing, placing 6e at the last Route du Rhum (French solo transatlantic race). He navigates thanks to a winch (reel used to hoist the sails), a crank of which is equipped with a sleeve where he can slide his arm.


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