Vendée Globe  
93 days 22 hours 52 minutes

Race Direction taking the strain

For the pairs of co-skippers the Barcelona World Race itself may only span some 90-odd days at sea but behind the scenes in the Catalan capital the planning and preparation which goes in to ensuring the race is safe, it is fair, it is commercially viable and it is followed all around the globe, continues year round, almost seamlessly from one edition to the next. 

After the last edition finished in 2011 the debrief process began immediately, developing a whole raft of new ideas and improvements mooted for this edition. Now, as the weeks count down to race start time, many of these initiatives and changes are now being delivered. This is a very key stage for each department.

The three strong team which is Race Direction have just joined with the FNOB to host a very successful forum for all the skippers, a chance to learn and discuss many of the new and different aspects which will feature in this upcoming race. Assistant Race Director Guillaume Evrard, who worked on the 2010/2011 race, reports:

“At 75 days before the start of the race it was good to get everyone together to speak about security and safety, Race Management presented how we will work together with the skippers on the water, how our shifts will work so they know who will be on when and what to expect, how the daily schedules will work and all that kind of thing. We explained the crisis management plan and the crisis unit – who is involved in what and who does what. There was a good briefing from SASEMAR the Spanish MRCC, visiting the local rescue helicopter base. There the skippers got a first hand view of how that works. We had a presentation from Marcel Van Triest, the race meteorologist, who is our ice project manager who with CLS will follow the ice situation.

Ice exclusion zone

For this upcoming edition of the Barcelona World Race there will not be ice safety gates – the series of control gates which effectively kept the skippers slaloming back to the north periodically so they did not get too low into the unsafe ice zones. This time there will be a mapped out exclusion zone which will be announced as far in advance as possible, subjected to minor tweaks.

Evrard explains: “It is like a big polygon made by points each five degrees apart, so we can move it and organise it well before the boats get there. We had a good discussion from CLS and Marcel with the skippers and showed just how that is going to work and how the ice will be tracked and followed during the race.” 
The exclusion zone will be more towards the limit of the ice and so will give more opportunity for the skippers to sail where they want to sail. The skippers were happy with this. During the last races over the years we have tried different ways but the key thing is we don’t want to go into an ice area at all. It is a solution to try and see if it is better than ice gates. The skippers asked to have the points as early as possible and we will try to do that for them. We will not have a good view of the ice situation really until ten or 15 days before the race and then we will see during the race. So we get a good idea what it can be. We will set the main outline around the 12th December we think, when we have the skippers briefing. We give them the best outline we can at that moment, and then we can move some points of the exclusion area during the race.” 

We also had a presentation from Yann Groleau from Geovoile which is the company which will look after all tracking of the boats and also the ranking files, extracted from the tracking. So the skippers well all shown how it will all work.” 

For the viewing public and the racing boats the tracking will be updated four times a day. It is the same information that the boats get on the race course as the public see, but Race Direction and the MRCCs (safety rescue organisations) will see the tracker update every thirty minutes.

The Jury were presented to the skippers with the Sailing Instructions presented, there was information about the TSS in Gibraltar, some points through the SI’s which were clarified.

No seals on the engines

This briefing was quite similar to what we did in 2010. But here we gave the skippers more of a chance to take part in the decisions, a means of including them in the decision making process. For example one proposal of Race Management and the Race Committee this time is not to put a seal on the engines for this race. This was a proposal we made and discussed with the skippers. At the end we decided no seals on the engines. So that is different from the briefing last time. Having the briefing now catches skippers when they are relaxed and focused not in stressed fog of race mode – thinking when can I see my family, when can I sleep, when must I see the media? At two weeks before the start they have neither time nor concentration. That is why we do it two months before the start.” 

There was a medical briefing with Barcelona’s famous Quirón Teknon hospital and Dr. Gualis who leads the medical safety cover.

So preparing the briefing took a few weeks out of our schedule but at the same time we are preparing the race. In the race management team we are all following different tasks and responsibilities. Hubert Lemonnier is in charge of communication with all the MRCC stations in areas which the race will enter and from where entries come from. So we contact them and explain the field, the boats, how they should follow the positions and when we will be in contact with them again.” 

As with other similar races there is a dedicated, closed access safety website for the MRCCs. This streamlines and delivers comprehensive accurate information to the MRCCs as fast as possible in the event of an emergency. Typically it will have all of the information and images about the boat and the skippers including their medical history and such like.

“All of the MRCCs are being contacted now and that is a big, important and detailed job”, Evrard says.

Jacques Caräes, race director, is refining the crisis plan and organisation right now. He liaises directly with the FNOB’s direction to help all of the different projects which are at different stages in their preparation, problem solving and trying to ensure that all the teams are fully optimised and ready for the start on 31st December.

No passage through the Cook Strait

Evrard himself is responsible for the liaison with Geovoile and delivering the rankings. And between the three strong race direction team are working on the Sailing Instructions, Rules, Measurement and the Notice of Race amendments along with FNOB.

The big change to the course from this edition is that there is no passage through the Cook Strait. The course is therefore shorter than in 2010 by very approximately 2000 miles less which represents about six or seven days at normal IMOCA 60 race speeds. Some estimates have the winners finishing in around 80 days.

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