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New York Vendée: Halfway and Smiling

Updated: Jun 14


The New York Vendée has been a race of surprises so far. Typically, this transatlantic race provides a fast, downwind challenge, with boats expected to finish in 8 or 9 days. But at the end of day 7, many of the fleet – Ollie included – are only just passing the halfway mark, whilst sailing upwind!

 

"Unusual" might be the understatement of the race so far! Even the start was unconventional, with a virtual line 100 miles offshore forcing skippers to plan their departure 24 hours early. A stubborn breeze threw plans awry, resulting in a sea of IMOCAs waiting around for the start.

 

"Picture 28 IMOCAs just bobbing around together in the middle of the ocean," laughs Ollie. But the humour turns to impatience as Ollie and three other boats crossed the start line a few seconds too early, incurring a 3-hour penalty.

 

Despite the early hiccups, Ollie found himself leading the pack for a glorious few hours. The penalty inevitably relegated him to the back, but the day ended on a high note – surrounded by dolphins and a breathtaking sunset.




 


Storm Clouds and Silver Linings

The next morning, amidst the storm clouds, a silver lining emerged. Spotting a new patch of wind, Ollie took a gamble and gybed east. This tactical genius allowed him to "cut the corner" and jump from last place to a well-deserved 3rd!

 

However, as the wind built, the foiling boats took flight, leaving Ollie (and his non-foiling craft) in their wake. By the first (and only) mark of the race, he was in 9th, still the leading non-foiling yacht.

 

Conditions remained a challenge – the weather defied predictions, with winds swirling in all direction from 0.5 to 35 knots. A strong 3-knot Gulf Current added another layer of complexity, affecting sail selection and boat speed. These unpredictable conditions demanded constant vigilance from the skippers.

 


Then came a particularly nasty gust which struck Ollie – a 12-knot wind jumping to 45 knots in a heartbeat. The result? Several broken mainsail battens.

 

Racing with only half the gears 

Faced with this setback, Ollie lowered the sail and made repairs. He fashioned a makeshift plug from monolithic carbon, glued the broken ends together, and reinforced the area with a laminate sleeve. While ingenious, the repair cost time and he could only fix one of the battens, meaning he could only re-hoist the sail partially, forcing him to sail with two reefs for the remainder of the race. This DIY delay inevitably dropped him back to 27th place.


In addition, the missing Gennaker and J2 (damaged beyond repair in the Transat CIC) continue to be a thorn in Ollie's side. He's forced to make constant compromises – choosing between over-powered speed with a larger sail or under-powered control with a smaller one. As he puts it, "it's like racing a car with only half the gears." But Ollie's focus remains clear: a conservative race to secure the Vendée Globe qualifying points. His position, ultimately, is secondary.

 

There's a lot of race left

By day six, some semblance of normalcy returned. Storm clouds gave way to sunshine and high-level clouds, making for glorious sailing conditions. Ollie even reported a pod of whales joining him for a while!

 

The leading boats have broken through the weather front, leaving the rest of the fleet in their wake. The remaining skippers have divided into two distinct groups. Most of the foilers opted for a more southerly route towards the Azores, while Ollie and the daggerboard fleet have chosen a northerly path, heading back up towards the rhumb line.



At the halfway mark, with 1,600 nautical miles covered in 7 days, Ollie reflects, "It's close racing – there are 10 boats within 100 miles of each other!" Behind his relaxed demeanour lies a focused mind, constantly seeking opportunities to optimise speed and strategy.

 

"The wind will decrease over the next few days as we approach the centre of a high-pressure system," he says. "Then, we might have to wait for the next weather system to catch up and propel us towards the finish. There's still a lot of race left, but for now, I'm actually enjoying it!"

 

This unexpected enjoyment, after a string of challenges, is a testament to Ollie's spirit and adaptability. The New York Vendée may be throwing in a mix of unpredictable challenges, but Ollie's definitely making the most of it.

Don't forget to follow along on the live race tracker! And if you aren't familiar with the race tracker interface, check out our blog - A Beginner's Guide to the Race Tracker.

 

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