After sailing more than 24,000 non-stop miles in 80 days, the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world finish was sweet for overall winner Yannick Bestaven, somewhat bittersweet for Charlie Dalin, who was first to cross the line, and almost bitter for Boris Herrmann, who collided with a fishing boat 90 miles from the finish.
With less than 24 hours to go, all three men had been in a position to become the overall winner. Dalin was greeted in Les Sables d’Olonne’s harbor with most of the usual fanfare reserved for the winner of the Vendée Globe, but the actual fireworks were saved for Bestaven who was closing in on the line at speeds of 20 knots or more. The Frenchman had been awarded a 10-hour, 15-minute time compensation for the search and rescue effort he participated in two months prior to find Kevin Escoffier, whose boat sank in the Southern Ocean.
Bestaven and his Imoca 60 Maître CoQ IV arrived almost 8 hours after Dalin, but that was within the time awarded him by an international jury for the rescue effort and gave him the trophy and the fireworks treatment. Dalin had been waiting on land to see if Bestaven would catch him. Both Frenchmen were elegant in their separate but almost equal victories.
“There are two winners in this Vendée Globe” Bestaven said on shore as he and Dalin greeted each other with smiles. Dalin seemed to agree. “The English talk about Line ‘Honours’ and I am happy with that,” he'd said in the press conference before Bestaven arrived. “It’s normal for boats that stop to help others to have time compensation and that’s out of my control.”
Herrmann, the only German in the race, had been awarded a 6-hour time allotment for participating in the Escoffier search. He was in position to grab a podium spot until he collided with a fishing boat 90 miles from the finish. The collision damaged one of his foils and forced him to slow down to 7 knots. Until then his boat had been moving at nearly 20 knots. It was his second close call of the race. Just days earlier, off the Azores, he had to convince the captain of a bulk carrier to give way, a conversation that went right down to the wire.
Herrmann finished fourth, but if the collision with the fishing boat was a bitter pill to swallow, he did not show any disappointment when he crossed the finish line at dawn. With a huge smile on his face, he lit a flare to celebrate just like the three skippers who had finished before him in the dark. “I am happy with the result, definitely," he said after finishing fifth.
Just finishing the Vendée Globe is considered a victory. Of the 33 skippers who started the race on November 8, eight dropped out for various reasons. More may drop out before it’s all over. Eighteen of the competitors are still out there. Some just cleared Cape Horn days ago and still have thousands of miles to go.
Although Bestaven was never considered a favorite to win the race, he was one of the two skippers who led the fleet for the longest time, 26 of the 80 days. He passed Australia’s Cape Leeuwin in third place and emerged first at Cape Horn with a 15-hour lead. He built a 440-mile lead in the South Atlantic, but for three days was becalmed south of Rio where his margin and his lead evaporated.
By the Azores he had fought his way back into contention, and his decision to head north in the Bay of Biscay, even though it was a longer route, proved to be the winner. There, he arrived on the heels of a low-pressure system that gave him the speed to close the gap on Dalin, who had chosen a more easterly and direct track to Les Sables d’Olonne. Bestaven went faster over the last 24 hours to arrive within the allotted time and beat Dalin and Louis Burton, who was the second skipper to cross the line. Burton got bumped down to third when Bestaven’s allotment made him the winner.
This was Bestaven’s second Vendée Globe. He was forced out of the 2008 Vendée Globe when he was dismasted on the Bay of Biscay less than 24 hours into that race.
Unlike Dalin, who showed up for the 2019-2020 Vendée Globe in a brand-new boat with the latest, largest foils and a large support team, Bestaven took his time to return to this year’s race with a small, hand-picked team, a 2015 Imoca and smaller foils.
In the post-race interview, Bestaven was asked about the foils, which caused problems for many of the skippers. The older Imoca 60s in the race did not have foils, and some were retrofitted with foils. Although the foils make the boats faster, their risks in offshore racing continue to be debated.
"I won with small foils, but that's no reason to keep small foils.” Bestaven said. “You have to see [the larger foils] as a turbo because you can't use them all the time, but when the conditions are right, it's really an accelerator. The boats must remain unsinkable. But it is certain that large foils are the solution."
One of the most heartwarming scenes was when Escoffier greeted Bestaven on the gangway where the two sailors had a long embrace. Bestaven recalled the night he searched for Escoffier. “It was a nightmare, standing on the deck all night looking for someone,” he said. “I really thought we might not find him.”
There will be another long embrace soon. Jean Le Cam, who plucked Escoffier out of the Southern Ocean in the dark of night, crossed the finish line in time to move from eighth up to fourth when his allotted time was applied.