Might it be time for a Vendee Globe Cruiser’s class?
All this time spent watching this latest Vendee Globe round-the-world race has got our Spirit of Tradition designer mind tingling: Might there be a way to channel the spirit of the original around-alone sailors of the Sunday Times Golden Globe race of 1969? If you recall, nine competitors started and only one finished, Robin Knox-Johnston. Could we update his original 32’ wooden double-ended ketch Suhaili with today’s highly-tuned racing machines?
Let’s do a mini design brief for the Vendee Globe racers and find out.
For the last few iterations, to better manage the risk and the cost of the fleet, and to keep older boats competitive, the Vendee has been restricted to a specific class called the IMOCA 60. This rule creates beasts of boats that are wide, flat, powerful and very challenging to sail for any but the most talented and motivated; what we consider frankly crazy sailing here in America.
IMOCA 60’s take real skill to handle, week after week through the Southern Ocean.
This year’s addition of foil-assisted craft only raises the ante for disaster. Through its history the Vendee has been a race of attrition: Only fifty percent of all the boats that have ever started the race have made it across the finish line. IMOCA 60’s take their toll on gear, on you, and on the ability of engineers to anticipate the loads these powerful craft put on their structures.
Amateurs Do The Race
That has not stopped several otherwise sane, seriously un-young amateurs to attempt the race. This year 66 year-old American Rich Wilson and 65 year-old Pieter Heerema acquired relatively modern IMOCA 60’s. And went to the gym to get in good enough physical shape to handle these boats, pass the safety courses and then hoist the sails up the 90-foot spar, and trim as much as 6,000 square feet of sail. Both shaped up at the start at Les Sables D’Olonne. And both are now nursing their boats, and themselves, around the world. Good for them.
But, what if you didn’t care about actually entering the Vendee? What if you wanted the satisfaction of proving — only to yourself — that you had what it takes to hold your own in the roughest waters and with the toughest sailors in the world? There’s historical precedent for freelance entrants shadowing the action: Italian Raphael Dinelli sailed in the 1996 Vendee as an unofficial entrant. (It almost cost him his life, of course. Pete Goss had to save Dinelli after the Italian’s boat capsized.) Race organizers know they can’t ask you to leave the open ocean. And assuming you had a boat that kept in contact with a few racers, there’s nothing to stop you from having your own ringside seats.
And “photo-bombing” the Vendee Globe.
The question is: could we build a boat that kept close enough to enough of the fleet—not the leaders, mind you — but the second or third tier of competitors. And do it in a more comfortable, easier to sail boat that still offered real performance. The answer is, of course we can.
Photobombing the Vendee
Our SW Vendee 60 would need to sustain speeds high enough to finish the race in about 95 to 100 days. That’ll require an average speed of 220 miles per day, or over nine knots. That is pretty darn quick. We are still talking a 60 footer, but she will have to be slippery through to run faster than 9 knots whenever possible, particularly downhill in the Roaring Forties. She would need to be slim, so she would not need as much muscle to sail as the IMOCA boats. We like a length-to-beam ration of around 5, which works out to a more modest 12 feet wide. She will still need to be stiff for safety and sail-carrying ability. That adds up a lot of draft and as little wetted surface as possible.
We would want to crush the IMOCA’s in the light stuff, when their wide beam makes them sticky.
The SW Vendee 60 would therefore sport a deep, skinny Tee-bulb keel, similar to what the folks over at Dynamic Stability Systems employed on an ultra thin MiniTransat,
We would bake in more freeboard to keep keep you dry and comfy, and insist on a good deck crown to help your footing when she heels. (And she will heel, with that narrow beam!) The crown also adds ultimate stability when she’s knocked down and moves the center of buoyancy up and helps right the boat in emergencies. We would also craft a superstructure that makes the boat yet more comfortable to sail: a raised deckhouse, an inside steering station and more shelter in the cockpit, plus plenty of power for niceties like hot water and refrigeration.
We will also shamelessly steal from IMOCA 60’s where needed. Plan on all the go-fast of modern single-handers: multiple roller-furling headsails, top-down furling spinnakers; fully-battened square-headed mainsail and reefing gear led to the cockpit winches. There will be maximum adjustability with minimum effort with the tools we’ve been incorporating into our fast cruisers for years.
The Vendee For the Everyperson?
It really is a shame that the Vendee lost the freedom for a captain to define his or her own boat. We think the creativity of the event was lost and condemned it to a high degree of professional athleticism. To us, the beauty of the original Golden Globe was the idea of taking the best boat for you to find out who you are out there alone, around the world.
Photobombing the modern, glammed up corporate Vendee Globe would be the best way to remind the world what single-handed racing is all about. We’d have a blast designing this boat!