It’s not news that this race is no joke. Here, on December 10th at the time of writing, 5 skippers have had to retire from the Vendée Globe. Nicolas Troussel was first with his dismasting. Second was Kevin Escoffier whose boat literally broke in half - and who had to be rescued by another skipper. The 3rd, 4th and 5th retirees (Alex Thompson, Sebastian Simon, and Sam Davies) left the race due to an unfixable rudder, damage to a starboard foil and a keel - respectively.
These are all skilled, seasoned, powerhouse men and women sailors who, at their own times, were charging forth at the front of the pack. And if their having to leave the race says anything, it’s that the intensity of the Vendée Globe can get the best of any sailor, in the most unpredictable and unexpected ways.
Upon his safe return to land, we sought out insight to what the experience was like for Nicolas - the highs, the lows and everything in between.
The greatest high? Unexpectedly, the beginning of the race.
‘The start of the race was a unique and magical moment that I will never forget. Being there for the very first time onboard a brand new boat after such a complicated year and a lot of effort was amazing.’
With Nicolas’s dismasting occurring in somewhat familiar waters, the level of new + novel that met him on the course wasn’t significant...other than some unseasonal weather.
‘Nothing surprised me as I had already sailed in this area. There was this tropical storm that we encountered, which is unusual at this time of the year.
And yet, even with that unseasonal storm in their path, it wasn’t significant foreshadowing for what was about to come.
When we asked if he had a sense that the conditions were going to cause damage, here’s what Nicolas had to say:
‘Not at all. We were sailing in fairly good conditions, with a little more wind than what the forecasts predicted. Before I dismasted, I knew I was pushing the boat, doing between 20 and 30 knots, but I was far from thinking that the mast could break.’
Once the dismasting happened, it was mere moments between seeing the damage and knowing his next move wouldn’t be towards the finish line, but to whatever safe harbour on shore he could find.
‘I had my noise cancelling headphones on before I heard a noise. I thought it came from a sail or a sheet somewhere, but when I went outside and saw the mast was broken, I realized [my race] was over.’
When we first talked to Nicolas about how he troubleshoots in the moment, he mentioned needing to be able to problem solve at the drop of a hat; staying focused and acting with intention to mitigate risk while creating solutions. And he had to put that focus + clear minded fast-action to work.
‘When it happened, my first concern was to preserve the boat and avoid any other damage without taking any risk, as the sea state wasn't particularly ideal. I also called Greg Evrard, our team manager, for him to call the race management of the Vendée Globe.’
His next move? Get himself and the boat safely to shore. Engines on, he began the trek, seeing only 3 boats in the entire journey to the Cape Verde harbour - navigating comms challenges every nautical mile of the way.
‘I knew that Cabo Verde was the closest land, and my fuel tank was almost full, so I decided to go there with my engine on. I had to use my spare VHF antenna, to be able to communicate and use the AIS system, as the main one was located at the top of the mast. I saw only 2 boats on the way to the Cabo Verde Islands, plus one right after the mast broke.’
The iron will of the competitors that take on the Vendée Globe is unquestionable. Both in skill and in courage, they’re a community of warriors who take on the waters most wouldn’t venture into. The race is still on - follow along and see how the stories of the remaining competitors unfold.
Photos: Ugo Tsvetoukhine | CORUM L'Epargne