Alex Lang, the Berlin-based man who is building a Class Mini 650 from plywood (read the article here) made his way to Les Sables to witness the Start of the eighth edition of the Vendeé Globe, the tough single handed race around the world. He agreed to have some of my questions answered, here´s an account of what he could grasp of this legendary event.
Lars Reisberg, NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “On what occasion did you travel to Les Sables? Just to see the Vendee boats? Please describe the atmosphere at the jetties, the people strolling around and the general feeling in Les Sables before the race.”
Alex Lang: “I had been following the 2008 – 09 Vendée online. I actually watched the entire 2 hours-video of the start on YouTube, and since then had been planning to see the start of the next one live. So I bought tickets in the beginning of 2016 – the flight, a hotel, and a place on a boat – and off I went. The atmosphere: So many people! I arrived on Friday evening and went straight to the race village in order to get on the pontoon where the IMOCAs were moored. I had only learned a few days before that the pontoon would be closed on Saturday, so that was my last chance to get a close look.
Alex Lang: “Even though it was already dark, there were still thousands of people on the pontoon – from young kids to elder couples. Saturday I spent mostly in the race village, which was again really crowded. There was no more getting to the boats, so it was mostly about making your way through the exhibition halls and seeing as much as you can. Finally, on Race Day, I was on a boat so I didn’t actually see much more than the famous channel, which our boat also took. Tens of thousands of people had been standing there since early morning cheering and shouting. That was pretty impressive.”
NFS.com: “Did you come to witness official crews and sailors? What did they do?”
Alex: “You could see them only on Race Day on their boats. The days before I didn’t see any crewmen, which makes sense, given that the pontoon was closed and the sailors would be spending that last day with friends and family. During pre-start, the tourist boats had to stay out of a pretty large exclusion zone, so we didn’t see much during that time. Right after the start we started chasing the fleet though and came pretty close up some of the slower boats, so that was cool.”
NFS.com: “Have you been allowed to board one of the boats? What has been your impression of the IMOCA 60s?”
Alex: “That would indeed have been a dream come true! But unfortunately: No. The only time I came close to the boats was on Friday evening in the dark. I got to take a good look at a few cockpits, the new moustache foils. I was really impressed by the sheer size of the boats and everything on them. Nevertheless, I am still going to be sailing on one of the boats soon though. I sponsored some of Conrad Colman’s food through my company Cobot, and in return we’ll go sailing. He’s one of the underdogs of the race with almost no budget, so it was great supporting him. He’s also the only renewable energy only boat. I very much hope he’ll bring his boat back in one piece…”
NFS.com: “Please, describe the day of the race start: What was the atmosphere like? Did you see any boats parading by?”
Alex: “Waiting on the jetty for more than one hour, I finally managed to get a glimpse of each boat for a few seconds from half a kilometre away as they were passing through the channel. In other words: I didn’t really see that much. I got a seat on the upper – and open – deck, which means I could see well when we went through the channel behind the fleet, past all these people still standing there and cheering. Even though it was sunny, it was extremely cold, around 5º degrees Celsius – like many other people I had brought my foul weather gear, so I was mostly fine.
Alex Lang: “During the start I didn´t see that much, but as we went chasing the fleet for about one hour, after a while we managed to catch up with some of the slower boats, first of all Sebastian Destremau, later Kojiro Shiraishi from Japan and Enda O’Coineen, the Irish entry. We were able to stay with some of them for a few minutes, but they were mostly inside, so the boats looked like ghost ships. Anyway, being close to an IMOCA on the water is always impressive – just how big and fast they are! The top boats like HUGO BOSS of Alex Thompson were visible only as a shadow in the distance. The distance between the top boats and the back was growing really fast even after only half an hour after the start!”
NFS.com: “Did the Vendee-Event influence you in some way? Did it wake up the desire to participate in some sort of race by yourself?”
Alex: “Well, I don’t think it sparked anything new. I’m still planning to build and also occasionally race my Mini, for example in one of the upcoming Silver Rudder races. This is a single handed race around the Danish Island of Fyn. It’s not exactly the Vendée, but maybe something like its grandchild. And I definitely want to go back sailing in Brittany – it is such a beautiful sailing area.”
Thank you Alex for your account of the atmosphere at the start of the Vendeé Globe 2016. All pictures done by (c) Alex Lang.
Other interesting articles on that topic:
One of the last interviews with Chinese pro-sailor Guo Chuan
Interview with pro sailor Sam Goodchild on FIGARO-racing
Lizzy Foreman on sailing an IMOCA 60 single handed