Sunday, December 21, 2008

Random musings on the Vendee Globe

With the rescue of Elies the fleet, as it was put here, let out a deep breath and the focus returns where it should be, with the race not the latest in a list of emergencies. But the sheer number of problems raises the issue about whether technology is too bleeding edge to be safe.

There is always a trade-off between pushing to the limits to get the last 0.1% of performance, and keeping further within the envelope of known technologies. The problem is that if one of the boats considered to be at the edge of what is possible is driven pedal to the metal then the other competitors are not just tempted but feel they must follow suit.

And if all the fleet are taking a risk, then it becomes a game of not who sails the best but who gets to escapes serious damage. If to finish first you first have to finish and it’s a lottery as to who that is then the race is less about sailing than luck.

But then its not always clear cut who has the leading most speediest of boats, as Sam’s Roxy is an older generation than Pindar and yet is ahead (hurrah for Sam and Roxy, above).

Another random thought I had (on one of the long train journeys over the weekend) was to wonder what the sponsor ship contract terms are. I was thinking about how tough it is down there and how some that could be considering of retiring yet might be reluctant to do that because of their sponsorship deal.

You’d have through there would be some clause about “making best efforts” to complete the race – and not allow them to just take the money as say thanks for the cash but actually I’d rather just potter about in the Caribbean instead. Of course in addition to the contract there’s also the very human desire not to let down the people from the sponsor who’ve gone out on a limb for you and taken a risk believing you are worth their organisation’s money.

The cost of this sort of racing makes it outside the reach of those who are not both extremely rich and want to sail single handed around the world – which probably means no one – and so some form of sponsorship is inevitable.

But no one wants a replay of the original Golden Globe where one of the conditions of the sponsor of the Teignmouth Electron was that Donald Crowhurst would complete the voyage or pay back all the money. When that was impossible Crowhurst had the choice of going bankrupt or lying and the pressure of keeping up the lie led to him go mad.

What ever the answers are to these various questions there’s no doubt that the Vendee Globe is an amazing tough and dangerous race and good luck and safe sailing to every single one of them out there.

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