October 23, 2012

Post-race reflections

MY RACE IS OVER, and my imaginary 60-foot Open Class boat is sitting at the finish line on the equator. I don’t know what happens to it now, but I expect the organizers of the practice for the Virtual Vendée Globe will take care of it and make it disappear into cyberspace.

I joined the race from the Bay of Biscay to the equator (days late over the line) in 14,399th place and finished yesterday at 8,303th as the French computer put it. So I overtook 6,096 boats, something I’ve never managed to do in real life. There were 35,490 skippers competing in this 15-day race, nearly all French, but including the 20 competitors in the real Vendée Globe singlehanded, non-stop, round-the-world race, which starts next month.

It was an interesting ride, and for last few days I had a private match race with one of the few other boats flying Old Glory, one called Santosha.  I don’t know whether he was aware of my presence or not, but his resumé revealed that he was very experienced in this kind of racing so I assumed he was a worthy competitor. And so it turned out.  He was also a sneaky competitor because he changed course in the middle of the night. 

That’s what you do if you’re really serious about virtual sailboat racing, and in fact that’s what I did for weeks in the last Virtual Vendée Globe four years ago, until I came to my senses and abandoned my boat and let her find her own way across the Southern Ocean on a fixed course. I paid for it, of course.  I finished in position 91,801, which is something else I never dreamed I’d do in a yacht race. 

Anyway, I didn’t get up in the night this time.  I now perceive a greater need for beauty sleep, so I just left my boat to her own devices at night.  In any case, I managed to fend off Santosha very simply by staying five miles ahead of him and maintaining the same course and speed as him. He actually finished 3.4 miles behind me in position 8,566, or 263 places behind, which gives you an idea of how densely packed the racers are.

The highlight of the race for me was a day’s run in a windy streak I discovered near the African coast when I overtook 5,000 boats in 12 hours. It was a suicide run, of course, because it landed me in the doldrums where I sat glumly the next day while 4,000 boats scooted past to the west with cocky French grins on their dials.

But I consoled myself with the thought that this business of staring at a computer screen is not really sailing.  Someone called it a game of chess on water, but that’s doing a disservice to chess. This is much slower and much simpler. This is mankind versus a computer programmed by other mankind.  You don’t need to know anything about sailing to compete in this game.

You don’t even need to know how to spell, either. The official chart names the North Antlantic, the South Antlantic, the Caranies islands and Capo Verde.  And nobody told the computer that ordinal numbers in English end in st, such as 1st, or nd (2nd) or rd (3rd), so all the results ended in th, as in my own — 8,303th.

But I shouldn’t be critical. I don’t even know the French for North Atlantic. Not that it matters. The only language you need speak to take part in these races is computer.

Today’s Thought
The wind rules the aspects of the sky and the action of the sea.
— Joseph Conrad

"How's that book on anti-gravity?"
"It's great. I can hardly put it down."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Anonymous said...

I was doing pretty well in this year's prelim race until I left my boat on the beach over the weekend. So far I'm doing ok (113k) for a boat with no purchased options. I'm "atemybuick". What's your boat name?

John Vigor said...

Hi there, BoB. I keep going to wrong way and getting passed by 10,000 boats. I was up to 4,500 at one stage; now losing places quickly and down to 20,000 plus. She's called Rogiv. Anything under 150,000 is good going in this race, which, at November 16, has nearly 300,000 entrants.
Fair winds and good landfalls.
John V.