January 29, 2013

Home from the virtual sea

Francois Gabart and Macif, the winner of the REAL Vendée Globe race around the world.
HOME AT LAST. I’ve just finished sailing around the world in the Virtual Vendée Globe race. I crossed the finish line in France 79 days, 20 hours, and 31 minutes after the start.  I don’t suppose Jules Verne would be interested, wherever he might be now, but I did just manage to go around the world in less than 80 days.

I wasn’t among the winners, though. I was number 11,176 over the line, though in mitigation I should explain that there were 472,737 boats racing, mostly skippered by mad-keen Frenchmen. You could say I came in the equivalent of 11th out of 473, and that certainly sounds a lot better — but I should have done better.

The Virtual Vendée, which takes place at the same time as the real Vendée Globe singlehanded, non-stop race around the world, is far more competitive than I had imagined.  Four years ago, the last time the Virtual Vendée was held, I loafed along and left my boat to her own devices for weeks at a time.  I came in 91,801st.  This time I determined to beat that result, but I still didn’t reckon with the ferocious French.

I soon learned that you could lose thousands of places overnight if you didn’t stay awake and change course for every wind switch.  I think tens of thousands of Frenchmen must have lost of a lot of shuteye in the past two-and-a-half months.

This computer game, as I’ve said before, is a sort of cross between geometry and snakes and ladders, and after I’d got the hang of it, or most of it, I was doing reasonably well.  I worked my way up through the pack week by week until, five days before the finish line, I was placed 2,815.

Then I made the colossal strategic blunder of  heading the short way (east) instead of the long way (west) around that great area of doldrums known as the Azores High. I lost 8,400 places in five days. Even when I was on the last lap, the fates were against me.  Heading east in the Bay of Biscay I was doing 23.4 knots and still losing places because others, more cunning than I, had found even stronger winds to blow them to the finish.

I have said before that anyone who places less than 10,000 in the Virtual Vendée must be an expert. I can’t count myself in that distinguished company, unfortunately, but I must say I enjoyed myself immensely, apart from the last five days.

Meanwhile, out there on the real oceans, the real Vendée Globe racers in their 60-foot planing dinghies were having their own problems with collisions,  masts falling down, and keels falling off.  But the winner, Francois Gabart, in Macif, averaged more than 15 knots all the way around the world, and in one 24-hour session he averaged more than 20 knots.

Nobody in the heydays of the clipper ships could have imagined a singlehander putting up a performance like that. To tell the truth, I still find it hard to imagine it myself. The Vendée Globe skippers are truly the wondermen and wonderwomen of the sailing world.

Today’s Thought
There be triple ways to take, of the eagle or the snake,
Or the way of a man with a maid;
But the sweetest way to me is a ship’s upon the sea,
In the heel of the North-East Trade.
— Rudyard Kipling, The Long Trail

Can anyone explain why we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and put all our useless junk in the garage?

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

1 comment:

Jasen said...

I played the virtual Volvo Ocean Race. I learned that weather prediction and routing were the most import factors in success. Knowing where the good wind would be in three days and routing accordingly was crucial.

I found an online weather router (I forget the address at the moment) and my playing was mostly making sure my boats followed the predicted plan.