The premiere solo round-the-world race came down to the wire after 80 days alone at sea.

On Tuesday evening, your author reached out to our faithful editor to suggest a wager on the finishing order for the top four of this year’s Vendée Globe. Yes, after 80 days and 24,000 nautical miles, the finish to this quadrennial singlehanded global circumnavigation was nearly as close as a Round the County finish at Lydia Shoal.  

We were 24 hours out from the expected finish and there were five boats in the hunt for podium finishes. Charlie Dalin, a local favorite aboard Apivia was, generally accepted to have enough of a lead that first was his to lose. The rest were entirely up in the air.  

The day before our wager, the leading five had split into two groups: one in the south and another heading up to the north. Dalin and German newcomer, Boris Herrmann (Sea Explorer), were taking the more direct southern approach to the finish.

To the North went another group of three boats: Yannick Bestaven (Maître Coq IV), Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut), and Louis Bourton (Bureau Vallée 2). One forecast predicted better winds to the North and this group decided the extra miles were a worthy investment.  

A snapshot of the final approaches to the finish, with two boats south and three north.
A snapshot of the final approaches to the finish, with two boats south and three north. Image source, Vendée Globe.

There was still 300 miles of ocean ahead so anything could happen. But with average speeds around 20 knots, we would know soon.

There has been something special about this 9th Edition of the Vendee Globe. Maybe it was the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic and we could live vicariously through these skippers on their adventures. Perhaps it was because communication technologies have developed so much that, in-between tweaks to the autopilots, the skippers can record daily updates to send to their fans in high-def. There is something inspiring about seeing nearly-live HD video of the skippers crashing down big rollers in the Southern Ocean as we try to make the most of life during the winter lockdowns.  

The captivating experience for race fans is no coincidence. One competitor, Alex Thompson (Hugo Boss), basically had a multi-cam studio in his cockpit, and a total of 9 cameras on the boat. Another competitor, Boris Herrmann, took a more personal approach to storytelling. In addition to giving pretty thorough video rundowns about the sailing conditions and set-up and offering step-by-step progress updates on maintenance tasks like repairing the hydrogenator, Boris would share how he was feeling, what he was anxious about, and what made him happy. Boris brought his adventure to our screens. You could see it in his eyes exactly how hard it was to keep pushing the boats in the Vendée. Maybe that was what was so inspiring: the humanity in his mental toughness.  

Our five podium contenders were about to have their mental toughness put to the ultimate test. After 79 days of non-stop, solo sailing, the next 24 hours made all the difference in the world. To think they were exhausted would be a gross understatement. Each skipper has been preparing for this race for the last four, if not eight, years. Nothing would be left on the table. Indeed, we saw sustained boat speeds in the 30s and record loads on the rigs (yes, one competitor even broadcast real-time performance data including rig tension).  

Charlie Dalin on Apivia.

Joe and I both agreed that Charlie Dalin would take line honors.  He was the lead boat of the southern group. Dalin claims the Bay of Biscay as his “sailing backyard.” He also had perfect timing on a weather pattern resulting in enviable VMG (velocity made good).  

Sixty miles behind him in the southern group was our favorite storyteller: Boris Herrman. After sailing what has been described as a relatively conservative race, in the week leading up to the finish, Boris began really pushing the boat and eating up the distance to the leader. Before the race began, Boris’ goal was to finish 5th. Now, first was a real possibility and 2nd was probable.  

140 miles to the north was our northern group led by Louis Burton. By now, it was evident that sailing the extra miles to the north would pay off — but was it enough?  Burton had had a tough race with enough gear failures to overwhelm most sailors. On top of that, owing to two broken watermakers, the only water he had aboard was what he collected in the Doldrums, the last of which he reportedly finished on the final day. But Louis was still sending it.  

A little less than four hours behind Burton was Tomas Ruyant, and an hour behind him was Yannick Bestaven. For our friendly wager, we both felt that Ruyant would cross the line 4th, unless something extraordinary happened. Unfortunately, just such an event did occur.  

About halfway through the final 24-hours, Boris Herrman had a collision with a fishing vessel.  No injuries have been reported, but Boris’ boat, Sea Explorer, suffered some serious damage. The starboard foil, outrigger, and the sprit and bow pulpit were all seriously damaged. The repairs would cost Boris six hours and a podium finish. Boris’ fans, your author included, were devastated by the accident. But not too long after the incident, Boris released an update to explain what had happened.  In a touch of cruel irony, the name of the fishing vessel is reported to be: Hermanos Busto.  

Back at the finish line, the weather made for perfect foiling conditions. The finishers would soon start screaming across the finish line doing 22 knots. But a couple of miles beyond the finish line was French terra firma, so as soon as boats crossed the line, their team RHIBs had to quickly approach and cross-load crew.  At 20+kts, it doesn’t take too much time to run out of runway.   

Line honors for Dalin.

First to finish was indeed Charlie Dalin.  He was followed by Louis Burton, Tomas Ruyant, and Yannick Besthaven.  These four skippers would finish within 9 hours of one-another! The next morning, Boris Herrmann would deftly sail his boat across the line clinching the 5th place goal that he had set at the outset of his campaign four years earlier (with only 22 minutes to spare). It was good to see the genuine ebullience when Boris finished — his joy in the accomplishment not tainted by a less-than-ideal final day of racing.  

Bestaven hoists the coveted Vendée trophy after redress given made him the overall winner.
Bestaven hoists the coveted Vendée trophy after redress made him the overall winner.

These line finishing results differ from the Overall Results for this one-design class because an International Jury awarded three competitors a time allowance to be calculated at the finish for their time spent in the rescue of fellow skipper Kevin Escoffier. Escoffier was forced to abandon ship into his life raft off the Cape of Good Hope, and his fellow competitors responded — eventually it was the oldest salt in the fleet, Jean Le Cam, who pulled him aboard. Yannick Besthaven was another of those diverted to assist in the search and his 10 hour 15 minute allowance resulted in him correcting into 1st place overall. His victory was buttressed by the perfect layline he called to the finish — nearly 1,000 nautical miles away and while still technically in the Atlantic! 

Jean le Roi (King Jean).
Jean le Roi (King Jean).

The Final Results are as below. With them come a fulsome hap tip to “Jean le Roi” (King Jean) as his competitors now call him. Le Cam not only successfully rescued a competitor in the Southern Ocean, but finished in the top five with a non-foiling boat built in 2007. 

In the end, your author bested your editor in the finishing order wager, and plans to pop the prize after he crosses the finish line for TransPac in July (hopefully first in division). However, with such incredible sailing and stories, it’s hard not to think that anyone following the Vendée Globe over the last hours (or months) is the real winner. 

1 Yannick BESTAVEN

Maître CoQ IV

80d 03h 44m 46s
2 Charlie DALIN


80d 06h 15m 47s
3 Louis BURTON


80d 10h 25m 12s
4 Jean LE CAM

Yes We Cam!

80d 13h 44m 55s


80d 14h 59m 45s

Competitor portraits © Jean-Louis Carli/Alea, courtesy of Vendée Globe.

Boris Hermann joyful after finishing, his damage after a collision with a fishing boat less than 90 miles from the finish on display.
Boris Hermann joyful after finishing, the collision damage on display.

All photos courtesy of Vendée Globe Media.