Six women started the 2020-21 Vendee Globe and have made their mark on the race and Youtube. Kass Schmitt reports

As another International Women’s Day approaches (8 March), it’s time to check in with the Vendée women skippers on YouTube, writes Kass Schmitt.

It was an atypical year, with the global pandemic curtailing sailing everywhere, but when it came to the Vendée Globe, ‘the show must go on’ seems to have been the organisers’ (and competitors’) mantra.

Bravo to them for keeping us distracted and calm throughout the metaphorical tent fires and escaped lions of 2020.

And what a show it’s been! With nearly as many women competing as in all previous editions combined, and unprecedented amounts of video, there’s no lack of inspiring stories to follow.

Brave heart – Sam Davies – Initiatives Coeur

As I write, 100% of the women who departed Les Sables d’Olonne are still sailing versus 78% of the men (Isabelle Joshke is expecting to reach Brazil in a few days, then says “we’ll see what we can do there” which leads me to believe she’d like to repair and continue if possible).

Sam Davies on Initiatives Coeur continues to impress, both with her courage (getting ‘back on the horse’ after suffering race-ending damage to her boat) and her dedication to her cause (raising money to fund life-saving heart surgery for children).

In early December, she hit an unidentified underwater object and was forced to withdraw from the race and have safety repairs done in Capetown, however she has since decided to continue and finish the event ‘hors course’ to benefit her sponsor charity Initiatives Coeur.

Keel can’t cant – Isabelle Joshke – MACSF

Isabelle Joschke on MACSF was sailing a brilliant race, looking very likely to catch the leaders, even after damage to her keel canting system obliged her to sail with the keel locked centrally.

Sadly that fix did not stand up to the severe conditions in which she found herself after rounding Cape Horn, and she was forced to retire and sail her IMOCA with its free-swinging keel gingerly to safety in Brazil.

The video in which she discusses her retirement is heartbreaking, but her latest video update hints at the possibility she will try to repair and sail on ‘hors course’, following Sam Davies’ example.

Best Brit? Pip Hare – Medallia

A silver lining to the retirements of Hugo Boss and Initiatives Cœur is that Pip Hare Ocean Racing is increasingly likely to find herself in the unexpected position of being the first Brit to finish the 2020 Vendée Globe.

That’s if she manages to avoid a show stopping breakage, or injury… today’s drama was a portuguese man-of-war sting on her back!

She’s certainly had some challenging repairs to effect, the most impressive to date being the replacement of a rudder mid-Pacific (a feat Volvo Ocean Race winning skipper Ian Walker attempted in pre-race training on his Volvo 70 with a full crew, and concluded was not possible).

If she were to lose her rig at this point it would not surprise me to see her continue actually racing under jury-rig. Regardless, I’m certain she’ll finish her lap of the planet on Medallia, and continue to delight and impress with her skills, both as a communicator and a competitor.

Top of the pops – Clarisse Cremer – Banque Populaire X

Meanwhile, Clarisse Cremer’s performance on VoileBanquePop has been notable for its lack of drama (barring a painful oopsie with a cuppa).

Having recently moved my boat to Lorient, I got to wave her off as she departed for Les Sables d’Olonne. When I subsequently arrived at my boat to find damaged topsides and asked some locals where I might buy epoxy and cloth on Christmas Eve, one of them joked ‘try the Banque Pop shed (an aircraft hanger sized edifice), they have everything’, which brought home what a difference it makes to have a fully funded campaign.

Here’s hoping she won’t be the only woman in that position next time.

Miranda Merron – Campagne de France

In the unlikely event that Pip doesn’t finish the race, then it would fall to Miranda Merron to fly the flag for Britain, slightly ironic given her sponsor is Campagne de France.

She has been a bit in the shadow of Pip and Sam, but has been putting in solid performance towards the back of the fleet.

Like Sam, most of her vlogs are in French, but I really enjoyed this chat on the English Live broadcast with Andi Robertson and Emma Richards Sanderson just after Miranda had rounded Cape Horn.

Alexia Barrier – TSE 4myplanet

Finally, its hard not to be impressed by Alexia Barrier, who despite having the oldest boat in the fleet and a very modest last-minute sponsorship package has managed to keep going with almost no issues and a ceaselessly upbeat attitude. It makes me wonder how she’d fare with a better resourced campaign, as I do for all six of this year’s women skippers.

Here’s hoping we’ll get to find out in 2024!

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