The 2016-17 Vendee Globe Race was always set to be a thriller - especially with the added spice of the foiling boats. After an amazing race, a full speed dash, singlehanded around the planet, it came down to less than 100 miles, almost a "photo-finish" between two boats; France's Armel Le Cleac’h and the UK's Alex Thomson.
At times in the lead up to the finish there was as little as 34 miles between the two rivals. Hopes of a first-ever British victory (which would have been a first non-French victory) were only ever slim, though. As Le Cleac’h tacked for the finish line, Thomson could only follow in his wake. With the final tack being Thomson's slower one (due to the missing foil that he'd lost early on in the race), and the Brit also struggling with autopilot issues, not to mention the lack of passing lanes, the Frenchman only had to cross the finish line without a disaster. And finish he did, at 15:37:46 UTC on the afternoon of Thursday January 19, Armel Le Cleac’h secured his name on the coveted Vendee Globe trophy.
At the finish an emotional Le Cleac’h said: "It's a dream. I hope to win this race 10 years ago. I do this race three times. It's just a perfect day today, I am very very happy, Thank you to my team, it is a dream team and I am very happy for them, they worked very hard for the race."
Of his rival, Alex Thomson in second he said: "For Alex, very happy for him because he do a very good race he has a good boat good speed at reaching and he has a new record and it was very very difficult with him because he was very near to me and he gives me a hard life for these four days and it's a very good second."
British sailor Alex Thomson finished the race in second place, at 0737 UTC on January 20, after 74 days 19 hours 35 minutes and 15 seconds at sea. In doing so, he broke his own British record of 80 days for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in a monohull.
Thomson, who finished third in the last edition of the race, matched Dame Ellen MacArthur’s second place finish which she achieved back in 2002. Thomson’s achievements are all the more extraordinary for the fact that he suffered potentially race-ending damage to his boat on day 13 at sea - a collision with an unidentified object in the water caused his starboard foil to break. At one point, Thomson fell some 800 miles behind the leader, but he delivered the greatest performance of his career to get himself back in contention and to set up a thrilling final stages to the race.
The Vendee Globe 2016-17 in pictures
Nothing sums up an amazing race like the Vendee Globe like pictures. We tasked photo guru Tom Gruitt with digging out some of the best shots that give a bit of an insight into the huge undertaking even completing this iconic singlehanded race presents.
November 6: The start
A tightly packed start line of 29 IMOCA 60s set off from Les Sables d’ Olonne on November 6, 2016 for the eighth edition of the Vendee Globe. As ever the fleet had a fantastic send-off as the French public turned out in force to wish their heroes well. See Vendee Globe 2016: storming start.
November 20: Thomson loses a foil while leading
Only two weeks into the race Alex Thomson aboard Hugo Boss hit a submerged object in the South Atlantic. The impact caused severe damage to his starboard hydrofoil rendering it unusable on port tack for the rest of the race. From the boat Alex said “It is difficult, especially upwind…. I have a lot of leeway, I try and sail as high as I can and trying to keep the boat as flat as possible.” It didn't harm his progress too much.
November 30: Glimpses of the leader
Banque Populaire VIII, and skipper Armel Le Cleac’h are spotted off the Kerguelen Islands.
December 5: Fire on board
Conrad Colman was out on deck taking in a reef when he saw black smoke and flames inside the boat, he dived inside and quickly put out the fire. Unfortunately moments later the autopilot malfunctioned and the boat crash gybed, completely out of control lying on its side with the mast only a few metres above the water Conrad had a big issue on his hands.
December 7: The perils of UFOs
Kito de Pavant is recused from his boat Bastide Otio which was in grave danger of sinking after hitting an unidentified floating object in the Indian Ocean off the Crozet Islands. He was rescued by the Marion Dufresne II on December 7. The yacht is subsequently believed to have capsized following the loss of its keel.
December 14: Bass Strait detour
Jean Pierre Dick on St Michel-Virbac, became the first sailor ever to take the 400 mile detour and sail through the Bass Strait between Australia and Tasmania. He took this northern route to try and avoid a violent storm to the south with over 50 knots of wind and eight metre waves.
December 19: Losing a mast
Stephane Le Diraison limps along under jury rig after losing his mast. To lose the rig, the keel or hit a UFO (unidentified floating object) are just some of the catastrophic events that can end even the most talented skipper's race.
December 19: A broken hull
Thomas Ruyant took images of his broken boat while motor-sailing to Bluff, New Zealand. Stormy weather was forecast and there was an evacuation plan ready to be actioned if required. He believed he hit a shipping container which split the boat in two. He told Vendee Live after the collision “The damage at the front of the boat is spreading. The hull is opening up and the frame coming away more, everywhere. I’m sailing to the south of New Zealand. I’m not sure if it will all stay in one piece until then.”
January 1, 2017: New Year onboard
Armel Le Cleac'h leads the way into 2017 aboard Banque Populaire.
January 19: The finish
After 74 days, 3 hours, 35 minutes and 46 seconds at sea, the 39-year-old from Brittany crossed the finish line in Les Sables d'Olonne to win the race in record time. The runner-up in the 2008-9 amd 2012-13 editions of the race covered 24,499.52nm at an average sped of 13.77 knots.
January 20: The runner-up
Britain's Alex Thomson finished a worthy second in the early hours of January 20, 2017 to equal Ellen MacArthur's best-ever British finish in the race of second.