Low budget Vendée Globe: is it possibile? With Miranda Merron

We asked Miranda Merron, who finished the Vendée Globe 2020, however this interview was made before the race. Hence, congratulations Miranda for your excellent result! This is part of a series of interviews with Vendee Globe skippers who have chosen to participate despite having a limited budget. I am well aware of the costs of sailing around the world on a Class40 having participated in the 2011/2012 Global Ocean Race. I also know that like wind pressure, the cost of running a boat is a square function with respect to boat length, not linear. In other words, doubling the length of a boat quadruples the costs.

Global Ocean Race 2011-2012 - Crews
Global Ocean Race 2011-2012 – Crews

The formula holds up and works if we take a Mini 650 and a Class40 into consideration. For the same campaign level (amateur, professional), a Class40 campaign costs at least four times a Mini 650 campaign. Passing from a Class40 to an IMOCA 60 can however more than doubles the costs as the boats are more complex, with canting keels and foils. And even more so at the upper end of a top IMOCA campaign. We must in fact consider that a Class40 is as if it were a “series” boat with costs limited by class rules. An IMOCA 60 is like the proto class of the Mini, with canting keels and foils.

The start of the Global Ocean Race 2011-2012 - Campagne de France Class40 on the right
The start of the Global Ocean Race 2011-2012 – Campagne de France Class40 on the right

For this reason perhaps the function remains quadratic if we pass from a Series Mini 650, to a Class40, to an old IMOCA60. I believe the last fixed-keel IMOCA was lost at sea in the pre Vendée Globe campaign by Britain’s Richard Tolkien. He had taken it over from the Italian-French Alessandro di Benedetto. The boat with which he participated as Team Plastique in the 2012-2013 edition ov the Vendée. Will there be any fixed keel boats in the 2020 edition? (Note: there weren’t) What is certain is that IMOCAs are more complex than Class40s and hence the increase in budget most likely breaks the quadratic formula.

Cost ratio of an annual campaign

  • Mini 650 Series (new)
  • Mini 650 Proto x 1.5-2?
  • Class40 (recent) x 4
  • Class40 (new) x 6
  • Imoca 60 (old) x 10
  • Imoca 60 (recent) x 20
  • Imoca 60 (new project) x ??
Races - Mini Transat - Mini 650 proto
Races – Mini Transat – Mini 650 proto

It is not possible to give a definitive answer on any of these values because so many factors come into play. The boat can be owned or chartered, in the case of a charter the fee is a net cost, in the case of ownership the cost id given by depreciation. In the case of the purchase we should consider the devaluation spread over the years during which we have campaigned the boat and not just the purchase or build price. Therefore a new project has costs that on paper will be at least double compared to a recent boat campaign. But, we can’t do cash accounting, we have to work on an accrual basis (if you are familiar with accounting terms).

Sorry, too many years in the financial valuation industry! The reasoning becomes complicated if we also consider the sponsorability of a project. A good sailor with a good boat may find himself negotiating with parties who can support the project. The adventurous sailor or one who prepares a campaign without the “Wow factor” could find himself facing a vacuum in the sponsorship market.

In other words, we would say that it always rains on the wet, without oversimplifying. Those who always seem to have a sponsor ready are rarely random sailors. They are usually fantastic professionals who embrace sailing in a multidisciplinary way. They are sailors, navigators, sportsmen, athletes, media men or women. This in addition to technicians, experts in electronics, hydraulics and everything you need to navigate a modern boat!

Vendée Globe - Miranda Merron - Campagne de France
Vendée Globe – Miranda Merron – Campagne de France

Is it still possible to dream of a low cost participation in the Vendée Globe?

To try to answer this question, we interviewed a competitor who (at the time of the interview) was about to attempt this very feat. Miranda Merron was Halvard Mabire’s co-skipper on Campagne de France at the Global Ocean Race 2011-2012 (raced on Class40s). We know each other personally and we sailed during the same race. I would like to say that we were on an equal footing but we were not neither by experience, nor by boat, nor by budget. We were underdogs in comparison.

Miranda Merron and Halvard Mabire at the 2011-2012 Global Ocean Race
Miranda Merron and Halvard Mabire at the 2011-2012 Global Ocean Race

I certainly can’t blame the Campagne de France team. Miranda and Halvard have decades of experience behind them. Halvard did something like 36 transatlantic races and 5 rounds of the world. Miranda, as we shall see, was not simply a passenger, far from it. It is no coincidence that Miranda already has a previously attempted to participate in the Vendée Globe, so this was her second attempt. At the Global Ocean Race 2011/2012 for various reasons they retired on the leg towards Cape Horn.

I have already talked about it in another article and I think the decision was a painful one for a team clearly competing to win. In the first two legs we never managed to pass them with our older generation boat. But, in the second leg from Cape Town to Wellington we finished only 4 hours behind them. I was very excited when it was Halvard Mabire who gave me the first handshake on the quay. After 35 days of sailing he only said “amazing race, very good”. For me it was like winning, as I had done my first ocean race just 3 years earlier.

Miranda Merron: every project is a challenge made of a thousand uncertainties

Vendée Globe - Miranda Merron
Vendée Globe – Miranda Merron

Miranda, there must have been moments of tension waiting for the race committee to confirm the departure of the Vendée Globe on November 8th. Were you worried that the regatta could be canceled due to the pandemic?

No, I never thought it would be canceled, but the rumor hasn’t helped. We, intended as organisers and registered teams, were all working on the departure set for November 8th.

Tell us about your boat for the Vendée Globe, do you have foils?

No! The boat is a 2006 Owen-Clarke design built for Dominique Wavre’s Vendée Globe under the name Mirabaud. She has participated in the last edition as Great American IV. Simple, solid and reliable. Sailing around the world as you well know is long! commented Miranda Merron.

Vendée Globe - Miranda Merron - Campagne de France
Vendée Globe – Miranda Merron – Campagne de France

Where are you at with your Vendée Globe campaign? Are you a confirmed entry? Have you already qualified?

Ah – qualified, yes! Ours is an “adventurous” campaign with an even more “adventurous” budget. Campagne de France is an older boat, without foils, robust and reliable. Getting to the start will be a challenge in itself. To finish, well, that would be extraordinary.

Will it be your first solo race on an IMOCA 60?

No, I participated with Campagne de France in the Bermudes 1000 race, 2000 miles solo in May a year ago. I also finished seventh at the Route du rhum in 2002 on UUDS, an IMOCA 60. It was Alain Gautier’s boat which had the name of Bagages Supérieurs with which he had won the Vendee Globe in 1993; says Miranda Merron

Vendée Globe - Miranda Merron - Seventh to the Route du Rhum
Vendée Globe – Miranda Merron – Seventh to the Route du Rhum

What do you think of the transition from a Class40 to an IMOCA 60?

I have done several races on IMOCA in the past. In addition to the Route du Rhum I did a Transat Jacques Vabre and 3 Round Britain & Irelands on three different IMOCAs. Having said that, I hadn’t been sailing one for 10 years. The main difference is the physical aspect and the greater number of systems to manage, such as the canting keel; explains Miranda Merron

Is the physical difference really that big?

Oh yes, a lot! The sails are really heavy, even if in replacing almost all of them we have saved weight thanks to technological advancement. But just a little bit, the workloads are totally different, immense; explains Miranda Merron.

Did you have to train to gain physical strength?

Absolutely yes! Rowing machine, weights and bicycle.

Vendée Globe - Miranda Merron - Campagne de France
Vendée Globe – Miranda Merron – Campagne de France

Most of your recent races have been double-handed with Halvard, are you happy to go solo or do you prefer doubles?

There is nothing better than racing double-handed with someone you get along with. There is still plenty of time alone when the co-skipper is sleeping. But, there is someone with whom to share the good and bad moments of each race. Having said that, I also like the challenge of sailing solo, and to be honest the more I get on with the years the more I like it. Part of it is the challenge aspect. Another aspect I like is that dimension where your whole world is reduced to nothing but the sea, the sky and the boat. Obviously when things go wrong, or conditions are dangerous, I prefer company…

Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France IMOCA 60
Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France IMOCA 60

Has participating in the Vendee Globe always been a dream of yours or did you get there by degrees?

I started preparing a Vendee Globe project many years ago, which then didn’t go through for many reasons. I didn’t think about it again until last year, it was Halvard who convinced me that it was possible to campaign on a minimal budget, and here we are.

Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron - Transat Jacques Vabre
Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron – Transat Jacques Vabre

When your passion for offshore sailing began

When she was a child, my parents had a C&C named Manitou that had won the Canada Cup in 1969. We were living in Canada when my father was offered a job in England when I was 9 years old. We sailed across the Atlantic from New York to Falmouth. When the family had to move back to Puerto Rico for work I was 12, we went to the Caribbean by boat. I owe my passion to my parents, my father in particular, who taught me to dinghy sail at the age of 5.

I have heard that you lived in Italy in the past, also participating in a Giro d’Italia, how many years ago?

Oh, wow, how long ago, was it the second half of the 90’s?! I have participated in at least two editions of the Giro d’Italia. I also did two editions of the 500 x 2 with Alessandra Boato, winning one, I think. It’s been a long time, I also did a Roma x 2 with Sam Davies on his mini around 2002. Several years ago now!

The boats of the Giro d'Italia
The boats of the Giro d’Italia

Do you feel safer or more exposed sailing on a bigger boat, at higher speeds?

The freeboard, the topside, is higher and therefore you feel safer and more protected. Our Class40 from the Global Ocean Race was almost as fast as this IMOCA 60! It doesn’t have foils and it’s been many years of design, it doesn’t go much faster on average. However, you have to anticipate everything well in advance, so as not to get caught with too much canvas on. This is the main difference between a Class40 and an IMOCA. The Class40 is still on a human scale, and you usually get out of trouble quite easily. On an IMOCA, everything can become difficult and much more dangerous.

Vendée Globe - Miranda Merron dealing with the spi of Campagne de France
Vendée Globe – Miranda Merron dealing with the spi of Campagne de France

Thanks Miranda! We can only wish you well for your Vendee Globe campaign!

Returning to us, I imagine you would have liked to know more about numbers and costs. Speaking to a distinguished lady, as one doesn’t ask for age, it seemed to us we would have lacked class in asking her questions about money. How much does his Vendee Globe campaign cost we can only estimate. According to the reasoning made at the beginning we could be in the order of 2-3 times the budget that was necessary for a GOR on a new Class40.

We joined other skippers signed up for the race. Many are super busy, after the stop due to Covid, boats are returning to the water one after the other. All teams are committed to recommissioning the boats. The next appointment for many of the entrants is the new Vendee Arctic race. A new route designed to give the opportunity to qualify and check all systems, the start is set for July 4th.

Miranda Merron first participation in the Vendée Globe
Miranda Merron first participation in the Vendée Globe

The race replaces what would otherwise have been a program composed by The Transat CIC, followed by Charleston-New York. The return to Europe was supposed to take place during the New York – Vendee. The new program had to adapt to the restrictions of recent months. But, it allows everyone to preserve their ambitions to participate in the Vendée Globe starting on November 8th.

Miranda Merron entered Vendee Globe 2020
Miranda Merron entered Vendee Globe 2020

What is the alternative?

Obviously if you can’t raise the budget for a Vendée Globe you may find that the Global Solo Challenge is for you, find out more on this website!