As the 2022 Route du Rhum approaches, we take a look at some of the top names set to compete in the race. Toby Heppell looks at Louis Burton’s chances
Louis Burton shot to Vendée Globe fame when he sailed across the line of the 2020-21 Vendée Globe in 2nd place in his 2012 IMOCA 60 Bureau Vallée. He finished 3rd overall after redress had been awarded.
Typically it is the newest IMOCA 60 designs that dominate the Vendée Globe. However, with the weather in the 2020 edition not providing the usual downwind high-speed conditions that the latest generation boats were highly optimised for, some of the older, even non-foiling designs, were able to be competitive.
Nevertheless, to take a podium place finish in a boat that was already two generations old requires remarkable skill and a sailor who is willing to adopt a no-limits approach to their racing.
Burton’s style of racing was clear for all to see within seconds of the event getting underway. As the start gun fired off Les Sables d’Olonne in western France, Burton was pushing to get the best start in the fleet and actually found himself fractionally over the startline – he would incur a 5 hour time penalty for the breach.
This full-throttle approach continued throughout the race. It took its toll on the boat at times and Burton was twice forced to make major repairs, at one point climbing the mast three times while drifting in the protective lee of the remote Macquarie Island halfway between New Zealand and the Antarctic. Burton even had to contend with a fire onboard during his Atlantic return. However, his ability to push the boat to near 100% of its potential was widely noted among his competitors.
Burton’s ascent to the front of the IMOCA 60 fleet has not been that of a superstar thrust into the limelight, rather he has spent years chipping away at the fleet, building miles and experience whilst supported by long-time sponsor Bureau Vallée.
He initially competed with Bureau Vallée in the Class 40 where he saw some decent results and then moved up to the IMOCA 60, purchasing a 2006 Farr design to compete in the 2012-13 Vendée.
A collision with a fishing boat in the opening few days of the race forced him to retire but he returned in the 2016-17 Vendée Globe in the same boat determined to finish. He duly crossed the line of that edition in 7th place putting him in the top half of finishers.
This result, on a 2006 boat up against the first generation of foiling IMOCA 60s, sufficiently impressed Bureau Vallée for them to invest in a more modern boat for Burton. They bought
Banque Populaire VIII, the foiling winner of the 2016 Vendée Globe (and current course record holder), which competed as Bureau Vallée 2. It has since been sold to Pip Hare, as the new Medallia.
It’s his track record of picking up decent results in older designs that makes Burton such an intriguing proposition. Starting three Vendée Globes and finishing two is an impressive hit rate, while scoring both a 3rd place and a 7th in previous generation boats is remarkable.
IMOCA 60 Bureau Vallée
Sail number: FRA 02
Designer: Sam Manuard
Builder: Black Pepper
Displacement: 7.8 tonnes
Mast height: 28m
Foils: Yes, 3rd generation
Upon completion of the 2020-21 Vendée Globe, Burton and his sponsor announced they would be sticking to a tried and trusted route and purchasing a newer generation boat second-hand in order to compete in the 2024-25 edition of the event.
Burton will be sailing the 2022 Route du Rhum (and the 2024-25 Vendée Globe) in the radical scow-bowed design from Sam Manuard, which was previously Armel Tripon’s L’Occitane en Provence.
It was widely accepted that this was potentially a very quick boat that did not quite live up to its full potential in the last Vendée. So impressive was the design that one of the most experienced skippers in the fleet, Jeremie Beyou selected Manuard to design his new IMOCA. Sam Davies has also opted for a new boat from the same moulds as L’Occitane.
Having completed the purchase swiftly after the Vendée Globe finish in 2021, Burton has a full four-year cycle in hand to iron out any reliability issues. This, combined with his no holds barred approach to racing and a boat that has yet to show what it can really do, means Burton is suddenly one to watch. Could the 2022 Route du Rhum be the place where he cements his position as a real front runner?