Sam Goodchild returns to the racecourse

After a break of five months to recharge his batteries, and for his boat to complete its winter re-fit, the British IMOCA star Sam Goodchild returns to competition this week at the start of a solo transatlantic race.

Alongside 29 other IMOCA skippers, Goodchild, at the helm of VULNERABLE, will take on the daunting challenge of the 3,600-nautical mile New York Vendée-Les Sables d’Olonne race, which promises to be a fast and furious dash across the north Atlantic.

The west-east transat is the final qualifier for this year’s Vendée Globe and the last big offshore test before the “Everest of the Seas” sets sail from Les Sables d’Olonne in November, when Goodchild makes his debut on the solo round-the-world course.

For the British skipper, who sails alongside Thomas Ruyant in the Lorient-based TR Racing team, this is quite a return to competition after an astonishing first year in IMOCA in 2023. During that season Goodchild took part in The Ocean Race and then compiled four consecutive third place finishes in his first four races in the class to become IMOCA Globe Series Champion.

The ever-modest and understated 34-year-old British skipper, who lives with his French wife and two children in Brittany, is aware that even though his boat is no longer at the very leading edge in terms of its age, he has quite a record to live up to.

“Yeah definitely, I can feel the pressure of expectation a bit, but it’s more from myself than anyone else,” he said in New York, relaxing after completing an early morning run in Central Park with other members of the TR Racing team. “There’s no one outside saying ‘yes Sam, you’ve gotta do what you did last time.’ But, for sure, in a way, the 2023 season set a bit of a precedent.”

Reflecting on his constant presence on the podium, which included third place in the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre alongside co-skipper Antoine Koch, Goodchild added: “We knew we were punching above our weight last year, and we were helped out by other boats having issues one way or another. So there are no illusions as to where our – or my – place in the fleet is. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying finishing third…”

In preparation for the start of this race, Goodchild and Ruyant’s boats were delivered to New York by members of the TR Racing technical and shore team. This allowed both skippers to sit out The Transat CIC race, part of a strategy to ensure they are fresh and properly rested for the challenge of the Vendée Globe in the autumn.

It also means both skippers are fully charged up for this race. Same time last year Sam sailed west-east across the Atlantic as part of the crew of Holcim-PRB in last year’s Ocean Race, when that team set a remarkable outright monohull 24-hour distance record of 640 miles. He knows this can be a blisteringly fast downwind thrash, which is likely to see the 2016 winning time – nine days and 16 hours set by Jérémie Beyou – broken.

“A year ago we broke the 24-hour record on basically the same course on an IMOCA so yes, this could be a pretty fast and impressive ride. That was a five or six-day transat, before the finishing section into Denmark and, OK, we were fully-crewed, but this race has also got the potential to be pretty impressive,” said Goodchild.

Under the qualification rules for the Vendée Globe, Goodchild needs to complete the first 860 miles of this race to make absolutely certain of his place on the startline in November, so he may hold back a bit in the early stages. “The first two or three days I might have to bear that in mind, depending on the conditions, but once I’m past that 860-odd miles threshold, I can chill out a bit more,” he said.

Goodchild’s VULNERABLE – the 2019-vintage Guillame Verdier foiler, formerly LinkedOut and For The Planet –  is in excellent condition. For its skipper, this race is all about one last chance to settle in, in solo mode, for the big one in November.

“I want to feel that we are in a good place for the Vendée basically,” explained Goodchild. “I want to be comfortable on board, comfortable with the sails and just be comfortable on my own and managing sleep and food and nutrition. My aim is to use this race, not quite as a dry run for the Vendée Globe, but to feel as comfortable as possible so the next time I go for a big offshore – which will be the Vendée Globe – everything is as prepared as can be.”

In terms of his rivals, on a mainly downwind course that is likely to feature one or more low pressure systems driving the fleet eastwards, Goodchild is well aware that Yoann Richomme is currently setting the benchmark after two consecutive race wins.

“I think for most people in the fleet his performance has not at all been a surprise, given his sailing CV, his team and his boat,” he said of the Paprec Arkéa skipper. “He’s got a pretty deadly combo, so it’s not a massive surprise to see him up there. But I think we’ll see Thomas Ruyant back up at the front too, alongside Charlie Dalin (Macif Sante Prévoyance) as well, while I’ll be there to get in the way,” he noted laughing.

This is the first race under the new VULNERABLE identity, with both TR Racing boats sailing under the same name, a first in IMOCA. It’s a unique campaign devised by Alexandre Fayeulle, founder and president of Advens, a European flagship in cyber security, founding and title partner of TR Racing.

Goodchild is fully behind the new concept. “Alexandre is an ambitious person who has always tried to think outside the box and do things differently,” he said. “He’s been very successful at that, whether it’s been in business or with his sailing projects.

“The vulnerable idea is bringing together all the vulnerabilities of the planet, of our boats, of us as people and our vulnerability in terms of cyber security online. So it brings all that together under the same umbrella and with the tagline ‘embrace your vulnerability.’ It’s about putting it all in the forefront of our minds and not sweeping it under the carpet, embracing them and making them a strength.”

Goodchild added that the decision to name the team’s two boats the same has already proved a big talking point in world sailing and within the IMOCA class. “That’s mission accomplished,” he said. “If you’ve got everyone talking about the boats and their names and what that means, then that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?”