Sagarmatha of the Southern Ocean

Sherpas call Mount Everest Sagarmatha, “the mountain so high that no bird can fly over it”. Western sailors know the Vende Globe—a non-stop, solo, around-the-world race sailed on wildly powerful, lightweight 60-footers—as sailing’s Mount Everest. Study the attrition rate in this year’s race—19 of the original 30 boats dropped out, many in the stormy waters of the Southern Ocean—and you realize this isn’t hyperbole. There were stories that scare even the world’s best offshore sailors. Deep in the Southern Ocean, Yann Elis was swept the length of Generali’s deck by a giant wave, breaking his left femur and cracking several ribs as he “encountered” various bits of deck kit. Elis crawled to his bunk where he waited two agonizing days to be rescued by an Australian Navy vessel.

A couple of weeks later, fellow Frenchman Jean Le Cam (VM Matriaux) hit an unidentified object 200 miles west of Cape Horn, tearing his keel bulb from its strut. VM Matriaux capsized, with Le Cam inside. Vincent Riou (PRB) sailed to his rescue; he plucked Le Cam from the icy waters on his fourth try but fouled his rig on VM Matriaux’s keel strut, and lost his mast (he was awarded redress for his heroics). Other top sailors—among them Mike Golding, Seb Josse, Lock Peyron—were forced out in less dramatic but no less painful circumstances.

Yet the Vende’s outcome was magical for sailing legend Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia), winner of the 2000–2001 race. Damage at the start forced “Le Professeur” back to Les Sables d’Olonne for 40 hours, but he quickly closed down the 600-mile gap to the leaders. On December 16, in heavy conditions south of Cape Leeuwin, Australia, Desjoyeaux ticked off 466.6 miles in 24 hours—the race’s high-water mark—and surfed into the lead, which he commanded for 45 days until crossing the finish line on February 1.

Desjoyeaux not only took the overall win, becoming the first person to have won two Vende Globes, but set a new course record of 84 days, 3 hours, and 9 minutes, averaging 14 knots and taking more than 3 days off the previous record; impressively, this year’s 28,303 mile course was 1,150 miles longer than in 2005 when the former record was set.

“I won this Vende Globe before the start with the choices I made, with the team and the experience I have built up,” said an elated Desjoyeaux. “I may have done it eight years ago, but it’s still incredible.”

While birds can’t clear Sagarmatha, Le Professeur has ascended it. Twice.

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