Skip to main content

Inside the Vendée Globe

With her deck spreaders and curved lifting foils, Safran represents the state of the IMOCA 60 art

With her deck spreaders and curved lifting foils, Safran represents the state of the IMOCA 60 art

The Vendée Globe is the world’s toughest sailing event, bar none. Every four years, a diverse group of solo sailors—men and women, young and middle-aged—depart Brittany, France, in November, leave the three great capes—the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa, Cape Leeuwin on Australia’s southwestern corner and Cape Horn at the tip of the south American continent—to port, Antarctica to starboard, and (hopefully) finish back in Brittany some 28,000 nonstop miles later.

It’s a supreme mental and physical challenge; an almost superhuman level of endurance and skill is required to keep a high-performance 60-footer sailing hard and fast around the clock in often extreme conditions, at the same time conserving the boat’s equipment—one small failure can end a race—and guarding against the ever-present risk of serious injury or death. Just finishing this race is regarded as a victory.

Since the first race in 1989, the Vendée Globe has been marked both by legendary feats of seamanship and heartbreaking tragedy. American Mike Plant was lost at sea on his way to the start of the second race in 1992, and Briton Nigel Burgess drowned soon after the race began.

The Southern Ocean also more than lived up to its billing in the third race in 1994-95. Several boats capsized there, and Italian sailor Raphael Dinelli was saved by Briton Pete Goss in an epic display of heavy weather seamanship. At the same time Canadian Gerry Roufs was tragically lost at sea; his inverted boat, minus its keel, was found several months later.

Although French superstar Michel Desjoyeaux won the 2000-01 Globe, his victory was eclipsed by 24-year-old British rookie Ellen Macarthur’s performance. The two traded places several times, and Macarthur finished just a day behind after hitting a container and damaging her boat.

[advertisement]
American Bruce Schwab took a hard-earned ninth place in the 2004-05 event, in which the first three finishers crossed the line within hours of each other. He became the first American to finish the race, setting the scene for Rich Wilson’s campaign in 2009-10, where he too finished ninth.

A new generation of Open 60s took to the water in the 2012-13 race, and several skippers broke the existing 24-hour solo distance record. Francois Gabart, at 28 the youngest victor so far, won in 78 days 2 hours 16 minutes, just three hours ahead of Armel Le Cleac’h—the fastest and closest finish yet.

Gabart’s time was 31 days faster than 1989 winner Titouan Lamazou’s elapsed time, an indication not just of the young Frenchman’s skill but of how far Open 60 design had come in 13 years. Gabart set a 24-hour record of 534.48 nautical miles, at an average speed of 22.27 knots; not all that much slower than the fully-crewed record of 596nm set by Torben Grael’s crew on the Volvo 70 Ericsson 4 in 2008.

For the eighth race, which starts from Les Sables d’Olonne on November 6, IMOCA 60 design has evolved yet again. New design rules aim to avoid the spate of keel failures that occurred in the previous two events, but the most exciting development is the use of lifting foils on several of the newest boats.

Some 300,000 spectators throng the docks for the start of a Vendée Globe, and millions follow the race online; it’s a highlight of the French sporting calendar. For more information go to vendeeglobe.org.

Photo by Jean Marie LIOT/DPPI

May 2016

Related

00LEAD-Thomas-on-%22Melody%22-2004

The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Thomas Thor Tangvald

The first boat Thomas Tangvald ever owned was just 22 feet long. She was an odd craft, a narrow plywood scow with a flat bottom, leeboards on either side, and square ends—little more than a daysailer with a rotting deck and tiny cabinhouse tacked on. Thomas paid just $200 for ...read more

VIPCAshowbynight

USVI Charter Yacht Show Showcases a Flourishing Industry

As the U.S. Virgin Islands continues to attract sailors seeking to charter and explore the pristine territory on their own, the immense growth and expanded options for a crewed yacht or term charters have exploded here over the past five years. Last week, the USVI Charter ...read more

Screen-Shot-2022-11-21-at-9.48.33-AM

Personal Locator Beacon Wins Top Design Award

The Ocean Signal RescueME PLB3 AIS Personal Locator took top honors at the 2022 DAME Design Awards, while Aceleron Essential, a cobalt-free lithium-iron phosphate battery with replaceable and upgradeable parts, won the first DAME Environmental Design Award. Announced each year ...read more

tracker

EPIRB in the Golden Globe Race

Tapio Lehtinen’s boat sank early this morning southeast of South Africa while racing the Golden Globe Race, a faithfully low-tech reproduction of the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe. The boat went down quickly and stern-first according to the skipper’s emergency transmissions. ...read more

99640-victoire-de-charles-caudrelier-a-bord-du-maxi-edmond-de-rothschild-r-1200-900

Victory, Tragedy in the Route du Rhum

The 2022 Route du Rhum was a highly anticipated event in the ocean racing calendar, but few could have predicted exactly how challenging, dramatic, and tragic it would ultimately prove. French yachtsman Charles Caudrelier took home gold aboard the Ultim maxi trimaran Maxi Edmond ...read more

DSC_1879

Boat Review: Lyman-Morse LM46

Lyman-Morse has been building fine yachts in Thomaston, Maine, ever since Cabot Lyman first joined forces with Roger Morse back in 1978. With experience creating and modifying boats built of various materials, backed by its own in-house fabrication facility, the firm has ...read more

01-LEAD-SPICA-Forest_3

Know-how: All-new Battery Tech

Until very recently, the batteries in sailboats used some form of lead-acid chemistry to store energy. Different manufacturers used different techniques and materials, but in the end, the chemistry and the process by which the batteries charge and discharge electricity remained ...read more

01-LEAD-Bill-Sailing2

At the Helm: When Things Go Sideways

I don’t like sea stories. My number one goal on every passage is to get the crew back in one piece. My number two goal is to get the boat back in one piece as well. If I can’t do both, I’ll take the former. Do this long enough, though, and things are going to happen, no matter ...read more