The Vendée Globe is arguably the simplest regatta in the world. Everybody sails alone aboard the same kind of boat—an International Monohull Open Classes Association (IMOCA) 60. The entire fleet starts out from Les Sables d’Olonee, France, at the same time: first one around the world and back sailing west to east wins.
Of course, the devil is in the details, among them: icebergs, sleep deprivation, not one but two transits of the doldrums, the incredible power and speed of an Open 60 racer, and the small matter of surviving the rounding of Cape Horn. Race aficionados never weary of citing the fact that more people have gone into outer space than sail alone, nonstop around the world. It would be hard to find a spot on the entire globe more desolate then some of the stretch of water the Vendée Globe fleet crosses in the Southern Ocean.
On Saturday, November 10, a fleet of 20 boats will embark on one of the last of the world’s great adventures. Granted, this will be the seventh running of a race that began in 1989, when 13 gutsy sailors set out from Les Sables d’Olonne for the inaugural running of the event. And the boats and the technology have evolved tremendously since those early days of “a marvelous range of mad yachtsmen,” as Titouan Lamazou, winner of the first Vendée described his fellows. But those advances have only resulted in an escalation in the speed, competitive pressure and danger. And of course, the Southern Ocean doesn’t care what kinds of electronics you have on board or what your boat is made of—when a solo sailor comes for a visit, it’s still very much the one in charge.
The 2012-13 Vendée will feature the usual contingent of “mad” representatives from offshore-sailing-made France, including such veterans as Jean-Pierre Dick, winner of not one but two Barcelona World races (this will be his third Vendée Globe); Jérémie Beyou, winner of last year’s Solitaire du Figaro and the Transat Jacques Vabre, for whom this will be the second Vendée Globe; and Vincent Riou, winner of the 2004-05 Vendée Globe.
However, the class of 2012-13 includes a number of sailors from other countries as well, making this a truly international event—albeit one without any U.S. sailors. (Which is a crying shame.) Among these are British sailor Samantha Davies, the only woman in this year’s fleet; Spanish sailor Javier Sansó, who is on his second Vendée; British sailor Alex Thomson, who set a new solo transatlantic record this past summer as part of his pre-race warm-up; Polish sailor Zbigniew Gutkowski, who finished second to American offshore veteran Brad Van Liew in the 2011 VELUX 5 Oceans Race; and British veteran Mike Golding, who is on his fourth Vendée, having finished third in the 2004-5 race. (He lost his mast while leading the pack the last time around and had to withdraw.)
A few other tidbits to put the upcoming race in perspective:
-Total race distance: Around 23,000 miles (although the distance sailed is typically around 26,000 miles)
-Youngest entrant: British sailor Ellen MacArthur, who sailed the 2000-01 race when she was 24
-Oldest entrant: Spanish sailor Jose de Ugarte, who sailed the 1992-93 race when he was 62
-Average amount of sleep per day: 3 hours
-Toughest Vendée Globe: Of the 30 competitors who set out on the 2008-09 race, only 11 finished
-Fastest 24-hour run: In 2004, French sailor Roland Jourdain sailed an incredible 439 miles in 24 hours, although he ultimately had to retire from the race because of keel problems
-Duration of the first Vendée: French sailor Titouan Lamazou won the 1989-90 race in just over 109 days, averaging 9.7 knots over an actual 25,485 miles sailed
-Fastest Vendée Globe: In 2008-09 French sailing legend Michel Desjoyeaux won the race in just over 83 days, averaging 14 knots over 28,303 actual miles sailed
For more on this year’s race, click here. And good luck to the 2012-13 fleet of competitors!
Photos courtesy of The Vendée Globe