Why does the Vendée Globe remain, in the eyes of many, the gold standard of global ocean races? Simply put, because of the purity of its challenge: one skipper, one boat, one world, nonstop, set out from Les Sables d’Olonne, France, and then sail around the planet leaving Antarctica to starboard. The first one back to France wins.
The race continues to attract the world’s most experienced sailors. This year there will be two skippers sailing their ninth global race, and a past winner and two past runners-up among the 14 returning veterans. Five rookies will also be on the starting line November 10. Among these will be Italian Alessandro Di Benedetto, who recently sailed a 21-foot Mini along the same route as the Vendée, broke his mast at Cape Horn, jury-rigged its two pieces back together, and continued on to finish the route nonstop in 268 days.
We applaud 90-foot Rambler’s breaking of the Bermuda record with 20 crew aboard averaging 16 knots for 650 miles in under 2 days. But how about Vendée Globe 2008-9 winner Michel Desjoyeaux? He not only recorded a speed of 30.44 knots under autopilot, but set his 5,000-square-foot spinnaker alone in 27 knots of wind, and averaged 14 knots for 28,300 nautical miles over 84 days.
Competing in the Vendée means being on high alert round-the-clock. The stress never ends. The Open 60s in the race are huge, the rigs are gigantic, it’s stifling hot in the tropics, and it’s freezing cold in the Southern Ocean gales. Will you be able to make the inevitable repairs? Will you have to go aloft? Will you be injured thousands of miles from help? And perhaps, most important, will you live up to standards of the competitiors who went before you, the storied legacy that is the Vendée Globe?
For the 2008-09 edition of the race, 300,000 people came to the start, and three-quarters of a million people over three weeks walked the docks to see the boats and talk with the skippers and shore crews. Why? Because at its heart, the Vendée Globe is both an incredible dream and a daring adventure, one that transcends national boundaries and appeals to people from all walks of life. I’ll be glued to it. For more on this year's race, visit vendeeglobe.org/en.
Photo courtesy of Jacques Vapillon/DPPI/Vendee Globe