This is the toughest competition in ocean racing and definitely also one of the toughest sports event on the planet: The Vendée Globe. Since its creation in 1989, only 72 sailors have managed to finish this yacht race which starts every four years from Les Sables d’Olonne at the West coast of France. The idea is to sail all alone on 60-foot monohulls (the IMOCA 60 class), without stopping and without exterior assistance around the world – a 40100 km and some 80 days long “ultra adventure”.
Thus, it is not surprising that the Vendée Globe is also called the “Everest of the Seas”. The sailors head from France down the European and African West coast and into the notorious Southern Ocean passing the three capes, Cape of Good Hope – Cape Leeuwin – Cape Hoorn, and finally sail the Atlantic ocean back home to Les Sables d’Olonne. At times, the participants will be so far away from the nearest land, that the closest human beings are the astronauts in the International Space Station!
So, it goes without saying that participating in this yacht race requires many years of thorough preparation. Three weeks before the start, the port of Les Sables d’Olonne is transformed into an enormous Race Village, so that sponsors, sailing enthusiasts and fans of ocean yacht racing get the chance to take a closer look at the boats and skippers.
Last week, the eighth edition of the race set off with 29 skippers on the start line ready to face the elements. Incredibly, this year, 1.5 million (!) people came down to Les Sables to visit the Race Village. A unique chance to follow the last preparations of the sailors at first hand from the pontoons. Seeing the skippers and their technical teams working in the mast, 28 m above the ground, preparing the 600m² (!) big sails, getting all the electronic equipment ready to go, studying the nautical chart of the Tasmanian Sea, loading food and clothes for three months away from land… Just amazing and what a festival atmosphere in this French port!
As landlubbers, we are already worried about forgetting something for our holidays or our roadtrip, but these guys are packing on a different level: They will be heading with their boats to the most extreme environments on the planet and must be 1000% sure that every single piece of their machine is working perfectly, capable to stand the storms expected in the Southern Ocean, and that no important piece of equipment is left on the docks.
We wish all the best to the 29 sailors, fair winds and happy sailing! Don’t miss following the Vendée Globe event on the internet and social media!
Yannick is currently working for the sailing magazine “Voiles et Voiliers” – the leader of the nautical press in France – and reported on the Vendée Globe event directly from Les Sables d’Olonne being one of the 1300 accredited journalists for the Race Village.