Preparing for three months alone at sea in full-on race mode. Credit: Jean-Marie Liot/DPPI/Vendee Globe
The world’s biggest sporting challenge by far is surely the Vendee Globe race, a 23,000-mile non-stop single-handed dash around the planet. For the lone sailors, who will remain in constant full-on race mode for almost three months, it requires immense physical toughness, along with enormous technical knowledge and emotional resilience. No other event in the sporting world makes such relentless demands over such a long period of time.
The race has been held every four years since 1989 and this year’s event started from Les Sables d’Olonne on France’s Atlantic coast on Sunday November 6. The leaders are expected to return there after around 75-80 days, having sailed the length of the Atlantic in both directions, plus a lengthy Southern Ocean passage. Historically only around half the fleet completes the full circumnavigation. An idea of the scale of the challenge is that fewer people have sailed single handed non-stop around the world than have been in space.
The boats are IMOCA 60ft monohulls, built to a box rule that defines parameters that include overall length, draught, mast height and safety considerations. The latest generation of boats have horizontal foils that are deployed on the lee side to generate lift and elevate the hull out of the water when boat speed exceeds around 16 knots.
Skipper Jeremie Bayou – the latest generation of boats have horizontal foils that increase stability and help lift the hull out of the water. Credit: Francis Van Malleghem/DPPI/Vendee Globe
29 skippers representing 10 countries will contest this edition of the race. They cover a huge range of experience, including five who will join a small group of sailors who have taken part in the Vendée Globe on four occasions. A further six sailors will be taking part in their third Vendée Globe, while four others will be setting sail from Les Sables d’Olonne for the second time. The 2016-2017 line-up brings together the youngest competitor in the history of the race (Alan Roura, 23) and the oldest (Rich Wilson, 66).
The popularity of the race in France is such that around one million people will visit the race village in the port in the three weeks before the start. In addition, more than 500,000 skippers from around the world will compete online in the Virtual Vendee Globe.