Vendee Globe!

12 Nov

Well, the greatest sailing competition on the face of the Earth is now at sea. Website is here. Tracker is here. YouTube is here. Twitter is here. Facebook is here.

Phew, that's sailing in the social media age. But it let's you soak it all up.

Here's the latest video update:

The latest news (including Groupe Bel's collision with a trawler) is here. No surprise: all the big guns are at the 

top of the fleet.

Settle in, and enjoy. because there is three months if intense, suspenseful racing ahead.

In the meantime, to truly capture what a big deal the Vendee Globe is, especially for the French, I turn you over to Stewart Hosford, Hugo Boss' Team Director, and his account of ths start day:

 

What an unbelievable day! The Vendée Globe is a phenomena. This morning I woke at 6am and as I was leaving the apartment at 6.30 I could hear a huge crowd gathering with horns blowing and people chanting. It is like a crowd of people gathering at the coliseum in ancient Rome to see the gladiators parade into the arena with the same excitement and energy, and it feels like to me – a thirst for seeing those about to sacrifice themselves to unknown perils..

The team were due to meet at 07.30 and when I arrived just after the 7am the whole team were already onsite and working – this is it!

We gathered together on the hospitality boat with 100 guests and Alex arrives at 8.00. He takes a good breakfast, a weather briefing to finalise the strategy for the Biscay exit and the Portuguese coast and then a physio session and some time with his sports psychologist. At 9.30 he is ready. He says goodbye to his one year old son Oscar and his wife Kate and that is the hardest part. I walk the docks and I see all the skippers arrive with many of them with red eyes from saying goodbye to their families and children and the atmosphere is charged like nothing I have ever experienced in sailing or sport before. First I say goodbye to our team friend Gutek from Poland who received his boat from us 7 weeks ago and has spent literally a few days sailing in preparation for this most extreme of sailing challenges. He is a tough guy but this morning you could see the emotion on his face – and maybe not an inconsiderable amount of fear.

So as the boats leave the dock we take Alex to the race boat where he does a couple of quick TV interviews and the lines are cast off. The most impressive part of the Vendee Globe is the trip of 1 mile down the canal to the open sea. The quay walls are lined with what must have been 400,000 spectators and they do not simply clap and wave – they roar their heads off and chant in appreciation of the brave skippers. As soon and we rounded the corner and I heard the roar the tears were very close. The crowds hang onto every piece of space and there were people in the water and standing on the top of chimney stacks with a deafening cauldron of sound as we exit the canal.

As we reach the end of the canal we take the journalists and our sponsors off the boat as the sea becomes rough and Alex is left with the technical team to make the final preparations. Ross, Clarkee, Rachel, Guillermo, Will, Capey and I stay to the end to set everything up for him and set him on his way. The sea was very rough out in the Biscay today and with a weather front passing over with lots of cloud and rain the Vendee Globe offered us up a foreboding seascape for the start of this epic race. At 15 minutes to the start the sails are set the boat is positioned and Ross, Capey, Rachel and I jump into the support boat and say our goodbyes. I guess when you work on something like this for 3 years and you imagine all the things you will say to Alex as you say goodbye, at the end these clever words of motivation are not necessary and simply a hug, a “love you man” and “come home safe” are all that are really necessary and meaningful. A few wet eyes and it is done – he is off!

Just before the 4 minutes to the race start when the gun sounds, the last remaining crew Clarkee, Will & Guillermo give him a quick hug, and with no time to get the rib alongside, simply step over the side of the boat into the Ocean. We pull them out of the water and he is alone.

A good start, conservative, middle of the fleet, in clear air and we follow him closely on our support boat as we pass by thousands of other spectator boats with (on my last count) 12 helicopters from various TV networks thundering overhead. We follow the boat far out to sea to make sure he does not get tangled with any other spectator boat and eventually soaking wet and seriously bounced around, I look at Ross and he at me and we know it is time. We wait and follow him for another 10 minutes and then I make the call – time to go. So, we buzz alongside, and we shout out Good luck Alex – and he simply turns and gives us a quick wave before going back to helming and looking ahead. In all the time we followed on the support boat (maybe 2 hours in total) I did not see him look back at us behind him once, he knew we were there, but kept his eyes forward and out to sea. And that is it, you turn for home and leave him sail off and meet his own destiny.

For now, the next stage of the journey starts, we communicate with him through email, video and phone and we support him on his journey. We also, as a team get together and have a huge party and celebrate all the work that we have done to get to this point – but shhhhhh, we don’t tell Alex about our party tonight.

Vendée Globe – most special sporting event on the planet (IMHO).

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