Thirty years of the Vendée Globe

26 Nov
Titouan Lamazou, winner of the first Vendée Globe aboard Ecureuil d’Aquitaine II


This past week marks 30 years since the start of the very first Vendée Globe. It’s also less than a year until the start of the next Vendée Globe, which gets underway from Les Sables-d’Olonne on the west coast of France on November 8, 2020. The Vendée was founded as “The Globe Challenge” in 1989 by French yachtsman Philippe Jeantot. Jeantot who had competed in the BOC Challenge in 1982/83 and 1986/87 winning the 60-foot class in both races. Dissatisfied with the race format he decided to set up a new around-the-world, non-stop race which he felt would be the ultimate challenge for single-handed sailors. He was able to get sponsorship from the city of Les Sables-d’Olonne as well as the region where Les Sables-d’Olonne is located; the Vendée, hence the name.
Philippe Jeantot
 The first race in 1989 was won by the French sailor Titouan Lamazou with Jeantot coming in fourth. Of the 13 starters only seven finished. Lamazou might have won but the real story of the race was that of the American sailor Mike Plant. Plant had built his own boat on a very slim budget and had to stop off Campbell Island, New Zealand to replace a $5 rigging part. As a result of receiving outside assistance he was disqualified but he carried on to finish the race and in doing so won the hearts of sailors all around the world. Mike was able to get sponsorship to build a new Open 60 for the 92/93 Vendée but he was sadly lost at sea on his way over to France for the start. Mike was not the only tragedy that year. Four days after the race started British sailor Nigel Burgess was found drowned off Cape Finisterre having presumably fallen overboard.
By this time the Vendée had started to capture the imagination of sailors around the world. They liked its simplicity. Unlike the BOC which was raced in stages, the Vendée is non-stop removing the cost of each stopover which added up pretty quickly with family, shore team and sponsors flying into town. Having done some solo sailing myself I know that stopping messes with the rhythm and routine you get into while at sea making it hard to get going again. Non-stop meant that the sailors could ease into the challenge of a single-handed circumnavigation with a long view; the finish line 27,000 mies away right back where they had started.
In the 96/97 race heavy weather in the Southern Ocean took a serious toll on the sailors. Raphaël Dinelli’s boat capsized and he was rescued by the British sailor Pete Goss. Then, within a few hours of each other, three other boats capsized. They we all rescued by the Royal Australian Navy and then contact was lost with Canadian sailor Gerry Roufs; his body was never found, but his boat was found five months later off the Chilean Coast. The race that year was won by Christophe Auguin with Catherine Chabaud becoming the first woman to finish the Vendée Globe.
Chabaud might have shown that a woman could complete the course but in 2000/01 British sailor Ellen MacArthur showed that a woman could win the race; well almost. Ellen had been trading the lead with Michel Desjoyeaux and was well positioned to exit the doldrums in the lead but her yacht, Kingfisher, struck a semi-submerged container and she was forced to slow down and make repairs. Desjoyeaux won with Ellen coming in second.
Women have since become a big part of the event. British sailor Sam Davies, who finished fifth in the 08/09 race and was dismasted in the following Vendée, is back with a formidable entry in the upcoming race. In all there will be six women competing in the 2020 race. Race officials have to limit the number of entries because the harbor in Les Sables-d’Olonne can only manage a certain number of boats.
Christophe Auguin’s “aircraft carrier.”
The Vendée has thrived because of the purity of the challenge. In the fast-paced world we live in there is hardly room for small adventures let alone something as gigantic as a solo, non-stop lap of the planet. It has also thrived because those guiding the event have allowed innovation to flourish. There was a time when the boats were nicknamed “aircraft carriers” because of their excessive beam which allowed water ballast to be carried as far outboard as possible. Then along came canting keels and now we have flying boats. Where to next? Only time will tell but the next Vendée is over subscribed and that’s not the case for all the other around-the-world races. That alone says something.
Flying boats

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This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


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