For those whose fascinations run to single-handed offshore racing, Thursday, November 9 will be a special day. That's the day that the worlds top echelon of solo sailors embark on one of the most grueling events ever devisedthe Vendée Globe. Running from the western coast of France down through the vast Atlantic, around Antarctica and back, not only is this event sailed alone, its done nonstop without the possibility of assistance. Heading into its fourth edition, this is an event thats always been demanding on multiple levels. In essence, it requires superb sailing skills, nearly inhuman determination, and the kind of planning and preparation that ordinarily goes into a full-scale military operation.
As the flagship event of this rarified discipline, the Vendée Globe has certainly had its detractors. Pundits and critics alike have been quick to fault the events extreme nature, asserting that its reckless, more survival than sport. The claims arent untrue; sailors have been lost in past editions of the Vendée Globe. Its most recent chapter, in 1996-97, claimed the life of French Canadian racer Gerry Roufs, and three other competitors were dramatically rescued in that event. And, it is both an affirmation as well as an indictment of the races exigent nature that among the 43 cumulative entries the Vendée Globe has seen, only 20 have officially made it to the finish line.
As the race founder and a former participant, Jeantot is well aware of the risks, which accounts for another aspect of evolution in the eventthe advancement of safety measures. Working with race veterans, designers, and rescue professionals from Australia, Jeantot and his associates have mandated minimum safety standards including a requirement for flotation equaling 130 percent of displacement and a self-righting prescription requiring a 125-degree capsize stability. This group also instituted requirements for a survival compartment in the aft end of each boat, and improved visibility by way of all rudders and keels painted with fluorescent orange. Additionally several waypoints have been added to the course at strategic locations to prohibit competitors from descending below 57 degrees south. And each competitor has undergone a survival and medical training seminar, while exhaustive descriptions of each sailor and their vessel have been forwarded to search and rescue authorities along the prospective routes.
Its not just the organizers who have made headway in refining the event. Working in tandem with designers, the competitors have striven to refine their boats, seeking greater sailing efficiency and better reliability. This work has brought about some interesting new applications in gear. Consider the twin rudders aboard Michel Desjoyeauxs PRB, launched just last spring. Both rudders are hung on the transom and fitted to kick up, not unlike those on beach cats, should they hit an object. Additionally, it has a central daggerboard fitted forward of the mast with the same dimensions of its rudders should that need to be pressed into service further aft. Theres also a distinct cockpit-encircling mainsail traveler.
High-average speeds, the rigors of having just one operator on board, and the reliability requirements of a round-the-world course place unusual demands on the structure of these vessels. For Ellen MacArthurs Kingfisher, the project engineers and designers made sure that little, if any, additional weight was added by way of secondary bonding. Every structural member, aside from two small longitudinal stringers, performs some additional function like forming the sides to the water-ballast tanks. And redundancy, like having daggerboards that are reversible so that they can be employed upsidedown should one fail, demonstrates the sort of sound thinking that has gone into the best of these boats.
Certainly the cumulative talentsboth on board and behind the CAD systems that created these marvelsensure that this edition of the Vendee Globe will be the most competitive to date. As the boats wend their way south through the Bay of Biscay and out into the trade winds this month, those of us in the sailing world will bear witness to what and who prevails and doesnt. SailNet contributor Brian Hancock will be on location in Les Sables dOlonne for the start. Stand by for updates as the race progresses.
Michel Desjoyeaux, 35 PRB (France)
Yves Parlier, 40 Aquitaine Innovations (France)
Catherine Chabaud, 38 Whirlpool (France)
Dominic Waivre, 45 Union Bancaire Privee (Switzerland)
Ellen MacArthur, 24 Kingfisher (Great Britain)
Josh Hall, 41 EPB esprit PME/Gartmore (Great Britain)
Mike Golding, 40 Groupe 4 (Great Britain)
Thomas Coville, 32 Sodebo savourons la vie (France)
Roland Jourdain, 36 Sill Entreprises (France)
Marc Thiercelen, 40 Active Wear (France)
Simon Bianchetti, 32 Aquarelle.com (Italy)
Rafael Dinelli, 31 Sogal extenso (France)
Thierry Dubois, 33 Solidaires (France)
Eric Dumont, 39 Euroka (France)
Bernard Gallay, 40 Voila.fr (France-Switzerland)
Feydor Kouniokhov, 47 Modern University for Humanities (Russia)
Didier Muduteguy, 47 DDP 60eme Sud (France)
Joe Seteen, 43 Nord Pas de Calais/Chocolat du Monde (France)
Bernard Stamm, 37 Superbigou/Amor Lux (Switzerland)
Richard Tolkein, 36 This Time (Great Britain)
Javier Sanso, 31 Old Spice (Spain)
Three competitors will participate in 50-foot boats:
Pasquale de Gregorio, 58 Wind (Italy)
Patrick de Radigues, 44 Lightning (Belgium)
Patrice Carpentier, 49 VM Materiaux (France)
For more information log on to the events website at www.vendeeglobe.com.
Suggested Reading List
Vendée Globe Countdown by Mark Matthews
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