Vendée Globe: regatta for the braves hearts

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The 9th edition of the Vendée Globe started on November 8, 2020. It is a single-handed, non-stop, round the world race and perhaps the most difficult race in the world. Yachtsmen compete in the open ocean, all alone, without stopping and outside help on open 60′ (18 meters) yachts.

The regatta takes place every four years. The race starts in Les Sables d’Olonne (Vendée, France). Then the route passes south through the Atlantic, along three legendary capes – the South African Cape of Good Hope, the Australian Cape Luyn in the Indian Ocean and the Chilean Cape Horn (Pacific Ocean). Once again, finding themselves in the Atlantic Ocean, the yachts come back to France having covered approximately 25 thousand nautical miles. Along the way they don’t enter ports, make stops or get any outside help.

Despite the complexity of the regatta, the number of daredevils who want to test their strength and the capabilities of their yachts is growing. There is a record number of participants in the 2020/21 race, 33 contesting skippers from nine countries, as well as a record number of women contesting. Six yachtwomen have dared to take part in this ocean challenge.

An excellent way to isolate oneself while under the global pandemic, we might joke. But there is nothing to laugh about. After all, yachtsmen, in addition to managing a yacht, must independently cope with any unforeseen situations and breakdowns, otherwise, they may fall out of the race. The numbers speak for themselves: since the founding of the regatta 8 competitions have been held, 167 professional yachtsmen have taken part and only every second has finished. 78 participants could not cover the distance.

During the current regatta, 8 participants have already retired from the race, among them the Englishman Alex Thomson, who was the favorite to win at the start of the regatta, as this is his fifth Vendeé Globe which he tried to pass on the new hydro-foil yacht Hugo Boss. Samantha Davies also retired from the race, in spite of showing excellent results before and coming in 4th in the 2008/09 regatta.

Unsurprisingly, the regatta has been nicknamed “the Everest of the Seas”. There is hardly a more complex, exhausting, superhuman effort demanding competition and the difficulty is not only in unpredictable weather conditions or the three months of solitude. Skippers must survive the competition: sailing a yacht, developing a strategy, reacting to the weather, dodging icebergs, tankers or other vessels, dodging floating debris that can also damage the yacht and of course eat and sleep sometimes.

And sleep is the most important component, because in such conditions setting up the sails, turning on the autopilot and sleeping all night long is not an option. Yachtsmen tend to develop their own sleep patterns, and most often they alternate 20 minutes of sleep with 20 minutes of wakefulness.

The 18-meter yachts of the IMOCA (International Monohull Open Class Association) “Open 60” class participate in the Vendée Globe. This class of yachts does not have a fixed design and allows any modification as long as it does not contradict with the class restrictions.

The main innovation of recent years is the appearance of hydrofoils, which allows the yacht to practically float above the water and accelerate to the maximum speed. This year more than half of the yachts are foil boats, and they have already shown their effectiveness. All participants on boats without foils are far behind the leaders, being at the end of the tournament table. The large sail area, up to 300 square meters, also allows yachts to reach speeds of 30 knots (56 km/h).

It was predicted that this season the participants would be able to break the record set by Armel Le Cleache, who covered the distance in 74 days in the 2016/17 season. But this did not happen, on the 74th day the leader of the race was two thousand miles from the finish line.

Today for some yachtsmen the race is almost coming to an end. The three leaders of the regatta have passed the Azores and are heading towards France. They have already managed to overcome 28 thousand nautical miles.

The first is the Frenchman Charlie Dahlen. This race is debut in the Vendeé Globe and he has performed well in other transoceanic competitions in the IMOCA class. Louis Barton and Boris Hermann are actually breathing down his back, the distance between the yachts is no more than 80 km and all three have about 500 miles left to finish.

Even now, it is very difficult to predict who will win. Previous years have shown that sometimes the circumstances can be completely unpredictable. In the 2016/17 race, for example, the aforementioned Alex Thompson had been the first but lost the lead on the approach to the Cape of Good Hope, when his yacht collided with an identified object and lost the right foil. Very soon we will find out how each participant has fated in this capricious race.

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