Sunday, December 8th, 2019

Twenty Sailors Battle the ‘Everest of the Seas’

Published on November 27, 2012 by   ·   No Comments

On 10 November, 20 brave sailors set off for the seventh edition of the Vendée Globe.  Known as the ‘Everest of the Seas’, the Vendée Globe is a nonstop singlehanded round-the-world yacht race sailed without assistance every four years.  The target for the intrepid 20 to beat is 84 days and three hours set by Michel Desjoyeaux in 2008/09 – what a long time to be “lost” at sea…

Leaving from Les Sables D’Olonne, a seaside town just north of La Rochelle in the French Vendée, the Race rounds the three major Capes (Good Hope in South Africa, Leeuwin in Western Australia and Horn in Chile) and all skippers are alone in their endeavours.  And “alone” means exactly that, no skipper support, no crew, no customised help with weather forecasts and no exterior operation of the yacht, although phones and emails are allowed – as witnessed from the various Tweets coming from the Captains as they embark on their epic journey.

The ultimate sailing experience

Created by Philippe Jeantot in 1989 in order to push the limits of human adventure and self-transcendence, current French Sailing Federation President, Jean-Pierre Champion, says of the Vendée Globe, “For more than 20 years, the Everest of the Seas has been a dream for skippers who see it as the ulti­mate experience, the perfect symbiosis between a sailor and his sailboat.  But this breathtaking race also makes the public watch in awe because of the emotion it brings and the bravery, the tenacity and the solidarity of its participants.”

This seventh edition features some expe­rienced skippers in their fifties, old hands at round-the-world yachting, alongside youngsters François Gabart and Louis Burton who are Vendée Globe virgins and the youngest at 29 and 27 respectively.  The older ones know their strengths and weaknesses well, are able to manage their efforts, be careful with their boats and overcome challenges with perspective and maturity.  The youngsters have determination, enthusiasm, motivation and good physical shape on their side.

Sam eyes podium finish

This year also features one solo woman – Brit Samantha Davies.  Samantha leaves behind her husband and 14 month old son for the tough test but she is no stranger to this event.  In 2008/09 she was an incredibly impressive fourth and is aiming to improve on that this time around with her sights firmly set on the podium.  No woman has ever won the Vendée Globe, but Dame Ellen MacArthur holds the accolade of coming the closest in 2000/01 when she came second at the tender age of 24, let’s see if Samantha can top it.

Minimising weight offers challenges

Conditions are tough at sea.  Skippers wear body harnesses to keep them attached to their monohulls and satellite communications systems constantly send out and receive signals.  All have some technical training so they can fix and work on accessible parts to keep the boats in good working order.  Food is far from gourmet, there’s no time to cook and in any case pots and pans would add to the yacht’s weight, a no-no for racing, freeze dried or ready meals are par for the course – either heat up or add water.  The monohulls have no bathrooms and therefore no toilets (use your imagination) and washed clothing is not known for its ability to dry in humid conditions.  And, as for sleep, most skippers get three to six hours of sleep each day but rarely for more than an hour at a time, sometimes just 15 minutes, it all depends on the weather.  At least they have social media to keep them entertained!

At the time of writing, already three of the 20 sailors had run into problems – less than a week into the Race.  Betrand de Bloc had to repair his boat after a collision with his support team’s RIB just moments before the start of the Vendée Globe and suffered a 14 hour delay as a result, Marc Guillemot was forced to retire completely with keel damage and Mallorcan sailor Javier “Bubi” Sansó had suffered damage to the track of the main sail halyard, something he hopes to be able to fix although he may lose 48 hours in the process.  Young talented skipper Francois ‘Goldenboy’ Gabart currently heads the fleet and Zbigniew Gutkowski brings up the rear with multiple electrical problems to contend with.

To keep up with progress visit or daily updates via

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