Please select your home edition
Edition
RS Sailing 2020 - RSSS - LEADERBOARD

The incomparable Vendée Globe

by Mark Jardine 26 Oct 15:00 PDT
Eve of the Vendée Globe 2016/17 start © Vincent Curutchet / DPPI / Vendee Globe

For a race that only started in 1989, the Vendée Globe has reached iconic status in the intervening time. Taking place every four years, this is ocean racing in its purest form; single-handed, non-stop around the world in 60-foot monohulls conforming to the IMOCA box rule.

The 2020-21 edition start is now under two weeks away, on Sunday 8th November at just after midday GMT, and the excitement is immense. This is sailing's chance to steal the sporting limelight around the world.

For the French, the race has always been massive, not just amongst sailors, but the general public as well. In normal years, the start venue of Les Sables-d'Olonne welcomes up to two million visitors to the town and race village, but of course 2020 is not a normal year...

The race itself has grown massively and the technology involved in the boats has continually pushed the boundaries of offshore sailing. Inaugural winner Titouan Lamazou completed the course in 109 days and 8 hours, whereas Armel Le Cléac'h took just 74 days and 3 hours to finish in the 2016-17 edition.

The fleet size has also steadily increased. The inaugural race had thirteen entries, of which eight finished, although American Mike Plant disqualified himself after receiving minor assistance near New Zealand, making the official finishers count as seven. The 2016-17 race saw 29 skippers from ten countries with a record eighteen finishers, and this year there are 33 skippers lining up to take part.

Famously the race has only been won by Frenchmen with Alain Gautier, Michel Desjoyeaux (the only person to win the race twice), Vincent Riou, François Gabart and most recently Armel Le Cléac'h becoming sailing legends. The closest anyone has come to toppling the French domination is Alex Thomson finishing just 16 hours behind Le Cléac'h in the last edition, and Ellen MacArthur finishing second in the 2000-21 edition, a day behind Desjoyeaux.

When it comes to the technology involved in the boats, probably the most visible and marked change in recent years has been the addition of foils designed to lift the hull clear of the water. There is a key difference in the IMOCA class rule from what we see with the America's Cup AC75s or foiling dinghies such as the International Moth, in that the rudders aren't allowed any kind of T-foil, effectively restricting the foiling to reducing the wetted surface area of the boat with the stern usually in the water. Yes, we see occasional photos of boats fully 'launched', but this isn't their usual mode.

Life on board these boats has always been uncomfortable, but the latest generation of IMOCAs take this to a new level. In heavy seas the sailors are literally thrown around as the boat negotiates the waves. The open cockpits of previous years have moved steadily towards fully-enclosed designs, protecting the sailors from the elements. This is entirely necessary with speeds of up 40 knots now possible. Being hit by a cascade of water at these speeds is beyond dangerous.

An area which has seen a step-change in technology is autopilots. Gone are the days of a device simply keeping a constant heading. Modern autopilots manage how an IMOCA yacht navigates each wave, trying to maintain speeds at their optimum through day and night. These devices outperform humans and don't suffer from tiredness. They relentlessly push the boats to the limit as Sam Davies, skipper of Intitiatives Coeur describes in this excellent article on the subject by Matt Sheahan: "The pilot systems maintain an apparent wind angle and speeds that I hadn't dreamed of trying if I was steering - It makes for quite a violent ride at times."

As the apparent wind moves forward, sail design has changed considerably. Headsail options on roller-furlers limit the time sailors have to spend 'on deck' and mean most manoeuvres can be completed from inside the cockpit. The sails have to be designed to perform through a wide range of wind angles as constantly trimming the sails simply isn't an option single-handed in such powerful craft.

So, who will win the 2020-21 edition? The Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d'Olonne provided a few pointers with Jérémie Beyou's Charal taking victory after a nip-and-tuck battle with Charlie Dalin on Apivia and Thomas Ruyant on LinkedOut. There's no doubt that this trio will be in the reckoning to win overall.

The next group in this race included Samantha Davies (Initiatives Coeur), Kevin Escoffier (PRB), Yannick Bestaven (Maitre CoQ IV) and Boris Herrmann (SeaExplorer-Yacht Club of Monaco) who also have fast, albeit older, designs.

Of those that suffered damage in the Vendée-Arctique, Sébastien Simon on Arkéa-Paprec, who broke his starboard foil, and Armel Tripon on L'Occitane en Provence are known to be fast.

The big unknown is Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss. Third in the 2012-13 edition and second in the 2016-17 race, will this finally be his chance to top the podium and finally end the domination of the French in this race? The boat itself looks the part, but actual racing time for Alex has been lacking. He certainly has the experience, and has overcome obstacles in the past, such as sailing almost the entire previous race with a broken foil, so maybe, just maybe, this will be his time.

The Vendée Globe has all the ingredients to be an absolute classic: incredibly fast and eye-catching yachts with the ability to transmit the experience of the sailors directly to us armchair sailors at a time when many of us are restricted in what we can do with our own sailing. On Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com we will be bringing you updates in words, pictures and videos throughout the entire race and we're incredibly excited about how it unfolds!

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

Related Articles

Cup news, Vendee Globe update, US Sailing staff
Latest newsletter from Sail-World's David Schmidt in the USA Daylight and warm temperatures might be in short supply these days in most of North America, and rainfall might be abundant here in the Pacific Northwest, but that sure doesn't mean that the international sailing news cycle is in hibernation. Posted today at 4:00 pm
There's a place called Hobart
It's pretty special all year round, and it's also a good springboard It's pretty special all year round. Hobart is also a marvellous springboard from which to leap into history, culinary delights, nature's gifts of both flora and fauna, all manner of beverages, trails, bushwalking... Posted on 22 Nov
In Conversation with Andy Rice
Chatting about the Draycote Dash, Vendée Globe, America's Cup and more! Mark Jardine chats with Andy about the Draycote Dash, which would be taking place this weekend if it weren't for Lockdown 2.0, the Seldén Sailjuice Winter Series, the Vendée Globe, the build-up to the 36th America's Cup and his 'Road to Gold' series. Posted on 20 Nov
The John Westell Centenary
Dougal Henshall gives us an introduction to the upcoming video series! Whatever your favourite dinghy or boat may be, they all have one thing in common! At some point back in the past, someone sat down and drew the lines for the boat, normally with a particular purpose in mind! Posted on 20 Nov
Gladwell's Line: The Cup accelerates
To our eye, the Challengers' Version 2 AC75's are all very similar in performance As we have said in a couple of the Rialto stories, the Challengers' Version 2 AC75's are all very similar in performance - and to our eye don't look like they are any quicker than Emirates Team New Zealand's Version 1 AC75, Te Aihe. Posted on 19 Nov
Kevin Morin on MarkSetBot's new RaceOS technology
David Schmidt checks in with the founder and creator to learn more I checked in with Kevin Morin, the founder and creator of MarkSetBot, via email, to learn more about RaceOS technology and how it can improve sailboat racing. Posted on 18 Nov
What is sailing?
A simple question one would think... A simple question one would think, but there are several events, innovations, trends and decisions which have brought up this fundamental question for us sailors, particularly yachtsmen. Posted on 17 Nov
Hot Wood...
Dougal Henshall charts the success of Fairey Marine's moulded dinghies The name of Fairey Marine, and their incredible range of hot moulded wooden dinghies, is central to the growth that marked that golden era of dinghy sailing in the UK. There was nothing like success to help sales. Posted on 13 Nov
Vendee Globe begins, AC36 news, e-Sailing Worlds
Latest newsletter from Sail-World's David Schmidt in the USA As the U.S. wraps up what can only be described as a bruising election season, the sailing community can count itself extremely lucky to have one of the best mental distractions available, namely the start of the 2020/2021 edition of the Vendee Globe. Posted on 10 Nov
Jean-Pierre Dick on the ETF26 Series
An interview with Jean-Pierre Dick about the ETF26 Series ETF26 catamarans are three-person, high-performance foiling catamarans that are raced on a circuit that draws international teams and top-shelf talent. Posted on 10 Nov
Vaikobi 2020 - FOOTER 3Highfield Boats - Sailing - FOOTERC-Tech 2020 Battens 728x90 BOTTOM