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Vendée Globe 2020 Progress Updates

What, Where, Who, When, Why?​

Everything you need to know about the world’s ultimate yacht race

By Sam Clark

The Vendée Globe is a non-stop, single-handed yacht race circumnavigating the globe. The skippers face weeks of extreme hardship, pounding seas, gigantic waves, relentless wind, freezing conditions, sleep derived mental endurance, alone on what is considered ultimate test in ocean racing. 

Philippe Jeantot founded this epic race through the oceans in 1989. Saltwater flows through Jeantot’s veins. A former oil rig deep-sea diver, he built himself a boat to sail around the world became an accomplished sailor. He competed in the BOC Challenge twice, winning the first race breaking the record for a single-handed circumnavigation (159 days, 2 hours). The BOC Challenge (now called the Velux 5 Oceans Race) is a solo yacht race around the world. Jeantot must have felt that the stopovers allowed in the BOC Challenge were not challenging enough so he created the new race, a single-handed circumnavigation with no stops and no assistance! The Everest of the seas.

On 26th November 1989, thirteen sailors set off for the first race. Only seven completed the voyage, lead by the winner Frenchman, Titouan Lamazou. Jeantot arrived in fourth place, a few hours shy of 115 days.

The race starts and finishes in the port of Les Sables d’Olonne in the Département of Vendée on the west coast of France. Competitors head south, racing through the Atlantic Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope then travel clockwise around Antarctica, passing Cape Horn then back to Les Sables d’Olonne.

This really is not just a race. It’s an epic battle of survival, alone on unforgiving seas. The course is continually moving through mountainous waves with little protection from harsh weather conditions that rage 24 hours a day. The competitors are continually making calculations and adjustments to squeeze out every possible ounce of speed. Given restrictions that Race Direction of the Vendée Globe has set for the route, such as a maximum rescue area from The Australian Maritime Rescue services and an Antarctic Exclusion Zone where the threat of ice burgs becomes to great, the boats are expected to sail around 24,300 nautical miles.

Unfortunately, due to the exceptional circumstances this year with Covid-19 the event village at the start in Les Sables d’Olonne has had to close. The skippers have been in quarantine from the beginning of November with just their immediate team. They will embark on their solo endeavour quietly and alone. Hopefully, they will be able to return to cheering crowds.

The Vendée Globe is held every four years and its 9th event leaves Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday 8thNovember 2020. The race is held between November to February to place the competitors in the Southern Ocean during the austral summer. The time to beat is 74 days 03 hours 35 minutes and 46second set by Armel Le Cléac’h, winner of the 2016/17 race. Some skippers in a new generation of IMOCAs have their sights set on breaking 70 days.

Pip Hare skipper of l’Imoca Medallia in the Vendée Globe 2020 © Richard Langdon / Oceanimages

Of the 167 skippers who set sail in this gruelling race only 89 have crossed the finish line. You may remember Ellen MacArthor, before setting several solo sailing world records in the trimaran B&Q/Castorama to great media celebration, she was the youngest competitor, at 24, to complete the Vendee Globe, finishing second in 2001.

This year 33 boats, the largest field to date, will depart from Les Sables d’Olonne, including 4 British skippers; Samantha Davies, Pip HareMiranda Merron and Alex Thomson who is one of the favourites to win this year. Its Thomson’s 5th time at the Vendée and after 2nd and 3rd in the last two outings he is battling to win this time. His boat, HUGO BOSS boasts the most radically design in the fleet, pioneering the fully closed cockpit and other technological advances ranging from the sails and rig to the autopilot.

A good question. The competition? The achievement? This is the ultimate single-handed sailing challenge… and there is a rather impressive sculptured, meter high trophy for the winner.


Follow the action at the Vendèe Globe website


Miranda Merron skipper of Campagne de France in the Vendée Globe 2020 © Team Campagne de France

Dramatic Rescue

Skipper Kevin Escoffier is rescued from his life-raft in the Southern Ocean by fellow competitor Jean Le Cam

As we write this news is still comming in about the dramatic rescue of French skipper Kevin Escoffier. Yesterday afternoon Escoffier triggered his emergancy beacon from his boat, PRB, after a breif and distressing radio message to his team saying his boat was taking on a lot of water, this is not a joke, please come and help.

Four other competitors were fortunately in the area where Escoffier called for help and immediately started a search for him. He was spotted then lost again in the waves until a message came through to the race headquarters at Les Sables d’Olonne ‘He’s on board with Jean!’. After searching into the dark Jean Le Cam managed to pull Escoffier onto the safety of  his boat around 1 o’clock in the morning. They gave a short video link saying they were both well. 

In a strange twist of the sea gods, Jean Le Cam was himself rescued from his upturned IMOCA 60 which capsized at Cape Horn during the 2008-2009 Vendée Globe by Vincent Riou, the then the skipper of PRB.

Kevin Escoffier messages home with Jean Le Cam after his dramatic rescue in the Southern Ocean. Image © SAEM Vendee 

Kevin Escoffier racing in the Vendée Globe 2020. Images © Jean-Marie Liot/PRB

Get onboard with Alex Thomson

Follow the action up close and personal in The Hub

The skippers may be alone, hundreds of miles out at sea but for the fist time it is possible to view the action with a very intimate, front row seat. All that’s missing is the sea spray. 

Alex Thomson and his boat, Hugo Boss have been linked up to The Hub, a website created in conjunction with Nokia Bell Labs. The Hub displays stats like Alex’s heart beat, work-load and sleep patterns. There is also instrument data such as speed and heel angle of the state of the art boat. Nine cameras are installed on the boat giving a view on board from the dry, comfort of your sofa.

Follow Alex’s progress onboard here: The Hub

Screen shots from The Hub

This is Alex’s fifth Vendée Globe. His first two attempts ended early with damage to his boats forcing retirement. In 2012 he finished third. He made a great start in 2016, posting record sector times but 13 days into the race his starboard foil struck something floating in the water and broke off. Despite the missing foil and other problems with the autopilot, Alex managed to finish in second place. This year he’s back and one of the favorites to win.

Sadly, despite all this technology, Alex discovered cracks appearing the internal structure of the hull just 19 days into the Vendée Globe. He battled on for another 5 days, with a heroic effort to repair the boat at sea but finally had to concede defeat and retire from the race.

Images, Top © Alex Thomson Racing
Bottom © Mark Lloyd / Lloyd Images

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