The Vendee Globe is more than a race, it's a non-stop solo adventure around the world the hard way. In fact, it's the ONLY non-stop single-handed 'round the world race (the VELUX 5 is raced in stages with stops in between). I personally think this race is for the insane and ranks in my book as the most difficult and lonely sporting event on the planet. This is the Everest of sailing. Actually, it's probably more akin to summiting K2 since the Vendee Globe receives less attention than the Volvo Ocean Race but is infinitely more challenging and dangerous.
Most aspiring cruiser-circumnavigators would choose the tropical route in the favorable tradewinds that includes the "coconut milk run" across the Pacific, but not Vendee Globe sailors. Instead, they race solo on their boats for nearly 4 months at sea, rounding all three majors horns (Cape Horn included) in the treacherous Southern Ocean on their way around the Earth. That's right, they go right through the "roaring forties" (forty degrees of latitude) and spend most of their time sailing in the "furious fifties" where the weather is downright rude. We're talking about some of the biggest waves in the world, shrieking winds (gales are common) and icebergs aplenty. To top it off, the boats literally sail through the most isolated and distant (from civilization and land) location on Earth. There's no calling TowBoat U.S. or signalling the coasties for a rescue when you're in the Southern Ocean. No, I'm not a racer, but the Vendee Globe racers have my attention and respect.
|Vendee Globe race route|
"...And that is the way I had been sailing for the whole race, quite conservatively and taking a reef, especially at night when you can't see the squalls coming. I was getting ready to put on my foul weather gear when the squall was just finishing and the wind was dropping. The boat jumped off the top of a wave and that's when I heard the impact and the boat came upright, and suddenly there was no more wind in my rigging."
"...so I could hear the mast rubbing against the hull under the boat, so I knew that it could damage the hull if I was unlucky. The main thing was to close all the watertight bulkheads in case it (the hull) did get pierced, so I put my survival suit on..."
|Davies sailing home with her broken rig |
(Photo Credit: Samantha Davies/DPPI/Vendee Globe)
I'm fascinated by the strength of the human spirit displayed during the Vendee Globe. As a cruiser with limited solo sailing experience and a longest personal non-stop passage of only 72 nautical miles, I can still, in some small way, feel a nibble of the excitement, fear, loneliness, and triumph that the Vendee Globe racers must experience non-stop throughout their adventure. I've felt small on my boat in the middle of Lake Michigan, but I can only imagine how microscopic one's existence must seem thousands of miles from land in the cold Southern Ocean. I've been afraid in 25 knots of wind, but I don't know the fright of 50 knot winds when there's no port to run to and no other crew members to seek comfort from.
The Vendee Globe is more than just a race. I think it embodies the cruiser's yearning for exploration with some insane amount of bravery and a touch of competitiveness. Every sailor that finishes this race will feel like they've won something much more compelling than the trophy that the actual winner receives. These sailors seem to be racing to win control of something deep inside.
|Does this look like fun sailing?|
(Photo credit: Jean-Marie Liot/DPPI/Vendee Globe)