In theory, the Vendée Globe is an utterly simple affair. Its fundamental principles come down to a few sentences, compared to which even the roughest logbook would seem sophisticated. A sailing race around the world, for singlehanders, without any stopover. That’s it. In theory at least, because beyond these words start great stories.
Official supplier of legends since 1989, this race has impressed the maritime world and the public in general, to the point where even the strongest superlatives seem unable to define it. The sea also has its mythical summit, created 23 years ago by a sailor, two times winner around the world (BOC Challenge, with stopovers), who refused to rest on his laurels.
Philippe Jeantot wished to go further, to give a new dimension to the world of maritime adventure… “Time, he wrote, is a necessary factor to attain perfect harmony with one’s sailboat. We had to forget about stopping. A round-the-world race, without stopovers or assistance, such were the conditions to reach the desired communion. For the first edition, we set off towards the unknown. None of the 13 sailors who crossed the starting line in 1989 had the experience of a solo journey exceeding 100 days” .
On November 10th, 2012, twenty seven navigators will set sails aboard their monohulls, heading towards the three great capes, marking the southern tips of the African continent, Australia and America. The Vendée Globe will start, for the 7th time, from the harbour of Les Sables d’Olonne, where it was born. And as far as the rest of the story is concerned… well, it’s up to the sailors themselves now.
One of the reasons the Vendée Globe has been so successful is because of its simplicity. You finish right back where you started three or four months earlier after a journey of 25,000 nautical miles and lifetime of experience and memories.
The rules of the Vendée Globe stipulate that the competitors must sail around the world without stopovers and without any external help. If you look at the globe there is really only one way to go and that is south from France, past the Cape of Good Hope, under Australia, past the infamous Cape Horn at the tip of South America and back to France.
The rules of the Vendée Globe stipulate that the competitors must sail around the world without stopovers and without any external help.
If we look at the globe, there are three ways to sail around the world.
1/ By rounding the North Pole, via the Northwest or Northeast Passage. Two major drawbacks:
- The ice, as these routes still have a lot of ice, requiring in most cases the use of an ice-breaker to open them up.
- If you set sail from Les Sables d'Olonne, latitude 47° north, sailing around the North pole does not represent a circumnavigation: the distance is shorter than a circumnavigation via the equator of 40,000 km (21,600 milles).
2/ By sailing through the Panama and Suez Canal.
This implies that the competitor must make a stopover and benefit from some external help.
3/ By sailing down the North Atlantic, then the South Atlantic, turning left to pass the Cape of Good Hope, then circling Antarctica, via the Indian and Pacific Ocean, before climbing back up the Atlantic Ocean via Cape Horn, in the direction of the prevailing winds.
It is possible to sail in the opposite direction beginning with Cape Horn, but the boats would then be racing into contrary prevailing headwinds. ROUTEImportant information:
The circumnavigation via the Equator or by the Poles (Great Circle Arc) represents 40,000 km. Or 21,600 milles. The Vendée Globe course represents a little over 24,000 milles.Gates
The course has 8 gates.
- The Atlantic, Kerguelen, Heard Island, New Zealand, Western Pacific, Eastern Pacific Gates are defined, so that the competitors cannot go too far south, where the risks of collision with drifting ice are higher.
- The Western Australia and Eastern Australia Gates are defined so that the competitors do not sail further than 1000 milles from the southern coast of Australia. This is to allow the Australian rescue services to be able to use planes to spot any sailors in distress by not being more than one hour away. Any reconnaissance mission would be compromised if the skipper was more than 1000 milles away.Possible changes to the position of the Gate
If there is any additional risk for the competitors (drifting ice or other risks) the race Directors may modify the position of one or more of the Gates in latitude and longitude. They will inform the competitors one gate ahead.Passing through the Gates
A gate is a set of points at the same latitude limited to the west and east by different points of longitude. For example, the Atlantic Gate: all the points are at 42° south. The extremities are at 01°00 East and 11°00 East.
A Gate represents a segment of 445 miles, or around a day and a half of sailing for a competitor.
The length of the course is calculated as follows:
- Start from Les Sables d'Olonne.
- Equator at 25° West (the most common crossing point in round the world passages).
- Middle of Gate 1 to starboard
- Middle of Gate 2 to starboard
- Middle of Gate 3 to starboard
- Middle of Gate 4 to starboard
- Middle of Gate 5 to starboard
- Middle of Gate 6 to starboard
- Middle of Gate 7 to starboard
- Middle of Gate 8 to starboard
- Cape Horn to port
- Finish in Les Sables d'Olonne
The theoretical course
It represents 24,840 miles.
It is used to calculate the daily rankings at 04H00, 10H00, 15H00 and 19H00 UTC, which are calculated according to the distance left to the finishing line, for each boat in each rankings.