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France’s Gabart wins Vendée Globe in record time

France’s François Gabart won the seventh edition of the Vendée Globe on Sunday, finishing the grueling, non-stop, solo yacht race in a record 78 days.


France’s François Gabart won the seventh edition of the Vendée Globe on Sunday, completing the non-stop, solo yacht race in record time.

Not only has the 29-year-old Gabart’s victory made him the youngest sailor to ever win the competition, but he has also managed to do it in record-breaking time. Gabart finished the course in an impressive 78 days, two hours, 16 minutes and 40 seconds, smashing the previous record set by fellow countryman Michel Desjoyeaux in 2009 by almost seven days.

Frenchman Armel Le Cleac'h was second ahead of Briton Alex Thomson, who leapfrogged Jean-Pierre Dick after he lost his keel.

Gabart fought off four-metre high waves in his final sprint before he was greeted by thousands of spectators in France’s western seaside town of Les Sables d'Olonne, who turned out despite bad weather and gusts of wind at 80 kph. After crossing the finish line, an overjoyed Gabart hugged and kissed his wife, after she was allowed to board his boat.

Known as “the Everest of the seas”, Vendée Globe, may very well be one of sport’s most gruelling competitions. Founded 23 years ago in Les Sables d’Olonne, the sometimes deadly regatta has generally been dominated by French men – a tradition that Gabart has now upheld.

Lost at sea

Meant to be the “ultimate” sailing experience, the Vendée Globe deserves its reputation as one of the most dangerous competitions in sport. Circling the globe from west to east, the course covers some treacherous waters and turbulent weather.

The competition suffered its first fatality during its second edition in 1992-1993, when British sailor Nigel Burgess was found drowned off Cape Finisterre on the west coast of Spain, most likely after being knocked out and thrown overboard.

During the same race, Frenchman Bertrand de Broc garnered headlines after having to perform the incredible feat of sewing his own tongue back on. De Broc had been adjusting a sail when a rope smacked him full on in the face, causing him to bite a piece of his tongue off. Caught in the midst of a storm, the skipper sent a distress call to the race doctor in western France, who gave De Broc step by step instructions on how to operate on himself.

Tragedy struck again during the following edition of the Vendée Globe, four years later. Sixty-six days into the competition, Canadian sailor Gerry Roufs disappeared at sea. Despite search efforts, no trace of Roufs was found until six months later, when the wreckage of his boat was discovered on the coast of Chile.

Although there have been no deaths since and event organisers have made it mandatory for skippers to undergo emergency medical and survival training, contenders are still forced to drop out of the race each year because of dangerous conditions. Sometimes it’s due to a structural problem, like a broken rudder or keel. In other instances, sailors are made to pull out because of a collision, or because their vessel has capsized. And in some cases, because of health reasons.

This year’s race, which began on November 10, 2012, saw eight of 20 starters pull out over nearly a two-month period.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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