Sailors resume racing with icy warm-up for Vendee Globe

Lorient (France) (AFP) –


To allow sailors to get back into shape for the Vendee Globe single-handed round-the-world race in November, the organisers have introduced a prologue: the Vendee-Arctic.

The race starts on Saturday afternoon in Les Sables d'Olonne in the French Vendee with 20 skippers, all would-be entrants in the main round-the-world race.

Most of them will be setting out to test themselves and their boats, while some will be racing to qualify for the Globe, which sets off from Les Sables d'Olonne in November.

This race is a post-confinement creation, compensating for the cancellation of the two preparation races scheduled for May and June, The Transat and New York Vendee, and is designed to meet strict health safety measures.

There were no festivities and no fans as the boats all left port at Lorient on Friday afternoon to head out to sea. The sailors were all tested for Covid-19 before embarking. They will remain at sea until the start on Saturday afternoon.

"It's a weird race start, that's how it is," says Yannick Bestaven who is sailing Maitre-CoQ. "We don't have the classic routine, usually there's the arrival at the boats, the briefing, signing autographs, interviews."

Charlie Dalin (Apivia), who is starting his first single-handed race in an International Monohull Open Class Association (IMOCA) 18-metre monohull, said he was not feeling the usual sense of anticipation.

"I almost have the impression that I don't feel that this race is coming. It's quite astonishing."

The boats will race a 3,556 nautical mile (6,585 kilometre) loop in the North Atlantic, which will first take the fleet as close as possible to the Arctic Circle, near Iceland, then down to the Azores and back to the Vendee.

- 'Skirting the ice' -

The winner is expected after 10 days of racing.

"The aim is to test the sailors and the boats so that they are as much as possible up to the challenge of the Vendee Globe," said Antoine Mermod, president of IMOCA which is organising the race.

"The advantage of going up north is that we're going into the cold and working in the cold is important. A key moment in the Vendee Globe is when they arrive in the South Atlantic, they go from St. Helena to the cold. It's a difficult moment of transition for the skippers."

Isabelle Joschke (MACSF), who must finish this race to qualify said she is delighted at the challenge ahead of her.

"What I love about this Arctic race is going to places where it is very cold. We're going to be skirting the ice to the north as we'll be skirting the ice to the south during the Vendee Globe," she said.

Race director Jacques Caraes, who is also in charge of the Vendee Globe said challenging the sailors was important.

"It's a physical preparation for them, but also for the boat, as there will be a lot of wind," he said.

"As this is the only race, it shouldn't be too simple and especially not in winds that are too light. We can't start a Vendee Globe without preparing our sailors, it wouldn't be safe at all," Caraes said.