Different Breed

We are all frustrated Formula 1 drivers, golf pros, football or rugby players. Pick your poison. Racing sailors are not immune. Some are wannabe multihull-ers, most are Olympic gold medallists in the bar. There are those that missed the foiling generation completely and others are solo round the world-ers. Personally I fall into the latter group. I deeply admire the skippers in the Vendee and view the race as the absolute ultimate, the pinnacle of yacht racing. I wish it wasn’t every four years and would rather see it in two year cycles but there are plenty of balls-out lead-up races in that time to whet the appetite. So what does it take to get there?

Well firstly cash. Selling your dream to a corporate is just plain hard. And you will never have enough of the folding stuff. So compromise is also a big factor in getting to the start line. Also there’s skill and talent to consider. 99.9% of us don’t have it and of the 0.1% that do, 99% of those aren’t the complete package and don’t get there.

So this is a rarefied atmosphere. The campus of Sables d’Olonne on the west coast of France is the university of Vendee dreams. They used to say that the Brazilian national football coach could pick a world-beating team by just walking down Copacabana beach on a Saturday. It’s the same in Sables d’Olonne. Budding ‘etudents’ of the Vendee spend years hanging around the boatyard, cadging a storage box to sleep in and call home whilst building the network and the boat-building knowledge that will one day come in handy.

They train together. They sleep together. They drink beer together. It’s the mecca of offshore sailing fusing single-handed wannabe neo-pros with the established players and a smattering of mad-as-a-box-of-frogs French multihull sailors who are the stratospheric Gods of Gallic sailing in a completely different league. Just to hang around the dock is a privilege.

Eventually if your stars align and you dedicate every ounce of effort, will and determination, you might get a gig. You will be estranged from a lot of people you used to know and looking outside of your immediate sailing circle, the world is a strange place. You operate in another time-zone.

This is why you hear the utter, overwhelming relief of the skippers on the start-line as the gun fires. The gratitude they express is palpable. They know what it took to get there and they know the people that helped them along the way. They remember the cold winters in the boatyard and the umpteen sponsors that promised money that never arrived. They acknowledge the privileged position they are in but they know what it took to get there.

For every skipper in this edition of the Vendee Globe Race 2020, you are heroes. You know what it took to get there. You are the 0.01% and you are a different breed to the rest of us, Chapeau!

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