“We had the chance to experience something intense in emotions, exceptional…What unites us: the same emotions, the same difficulties”. The words of Giancarlo Pedote, Vendee Globe survivor and finisher sum up for me the essence of this great race. The Prysmian Group skipper was reunited with his fellow skippers at the prize-giving recently and clearly the intensity of what they had all endured, not just the sailing but the sheer graft to get to the start line, came flooding back. Others were the same. Misty eyed about their shared experience. It’s the most exclusive club in the world.
Stéphane le Diraison, skipper of Time for Oceans was in the same camp as Pedote: “This Vendée Globe was so intense that I felt like I was living in another dimension. Coming back here reactivates all these beautiful emotions. It’s nice to see the faces of everyone with whom I have shared this adventure.”
My personal view on the Vendee sailors is one of awe. The same way I look at those that have climbed Everest or walked on the moon. They’ve seen things I’ll never see and lived through extremes that even the greatest wordsmith can’t capture. It’s remarkable. They’ve touched human endeavour’s outer limits and command the upmost respect. I can only imagine the stories they told each other. Louis Burton, skipper of Bureau Vallée 2 intrigued and inspired with his quote: “Certainly the notion of surpassing oneself is very strong in sailing. When we meet a few weeks later, everyone has a great story to tell.”
And he’s absolutely right. It’s an event like no other and this edition was a classic that had it all. The rescue by Jean Le Cam (Le God) of Kevin Escoffier was out of the books that generations will read for years to come. It’s a legendary moment, beautifully captured by Escoffier when he said immediately afterwards: ‘I’m still a bit melancholic today on dry land. It’s a complicated transition phase. I’m still disappointed to have had to abandon on the Vendee Globe, to have lost a boat. I have the impression it has been much more complicated for my family than for me, so I can’t wait to see them again. Don’t forget … We get to live our passion and we impose it on those who love us. There are certain events that we would like to avoid!’
These are poignant words. The sacrifice and the imposition of will on those nearest and dearest are hard for us mere mortals to fathom. The dedication required is all-consuming, sucking in those around into a vortex of deadlines, commitments, meetings and frustrations on the journey of a lifetime. And that’s all before the first warning signal. Doing the Vendee is the time of your life. It’s so extreme to be almost unachievable. It’s the one thing that when you sit back in your rocking chair at the age of 80 that will define you. Like Olympians it’s a fleeting moment of time immemorial in a life lived. What an adventure. And you can see it etched on those finisher’s faces like those that have just run the marathon of their lifetimes.
So where does the Vendee go next? Well more of the same please. It’s fascinating to combine the grand prix athletes like Alex Thompson, Yannick Besthaven, Louis Burton, Boris Hermann and Charlie Dalin with those that are just happy to get round, climbing their own nautical Everest as they do so.
My personal favourite was Ari Huusela who brought up the rear with such class, charm, dedication and a social media feed that captured his struggle so brilliantly. The desolation of his approach to Cape Horn and the confused seas he safely navigated at the end of January were captured perfectly in his riveting Instagram daily posts – a video blog that I re-visit time and again – and you couldn’t but help root for this ex-pilot doing the extraordinary. Ari to my mind was the media sensation and proved that you don’t have to be at the cutting edge to inspire. It’s the sheer humanity that enthrals.
The Vendee has a bright future. Commitments are being secured almost on a daily basis with sponsors seeing the huge value being generated. The organisers have been quick to define the IMOCA rules through to 2025 and that’s key. Knowing the rules and having certainty allows the sailors and their teams to start pressing the flesh in the boardrooms. As a result, Boris Hermann, everyone’s favourite, deservedly has a brand new VPLP IMOCA well down the design path and Pip Hare has secured Bureau Vallee with a further commitment from Medallia, her sponsors. Such good news.
And the list of confirmed or working towards the race is long: Fabrice Amadeo, Romain Attanasio, Arnaud Boissieres, Louis Burton, Kojiro Shiraishi, Armel Tripon, Alan Roura, Louis Duc and Antoine Cornic are all in the mix. No doubt Alex Thompson will be there too as he has unfinished business with this race and if I were the marketing manager of a big corporate I would literally be running to Sam Davies with briefcases of cash to ensure her participation and bask in the reflected glory. I hope it happens. The connection that Sam had with a whole generation of schoolchildren in France, beaming into their classrooms on a daily basis with brilliant short-video and interaction was a revelation – she must continue.
The Vendee Globe is a bright spot on the sailing landscape and where they get it so right is to maintain the impetus between the main event. The Ocean Race Europe is a great idea to keep the fleet sailing and delivering for sponsors whilst raising the game of the sailors. Other events should watch and learn – dare I say the America’s Cup – as a model of how to keep value ticking along and maintain relevance.
I admire the Vendee. I respect the sailors. I wish I could do it. I wish I had the skill and the bravery. I just don’t. You don’t either. This is different gravy. There’s a great line that Edgar Allan Poe had that these globe-trotting sailors will recognise: “I became insane, with long periods of sanity.” The sailors are in shoreside sanity mode now but insanity beckons with the clock ticking relentlessly to the start of the next edition. Good luck to them all.
Champions, winners, motivators. Love the Vendee.