At 12:02 GMT on the 8th November 2020, 34 competitors of the Vendée Globe race, will sail non-stop, unassisted, single handed around the world via three capes and three oceans in an effort to complete one of the most demanding and prestigious events within the sailing and sporting calendar. The procession of race boats will pass thousands of fans lining the legendary ‘Vendée Globe’ channel in Les Sables-d’Olonne, initiating the start of a gruelling race that will test the physical and mental endurance of those courageous and talented enough to take part.
It is so demanding that over the last 30 years and eight editions of the race, 167 sailors have set off but only 89 have crossed the finish line. To further put this into perspective, some 500 astronauts have been into space, yet fewer than 100 people have sailed solo around the world.
In the region of Vendée located on the Atlantic coast, between the two nearest international airports of Nantes and La Rochelle, the race will become the central attraction in Les Sables-d’Olonne and region. Witnessing the start of this iconic race before discovering Vendée from the sea, must be on the ‘wish-list’ of amateur sailors and those who crave holidays and activities on the water. Even those without their own boats can rent them with or without a license to explore Vendée’s many marinas on a full or half day basis.
In 2016, the 8th edition of the race, induced some 2.25m visitors, also shining a global spotlight on the many sporting and cultural events in Vendée, France’s leading tourist region. An area blessed with 250km of protected coastlines and dramatic landscapes encompassing dunes and forests to rocky shores and marshes.
The last race in 2016 attracted 33 live TV broadcasts and some 200 million Euros of cross-media value. The race was covered in 190 countries and was won by the Breton Armel Le Cléac’h, who completed the 24,000 nautical miles (over 44,400 kilometres) in 74 days, 3 hours, 35 minutes and 46 seconds; Briton Alex Thomson securing second place.
Thomson will also sail in this year’s race alongside fellow Brits Miranda Merron, Samantha Davies and first time entrant Pip Hare. Davies (third time race entrant and one of only six women to have ever completed the Vendée Globe) and Hare (first time entrant) both spoke at a recent press conference held at the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) London, giving an insight into the excitement and challenges ahead.
“We have massively talented British sailors, 75% of the British entries this year are women and that is something to be celebrated”, commented Hare. “It’s the most incredible sporting event that anyone could even think up and I was massively attracted to the fact that men and women compete on equal terms. It’s so incredible; it’s three months of solid competition, it’s really physically, emotionally and mentally demanding and there isn’t an event in the whole world like this” she continued.
Davies also cited the immense challenge the race provides; “it’s a big adventure and the magic of the race is that when you go out there as a sailor you discover your capable of doing things way beyond what you thought physically possible, including in 2012 saving my boat and getting back to land in one piece”.
Three weeks prior to and throughout the race duration, the Vendée Globe Village will form the focal point for visitors, sponsors, corporate hospitality, competitors pre and post-race, the media and of course the race HQ. A series of exhibitions and entertainment facilities will fully immerse members of the public into everything from the race history to current rankings.
Experiential packages are available for purchase too, allowing the visitors to witness the start of the race live from a boat in the port of Les Sables-d’Olonne. This will include live commentary from a professional skipper, lunch on-board plus accommodation in Vendée. Similarly, businesses can reward staff or clients with corporate hospitality packages and unique ‘incentive’ activities, courtesy of dedicated spaces within the Vendée Globe Village and further afield.
Beyond the race bubble, Vendée and Les Sable-d’Olonne’s respective tourism organisations will assist travellers to help explore 18 coastal resorts, 2 Islands, 14 marinas, 300 sites visit or for leisure activities, 1800km of cycle paths and support some 3,000 annual festivals and events. The Tour de France has started from the region on six occasions however, excitement continues to build for the Vendée Globe, a race like no other and an event that is now called the ‘Everest of the seas’ by the public!
For more information on the event, please visit: www.vendeeglobe.org
Ramy James Salameh is an award-winning travel journalist and works as an International Reporter for ‘Conference + Meetings World Magazine’. He writes about all aspects of travel in the MICE, business travel, luxury, lifestyle and cultural tourism sectors.
Photographs courtesy of Vendée Globe