Mechanical sport linked to climatic conditions, sailing is undoubtedly the activity most subject to hazards. But the storm that has been blowing since March over sport should paradoxically less penalize the world’s largest offshore race than other races. Yves Auvinet, president of the departmental council of Vendée, owner of the company organizing the Vendée Globe, like the mayor of Les Sables d’Olonne Yannick Moreau, have spent part of the last few days reassuring their world. Yes, except disaster, the ninth Vendée Globe will start well on Sunday November 8th.
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With or without the 1.5 million spectators at the start, generating 15 million euros in spinoffs according to an estimate made after the previous edition? We will know more on June 15, after a milestone, set by local and government authorities. But the sailors will cut the line well in November. “It’s almost a certainty, the Vendée Globe is of course a huge popular event but it is first of all a non-stop sailing race far from any coast”, insists Antoine Mermod, president of the class Imoca (1), the association of skippers and owners of these 18.30 m monohulls, the only guests around the world.
At worst, a departure offshore, without spectators
At worst, the boats will not enter the port and will launch from the open sea, avoiding the long station on the quays allowing the public to admire them and the sponsors to show them around to their guests. The same goes for the now traditional channel ceremony, where hundreds of thousands of spectators watch them queue in front of them just before they reach the starting area. “We will do everything to avoid this but it obviously does not depend on us”, continues Antoine Mermod.
A sort of general rehearsal of this minimum scenario will take place in July. The Imoca class will announce Monday the details of the Vendée-Arctic, a 6,600 km race between Iceland and the Azores. The start will be given on Saturday 4 July off Sables, which the sailboats will join from their home port, without going through the Vendée pontoons.
This race will serve as a rehearsal for the eleven skippers who have not yet validated their qualification. The Vendée Globe is a race bringing together seasoned athletes running for victory and amateur sailors looking for adventure. And these qualification procedures are therefore essential to check the nautical skills of the competitors.
Dress rehearsal in July
In principle, sailors without a prize list must justify at least one Transatlantic race, but the two races on the Imoca class program for this spring had to be canceled due to the pandemic. “Instead of a relatively horizontal race across the Atlantic, the boats go ascend to the Arctic Ocean and descend south to the Acores before returning to Les Sables. So they have to face two weather fronts, instead of one on a deckchair, which will make the race even harder, “ Antoine Mermod analyzes.
The 35 sailors registered for the great loop around the world 2020, a historic record, will all be there? More than the departure of November 8 which is not too doubtful, this is the main unknown of this edition. The big arms of past editions, the François Gabart and other Armel Le Cléach ’, converted to giant multihulls, are not on the trip. And a new generation of contenders is at the helm. Not necessarily weaker on the water but less experienced in the equally important activity of sponsorship fishing.
Breakage at the sponsors
“Five or six were already limited before the crisis to balance their budget, some have new sponsors in sailing who may have other priorities in the economic context, we expect to be scrapped”, worries Antoine Mermod. For known competitors, partners will follow, for the simple reason that they have already spent most of their money.
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A Vendée Globe is the culmination of a four-year financial cycle with various races. Budgets are calculated over this period, with the point of resale of the boat after arrival. In the last weeks before departure, it remains to finance the supply of the boat (food, perishable products) and a remainder of salary for the technical teams. A drop of water.