Solo Racing Around the World

As observers, we may think that the men and women competing in the 2012-13 Vendée Globe are a few cookies short of a pound. They are instead emotionally and physically strong and very skillful.

November 30, 2012


Twenty sailors take the starting gun and look forward to about 90 days of racing COURTESY VENDEE GLOBE

Is This Madness or What?

I often wonder how solo marathon racers feel about their job. Do they think the whole thing is crazy and that this year for sure they’re going to visit a shrink? Knowing full well the magnitude of their risk and the power their sense of adventure has over rational thought, 20 sailors pointed their high-tech IMOCA 60s into the nearly always-angry North Atlantic. The starting gun for this edition of the Vendée Globe nonstop race around the world fired at 13:03 French time on November 10, 2012. The route takes them from Les Sables-d’Ollone, France, around the Cape of Good Hope, eastward through the Southern Ocean, around Cape Horn and northeast back to France. The distance—about 30,000 nautical miles sailed in approximately 90 days.

As observers, we may wonder why these men and women spend countless hours soliciting sponsorship money and preparing themselves and the boats for this ordeal. Their need to compete at the highest level of professional offshore racing seems like the obvious motive. This need drives the mental and physical machinery, and without it they’d stay home and race Lasers at the yacht club. They must also trust their ability to perform physically demanding and complex chores, often at night in gale-force winds and giant seas while the boat surfs the face of the waves at nearly 30 knots.


Fatigue is inevitable, eating well and hydrating essential, but what about the loneliness? Modern communications notwithstanding, spending 90 days alone has to tax the healthiest of minds. Some of you may remember that being alone with his demons drove Donald Crowhurst round the bend in the 1968-69 Sunday Times Golden Globe solo race around the world. After abandoning the race, he wondered around the South Atlantic sending false reports of his position. He finally leapt overboard and drowned, leaving his home-built plywood Piver trimaran drifting.

I’m happy to report that our 21st century racers are exceptionally well prepared physically and emotionally, and their equipment leaves nothing to be desired. At the other extreme is Sven Yrvind. At the age of 73, he plans to circumnavigate our planet nonstop aboard a 10-foot vessel of his design and construction, and relying as much on the oceans’ currents as on his two sails. He’s smart and fit, but his mission seems foolhardy and selfish. On the other hand, I hope he succeeds.



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