Of the twenty skippers who will take the start of the Vendée Globe solo round the world race on Saturday, 12 are French. The eight others represent five different nationalities.
Since the second edition of the Vendée Globe, raced between 1992-1993 when Alain Gautier won, there have been solo skippers from Great Britain in every successive edition.
Alan Wynne-Thomas and Nigel Burgess were the first British skippers to start a Vendée Globe race. Tragically Burgess drowned in the Bay of Biscay three days into the race. Wynne-Thomas retired into Hobart, Tasmania after his Cardiff Discovery was knocked down between the Kerguelen Islands and Heard Island. With his rudder and tiller smashed and having sustained several broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung he struggled into Hobart, Tasmania where he retired from the race.
Briton Pete Goss was the hero of the 1996-97 race, a brutal edition in which only six of the 16 starters finished and Canadian Gerry Roufs was lost.
Goss relinquished any chance he had of winning the race to return 160 miles upwind in storm force winds to famously rescue Raphael Dinelli from a liferaft after his boat had capsized and sunk.
In the 2000-2001 race Ellen MacArthur became the youngest sailor at 24 years old, and the first and only woman yet to finish on the podium of the Vendée Globe when she finished second just 24 hours after victor Michel Desjoyeaux.
In the following race Mike Golding finished third after losing his keel some 60 miles from the finish.
But it was in the record breaking 2008-9 edition when the complement of 30 skippers included seven different nationalities including no fewer than seven British skippers, Golding, Alex Thomson, Sam Davis, Dee Caffari, Brian Thompson, Steve White and Jonny Malbon. In that race in which only 11 boats finished four were British and three finished in the top six.
Almost inevitably that international entry of 13 non-French entries remains the numerical high water mark, though in statistical terms the average of entries from outwith France over the seven editions is just under 40 per cent. This time it runs at exactly 40%. But it has been a struggle for many potential entrants and many are here as supporters not skippers:
"I think it noticeable this time that there feels to be a smaller range of nationalities here this time but I think that is a sign of how difficult sponsorship is at the moment,"
remarks Dee Caffari the record breaking British skipper who, even after finishing sixth last time could not raise sufficient sponsorship to compete this time. "You have to consider this is a class which has a massive profile in France but which has a message which is still quite hard to transmit outside of this country."
Britain provides three solo skippers this time Mike Golding (Gamesa) , Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and Samantha Davies (Saveol), but at least three of the 2008-9 finishers were intent on racing again this time. Indeed Caffari, Brian Thompson and Steve White are all in Les Sables d'Olonne this week, as are Rich Wilson (USA, The Great American III) and Norbert Sedlacek (AUT, Nauticsport-Kapsch), the first Austrian to complete the race.
Switzerland has mustered a consistent number of entries since the first edition. Bernard Gallay technically did not complete the course of the first edition after stopping twice, but he finished eighth in 2000-1 setting an impetus which has been followed each time by compatriots Dominique Wavre and Bernard Stamm.
After finishing fifth had his first attempt, Wavre improved to fourth in the 2004-5 race. Like Golding, Wavre is starting his fourth successive Vendée Globe on Saturday and Stamm his third.
Though Vittorio Malingri started the first Vendée Globe, the first and only Italian skipper to actually finish the non-stop solo round the world race was Simon Bianchetti who finished 13th after 121 days in that 2000-2001 race. The remarkable Alessandro di Benedetto starts as the only Italian entry this time, racing the venerable former Akena Vérandas.
Spain's Javier 'Bubi' Sanso will be starting the Vendée Globe for a second time with his Acciona 100% Eco Powered but he follows the trail blazed in the first edition by José Luis de Ugarte who completed the course in 134days 05 hours as the oldest finisher yet, aged 64.
Poland's Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski is no stranger to racing around the world, having taken part in two stopping races - The Race and the Velux 5 Oceans - but he is the first Polish skipper ever to take on the Vendée Globe, racing Energa, previously Hugo Boss.