The sixth Vendée Globe begins on Sunday and the big unanswered question which still prevails amongst the public, media and skipper alike, is who will win the biggest and most wide-open round the world race ever?
Will experience win over sheer drive and determination?
Look to experience of the race itself and it is the first time that two winners have competed against each other: Frenchmen Michel DESJOYEAUX (2000) and Vincent RIOU (2004), but there are many skippers who are back for more, some of whom have made multiple circumnavigations. Switzerland's Dominic WAVRE has made seven circumnavigations including four crewed, three solo and this will be his third Vendée Globe (fifth in 2000 and fourth in 2004) including a two handed circumnavigation in his Temenos II last winter. Loic PEYRON (FRA) is back with Gitana 80 after finishing second in the first race in 1989, Jean LE CAM (FRA) was second in 2004, Marc THIERCELIN (FRA) was second in 1996 and fourth in 2001, Roland JOURDAIN (FRA) third in 2001, Mike GOLDING (GBR) in ECOVER 3 heads into his third after finishing seventh in 2000 and third in 2004 and is the only British skipper to finish the race twice. Seb JOSSE (FRA) finished fifth in 2004 ahead of Jean Pierre DICK (FRA) in sixth, Raphael DINELLI (FRA) returns this time after finishing 12th in the last race.
Add in those who have sailed part of the course before, Alex THOMSON (GBR), Bernard STAMM (SUI) and Norbert SEDLACEK (AUT). Then there are those who have experienced the Southern Ocean, Marc GUILLEMOT (FRA), Brian THOMPSON (GBR), Jonny MALBON (GBR), Dee CAFFARI (GBR), Yann ELIES (FRA), Rich WILSON (GBR), Sam DAVIES (GBR), Derek HATFIELD (GBR) and Unai BASURKO (ESP).
And then there are the first timers, the rookies who have neither circumnavigations nor Southern Ocean experience Jean Baptiste DEJEANTY (FRA), Arnaud BOISSIERES (FRA), Yannick BESTAVEN (FRA), Kito DE PAVANT (FRA), Armel LE CLÉAC'H (FRA), Jeremie BEYOU (FRA), Steve WHITE (GBR), but then RIOU was a Southern Ocean rookie who went on to win last time.
Ellen MACARTHUR (GBR), whose emotional second place in 2001 launched her international profile and was the catalyst to build the company that she shares with Mark TURNER now, Offshore Challenges, is in Les Sables d'Olonne to support JOSSE, skipper of BT, built in house by Offshore Challenges in Cowes.
"This year has been the first time I've really been able to look around. I can really take everything in and experience it for myself. It's absolutely amazing what is happening here."
said MACARTHUR. She continued, "The Vendée Globe changes from year to year, but there's always one thing that remains and that is the adventure. It's what makes the event what it is. Yes, it's a race, yes, it's fast, yes, the boats are becoming better and better, but at the same time, it is still a round the world voyage.
"Already, if you manage to finish, it's an achievement, so racing around at full speed is something else! Even if it remains a top level competition, they are still going into the middle of nowhere. Everyone looking at the boats here has the same feeling.
"For me, the Vendée Globe is a long story, which starts way back from the very beginning, when you are looking for a sponsor and only ends, when you cross the finishing line. It's difficult to look at just one part. The thing I remember most is the fear before the start. In 2000, the start was delayed, as the forecast was for sixty knots, which is quite a storm. That was tough, because deep down, you want to get going. You have such a fear inside you that you just want to be at sea. It was a real mixture of feelings.
"I'd really love to do the Vendée Globe again. For the moment, my work on the environment is more important to me. But when I see all these boats, I really feel like doing it again. Maybe four years from now."
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