The clock is ticking and the final countdown has begun. In exactly one month's time, the international line up of ocean racers will bid their loved ones an emotional farewell and set sail from France on an epic 30,000-mile adventure alone - the VELUX 5 OCEANS solo round the world yacht race.
This Sunday marks exactly four weeks until the starting gun of the 2010/11 VELUX 5 OCEANS will be heard ringing out across La Rochelle at 16:00 (local time) on October 17.
Crossing the start line, the courageous skippers will join an elite band of just 123 yachtsmen and women who have started The Ultimate Solo Challenge. Of those sailors, only 73 have successfully completed the race, a marathon voyage broken up into five gruelling ocean sprints over the space of nine months.
The ocean racers will sail their 60ft Eco 60 yachts into some of the most dangerous situations known to man during the five demanding legs. They will battle fearsome hurricane force winds, sail through mountainous seas as high as a six-storey building and cope with temperatures that range from searing tropical heat to sub Antarctic lows. They will have to overcome extreme mental and physical stress and fatigue. Sleep will become a luxury they can barely afford.
With start day rapidly approaching, the skippers have entered the final phase of preparations. American skipper Brad Van Liew and Canadian ocean racer Derek Hatfield are currently making their way across the Atlantic Ocean to La Rochelle, and should arrive next week. Belgian sailor Christophe Bullens completed the mandatory 2,500 mile qualification passage earlier this week after sailing from Plymouth, UK, to the Fastnet Rock off the southern tip of Ireland, round the Azores off the coast of Portugal then back to Brest in France.
British ocean racer Chris Stanmore-Major set sail from Cowes, UK, earlier this week and is currently off the coast of France. Polish yachtsman Zbigniew Gutkowski sets off today from La Rochelle, whilst British skipper Simon Chalk is awaiting the birth of his second child before setting out to complete his qualification voyage. Australian Garry Golding and French adventurer Charles Hedrich are in the final stages of preparing their projects.
Once qualified, the ocean racers will assemble in La Rochelle at the end of September where they will make last minute modifications before the big day. The VELUX 5 OCEANS race village will open in the Bassin des Chalutiers on October 9, built around the VELUX House, one week before the race start. A whole host of activities is planned for the lead up to race day, including dance and music performances, watersports in the marina and a chance for the public to meet the VELUX 5 OCEANS skippers as one of the most famous classic ships in France, the beautiful Belem, enters the port with the competitors onboard on October 13. On race day, October 17, thousands of well-wishers are expected to pack the race village to say goodbye to the sailors before joining them on the water in a spectacular send off.
VELUX 5 OCEANS race director David Adams said: "With just one month to go until start day it is really starting to hot up for the VELUX 5 OCEANS skippers. It is a very busy but exciting time for them as they prepare to race around the world alone. This edition of the VELUX 5 OCEANS is set to be a closely-fought battle and we are all very much looking forward to the buzz of La Rochelle and the excitement of start day
Competition is at the heart of the VELUX 5 OCEANS but the race also carries an important message of sustainability. As they circumnavigate the planet, the eight skippers will spread this message through TAKING ON THE ELEMENTS, the race's link to its environment and its challenge to the world on sustainable development. The ocean racers will lead the way, racing innovative Eco 60 yachts and illustrating how best to recycle waste, use and conserve food, water and power.
The Eco 60 class, premiered in the VELUX 5 OCEANS, 'recycles' high-performance Open 60 yachts made before 2003, providing an affordable, ecological and exciting solution to the challenge of racing expensive first generation Open 60s. For too long ocean racing has been centred around money - but not any more. The Eco 60 class puts the emphasis back on sailing and the skills possessed by talented ocean racers, while also setting a benchmark in sustainable ocean racing. Capable of speeds of more than 30 knots (35 miles an hour) these racing machines are at the top end of what is possible on a boat. Coupled with class rules limiting fossil fuel consumption and encouraging wind and solar power, this results in one of the most exciting developments in the history of ocean racing.
After heading from La Rochelle to Cape Town, the VELUX 5 OCEANS, run by Clipper Ventures PLC, will then take in Wellington in New Zealand, Salvador in Brazil and Charleston in the US before returning back across the Atlantic to France.
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