The date was marked on the calendar a long time ago: it was by yesterday, Saturday 16 October, that the Vendée Globe 2004-05 competitors had to reach Les Sables d'Olonne.
The flotilla assembled here in the Vendée harbour shows the enormity of the event that the yachtsmen will be facing as they go around the world. Beautiful, sparkling and in fine form, the boats are without doubt among the most high-spirited ocean thoroughbreds. The sailors are also ready and waiting to face three weeks of hard graft on dry land before the starting gun is fired for this fifth edition on 7 November. There will be 21 yachtsmen setting out (Patrick Favre has had to stand down) on the most difficult and prestigious race.
The Vendée Globe, the fifth with this name, got off to a flying start in Port Olona today. This will be home for the next three weeks for the single-handed yachtsmen and women, who will be setting out to travel around the world without stopovers and without any assistance. It's been fifteen years already and there have been four previous editions, and you cannot help noticing that since 1989 the magic has always produced the same fervour. It can be seen on the group photo, which will remain in the annals and minds for many years to come. Yesterday morning (Saturday), 20 single-handed sailors, proud to be lining up for the start of this 2004 edition, posed in the colours of their partners in front of the photographers' lenses, watched by the general public, which has already turned up here in force. Only Charles Hedrich (Objectif 3) failed to arrive. Although he planned to be here, he was delayed in Lorient for personal reasons. As for Patrick Favre, if he did not appear in the spotlight with the other competitors, it was because he was forced to stand down from the race.
Patrick Favre forced to stand down
The race organisers just decided that the skipper, who was getting ready to take the helm of Jean-Luc Van den Heede's first boat, was not well enough prepared to satisfy the safety criteria. Patrick Favre, thus sees the doors to all the oceans closing on him, and feels very unhappy about it. He is, however, accepting this decision, even if it is very strict and definitive.
"This race always excited me, and for several years now I've been doing my utmost to be able to take part in it. I really thought I could be ready to line up for the start in perfect safety conditions. I just got a little behind, so I asked for a little extra time to reach Port Olona with my boat in a week. I'm still missing 50,000 € to finish preparing this wonderful boat that I'm proud to be associated with. This request was turned down. So it is with great sadness that I must accept this definitive decision. I don't have any choice."
21 ministers of the sea
For the other single-handed yachtsmen lining up, this first official appointment marks the start of a race on dry land, which promises to be quite tough. These last three weeks before the start of the race around the three capes is going to be busy to say the least. Between the preparation of the boat, ensuring the safety checks and verifications, and above all their schedules, as busy as a marine minister's, they are all getting ready to enter the final stretch before the great emotion of the start itself. But none can avoid showing the pleasure they feel in taking part in this exciting fifth edition and all seem determined to make the most of this event in Les Sables d'Olonne…
The things they said
Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac - Paprec):
"It feels quite incredible to be here in Les Sables d'Olonne today, because it's the fruit of three years' hard work. However, I mustn't let myself be overwhelmed by this feeling, even if it is a pleasurable one, as you have to keep focused right up to the end. You have to be as professional as possible, then be completely ready technically before the big day. One thing is certain: the pressure is gradually building."
Sébastien Josse (VMI) :
"Today, I feel quite relaxed. We were lucky to get started with the boat's preparation two years ago. The result is that VMI is ready and waiting to set sail. There are just the safety checks to do, the loading of supplies and my clothes to go on board. Between now and the start, we have planned two or three trips out to sea, just to keep my hand in. But I'm ready."
Dominique Wavre (Temenos) :
"I'm really pleased to be in Les Sables. This will be the first time I have been ready financially, physically and technically, so I'm well and truly ready to line up for the start of the Vendée Globe. My boat has shown what she is capable of, and I'm in fine fettle too. For the moment, I'll be hibernating until the start, in order to concentrate on the race as best I can."
Marc Thiercelin (Pro Form) :
"I feel quite serene and calm. Just before coming to Les Sables d'Olonne, I had a ten day stay in Corsica as part of my physical preparation, and so I'm in great form. Now, there are just three weeks left of hard work to make sure we don't forget anything, to make some final adjustments and give a final complete check over to the boat. I've also got a list of personal things to see to. But my experience helps me deal with that."
Bruce Schwab (Ocean Planet) :
"To reach this point a lot of hard work was necessary over the last four years. But today I really have a lot of confidence in my boat and I feel ready. So, I feel quite calm, especially seeing as how I have so many things left to do to keep me busy, so I don't have time for any stress! It's a dream come true to be here!"
A date for your diary!
The naming of UUDS (Hervé Laurent)
It's tomorrow at 3 p.m. that Michèle Alliot-Marie, the French Minister of Defence and the French TV star, Laurent Boyer, will name UUDS, Hervé Laurent's monohull. These two celebrities are used to being in amongst the boats, as back in 2002, they named another 60 foot monohull with the same name, when she was about to set out on the Rhum Race.