Vendee Globe - Preview

With storms battering Northern Europe, British Vendee supporters are struggling to find a ferry that will take them across the Channel to France - while Ed Gorman takes a first look at the fleet that will race alone, non-stop around the world
There are few events in world sport that come close to matching the Vendee Globe single-handed non-stop round-the-world race. In fact, the only things that come to mind are not sporting events at all - but tests of endurance like walking across deserts or climbing Himalayan peaks solo and without oxygen. Solo alpine-style climbing is the closest comparison in many ways. The individual is on their own against the elements, there is the constant danger that a mistake could cost you your life and you are governed entirely by the weather. A fine-weather assault on a distant peak can turn into a struggle for life itself, if conditions turn against you. But while climbing compares with racing an Open 60, it is at worst a game of risk management spread over a matter of hours or a few days. Compare that with sailing non-stop for over a hundred days when - almost inevitably - you are going to encounter some of the most unbelievable weather that the earth is capable of producing, and probably more than once. In the good old days when sailing round-the-world alone was considered an incredible feat, yachtsmen went slowly, in relatively heavy displacement boats and hove-to in the worst of the weather. These days the Vendee Globe is an out-and-out Formula 1-style sprint, and the 22,000-mile course has become just another race track. We've all but forgotten about the challenge of loneliness and the grinding mental poverty of spending days and days at sea on your own; now it's all about winning, tactics and strategy. The boats themselves are on the very limit of what is either sensible or possible. Capable of stunning downwind and offwind performance, they feature huge rigs and massive sail areas together with sophisticated foil arrangements, which make them an enormous challenge for