20 skippers for the 2012-3 Vendee Globe
Despite the global economic downturn, an impressive 20 solo sailors from six nations will be setting sail from Les Sables d'Olonne on 10 November in the Vendee Globe, the seventh time the quadrennial non-stop singlehanded around the world race has been held since it was established by Philippe Jeantot in 1989.
Today at a crammed press conference in Paris’ Maison de la Mutualité, the 20-strong line-up was named by Vendée General Council President Bruno Retailleau, including a last minute entry in the form of Polish round the world sailor Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski.
Gutkowski, 39, is being backed by electricity producer and operator Energa, finished second in last year's Velux 5 Oceans and previously sailed round the world in The Race as a crewman aboard the Polish entry Warta Polpharma. His Finot-Conq designed IMOCA 60, Energa, will be by far the oldest in the race - originally when rigged as a ketch she was Alain Gautier race winner as Bagages Superior in 1993-4.
"I’m very proud to be part of this adventure and finishing under 100 days would make me really happy," said Gutkowski.
The line-up of skippers includes many repeat customers and if there are any favourites in terms of their previous track record in the race it is probably Armel le Cleac'h, who finished second in 2008, now sailing Banque Populaire's first IMOCA 60, previously Michel Desjoyeaux's latest generation Foncia. Or the latest PRB for Vincent Riou, winner of the race in 2004 and who's 2008 race came to an end after he had rescued Jean le Cam at Cape Horn and was subsequently awarded redress placing him in third.
There are many other old hands returning - Gamesa skipper Mike Golding and Switzerland's Dominique Wavre are back for their fourth stab at the race, both having been forced to retire in 2008, Golding from dismasting shortly after he had pulled into the lead, Wavre's yacht having damage to her keel. We also suspect that the wily Jean le Cam will be mixing it at the top of the fleet aboard SynerCiel, one of the race favourites in 2008 as Loick Peyron's Gitana 80. Le Cam, one of only three triple Solitaire du Figaros (along with Michel Desjoyeaux and Philippe Poupon) we still rate as one of France's most talented offshore sailors and finished second behind Vincent Riou in 2004.
The line-up includes two skippers who have won the Solitaire du Figaro over this four year cycle - Banque Populaire's Armel le Cleac'h and Maître CôQ skipper Jérémie Beyou.
In fact there are a spectacular number of competitors in this race who have competed before (to varying extents) and have been forced to retire. In this respect Hugo Boss' Alex Thomson, the Swiss skipper of Cheminees Poujoulat, Bernard Stamm and Bertrand de Broc (famous for the surgery he performed on his own tongue in the 1996 race) are the leaders, hoping it will be third time lucky this time around after two retirements in previous races.
Saveol skipper Sam Davies is the only female competitor this year and will have to pull out all the stops to better her performance from 2008 when she came home fourth.
Among the first timers, the bright spark of this year's line-up is certainly Michel Desjoyeaux protege Francois Gabart sailing MACIF, a sistership to Banque Populaire.
Full entry list below