How far it seems on November 6, 2016, when the competitors in the eighth Vendée Globe had crossed the channel under the eyes of 300,000 spectators who had come to honor these adventurers of the 21st century. None of that this year. The start of the ninth non-stop solo round-the-world trip, Sunday 8 November, promises to be rainy… and deserted. The departure procedure imagined by the organizers to guarantee the health safety of all, sailors, guides, media, is strict: the pontoons, the embankment and the beach are closed, the stars of the sponsors prohibited.
Six women in the Vendée Globe boat
“Of course I miss sharing with the people of my city. I would have liked to say hello to my little neighbor who put a picture of me on his house, as if I were James Bond ”, admits Arnaud Boissières, who has lived in Les Sables d’Olonne for years. “Some sailors don’t like this atmosphere, but I appreciate the tiring but benevolent pressure from the public, partners and the media. This ephemeral glory which returns every four years, I find it rather sympathetic ”, continues the optimistic skipper, who still sees life on the bright side, after having escaped leukemia in his childhood.
A little more peace
Quite a few of his colleagues, probably the majority, think exactly the opposite. Some experience the various demands and obligations as a path of pain, until the liberation of the departure. Suddenly, the one-week confinement imposed on the 33 competitors to prevent them from taking the Covid on board is not to displease them.
” Isolation will help us by giving us time to rest. Before a race, I need to build up energy and time for myself. So yes, on the family side, it’s not necessarily easy, but this week allows us to refocus on ourselves and be very focused ”, explains the Franco-German sailor, Isabelle Joschke.
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Some skippers have chosen to live their confinement with their families, such as Stéphane Le Diraison. “That allows me to feel well surrounded during this decisive period of preparation because it is the home stretch. Every day, I work on the weather, I do a one-hour workout and a meditation session. I save some time for the authorized hour’s walk to get some fresh air and keep my spirits intact. “
Meditation and going out are probably not too much to escape the inevitably worried gaze of loved ones. “At home, on the other side of the cup of coffee, there is my partner and I know that it is not easy for her, that we have to manage, whereas before a usual departure we are taken up by lots of occupations and already gone a bit ”, admits Arnaud Boissières.
Sponsors don’t get their money’s worth
“It may be more comfortable in the short term, but sailors know that their sport depends on the public and the sponsors. They therefore fear the financial consequences for the future ”, analysis Antoine Mermod, president of the Imoca class, the technical name of the 18-meter monohulls qualified for the Vendée Globe.
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Some had anticipated things by stalling, long before the departure, the visits of the boat with the representatives of the sponsors and the employees of the partner brands. Others were taken aback by the abrupt closure of the Departure Village after government announcements and had to cancel. “We do not twiddle our thumbs, however, we do mental preparation, weather monitoring, sport”, explains Yannick Bestaven.
Which does not regret, like the president of the class Antoine Mermod, the friendly but dangerous ballet of 33 monohulls crossing before the departure near the stars and clusters of pleasure boats: “ They will have the anxiety of the collision less. In this worrying time, it’s always good to take. “
Thirty minutes of freedom before taking the helm
Confined alone or with their families for at least a week, the 33 skippers will hardly have time to rediscover the atmosphere of the pontoons on Sunday 8 November. They are summoned half an hour before entering the starting channel, according to a ritual dictated by the tide times. They will start one behind the other, from 8:15 a.m. for the first, to 10:23 a.m. for the 33rd. These final thirty minutes will be partly devoted to the last interviews facing a cordon of journalists. Until the start at 1:02 p.m., the 33 boats will cross off Les Sables d’Olonne, before being released by the starter’s cannon.