Offshore racing is a sport in which competitors sit a lot and do not stand or walk much. On such a long race, it has to take a toll on skippers, which is why they all feel a deep fatigue once they arrived, despite the usual excitement. After three months of intense efforts, this definitely does not come as a surprise and they will now need a lot of rest and a regular sleep pattern to get rid of all these tensions. But getting back to a more steady rhythm can take weeks and sailors will have to face insomnia and fatigue periods in the process.
There have not been any serious accidents in this 2012-2013 Vendée Globe, nothing as scary as what happened to Yann Elies in 2008. This edition has been similar to the 2000 and 2004 races, with medical incidents under control. Sailors fell down, causing thoracic trauma and broken ribs that eventually consolidated. A lot of hand injuries have happened, since the skin is made softer by the sea water and is therefore more fragile and less resistant. As a consequence, the epidermis gets thicker, cracks and edema start to appear and nails come off. Things usually get back to normal after a few weeks. But skin infections are more difficult to deal with in such a humid and salty environment.
Knee, ankle and elbow injuries have healed thanks to the right treatment. A dental issue has been solved with the equipment available in the medical kit. Other pathologies involved eyes and respiratory, urinary or digestive sytems. Of course, there have been the usual back and shoulder pains because joint and muscle pain caused by intense efforts without proper warm-up are quite common in such races.
At the start of the race, empty boat cabins were a concerning sight because in case of a tough shock, the skipper could be thrown against a hard surface. There was apparently no such problem yet an ergonomic design, even the slightest, can only help when it comes to safety and life conditions on board.
Skippers have chosen not to disclose many of the health issues they have faced. They have the right to do so, and doctors then cannot give any information before sailors mention them publicly.
Younger skippers winning the Vendée Globe is something new as the race used to be considered an event where maturity matters the most. But the younger skippers’ boats are very recent, were designed by the same firm and built in the same shipyard. They’re very reliable machines working really well and with very similar performances and efficiency. Skippers have also prepared well, physically and mentally, which, along with their young age and the great physical shape that goes with it, has made them resistant and strong competitors. Training together had made them even more efficient and sailing close to each other throughout the race has been a constant source of motivation for both. Each loss or gain instantly turns into a change in the gap between the two boats so you just cannot afford to let go. The fight went on for 78 days and such an intense rhythm probably would not have been possible if one of the two skippers had been 10 or 15 years older.
Despite the ice gates and the ever-improving safety devices and measures, the Vendée Globe remains a very uncertain race, with some very edgy and scary situations, like what Javier Sanso experienced.
Will you be back in 2016? This is obviously a premature question. There is so much to live and experience out there, alone in the Southern Ocean. We will be there, of course, to see them, listen to what they have to say, try to understand what they are going through and love them. These extreme sailors have opened a huge window on the sea, a window that needs to stay open for us to escape our daily lives and keep breathing the fresh air of the sea.
Dr Jean-Yves CHAUVE avec AG2R LA MONDIALE