The mood was one of anticipation but certainly underpinned by a huge measure of skepticism. But that was to prove unfounded as the dream of completing an unaided, solo non stop race around the world proved not only possible but a valid and
Among those 13 skippers who took the start there were some who were, or have become, household names in ocean racing. There was Philippe Poupon who had already won the Route du Rhum and The Transat, from Plymouth to Newport, the two biggest solo races of that era. Philippe Jeantot was the organiser and a competitor was the double winner of the BOC Challenge, the solo race around the world with stops. Jean-Yves Terlain was at the helm of a radical boat, there was also Titouan Lamazou and Loïck Peyron and racing young bloods like Alain Gautier and Pierre Follenfant. Some, like Jean-Luc Van Den Heede had built extreme options, his was a Harlé designed aluminium cigar shaped monohull which was stripped of any kind of comforts. Everyone wondered how VDH, a former technology teacher, would be able to prosper in the uncomprimising, hostile Southern Ocean. Meanwhile at another extreme, Jean-François Coste, was on the helm of Pen Duick III a 17 metre schooner which knew a lot of the route but which was, in reality, no match for the more modern race yachts.
The banks of the channel attract onlookers but not in any way close to the numbers, the denisty of people who turn out now to salute the Vendée Globe heroes. The question on their lips back then is if, and how, the soloists will manage to complete the full racing circumnavigation non stop and unassisted. There are even those asking if there will be enough finishers of the 13 starters to form a realistic podium. Maybe, after all, the pragmatic, safe approach of Coste on the helm of Pen Duick III would be the best approach.
Sewing the Seed in Cape Town
The idea for the Vendée Globe was originally mooted in a bar in Cape Town during a stopover for the BOC Challenge. Sailors are lamenting the length of the stopovers that really break up the rhytym of the race. And so when he returns home Philippe Jeantot - a participant in that discussion - goes to the town hall of Les Sables d'Olonne and to the Vendée region in the form of its president Philippe de Villiers. Some sailors are a little scared off by the idea. Some would have like more of a democratic debate about the rules and the establishing of the race. But in fact it becomes a fait accompli. With Jeantot as organiser and competitor there are moments of tension. But the new boss of the Vendée Globe understands the need to publicise the event and to tell the stories as immediately and comprehensively as possible. There is a first set of rules which require sailors to pass certain waypoints in order to hand over videotape of their exploits. There is something of a general outcry. Some skippers threaten to start leave and start from La Rochelle. And in the end there are no fixed points of passage. But in fact Jeantot's desire and philosophy proves correct for Peyron has the foresight and presence of mind to film the rescue of Poupon in the Roaring Forties. He passes it to his brother who is at Cape Horn to see him around. The video tape sparks global interest in the race and when Lamazou returns after 105 days at sea to win the first Vendée Globe there are huge crowds turn out to greet him. The legend is born.