That number of the boat is part of his or her identitification. It might have its roots in a pragamtic reason, it might reflect something to do with the sponsor or the boat's actual owner, or it might be something much more whimsical, perhaps even aligned to some superstition.
In France, home of the Vendée Globe, there are nearly 100 different regional departments each with its own number. Many French skippers have chosen to align their sail number to their home department, that of the home port of their boat or indeed that of their sponsor. So for example Yannick Bestaven (Maître CoQ) is based in La Rochelle, his adopted town since he started out in offshore racing, and he has naturally chose Charente-Maritime's No. 17. Similarly Thomas Ruyant (Linkedout) is true to his Dunkirk origins and wears the 'Nord' department No. 59. Miranda Merron (Campagne de France) is doubly aligned to the department of Manche where the English skipper lives with her fellow Normand Halvard Mabire. So No. 50 it is.
For many skippers the choice of number reflects their sponsoring partner's home. Maxime Sorel (V and B - Mayenne) carries No. 53, as also Stéphane Le Diraison (Time for Oceans) has No. 92, both having the support of their departments on their upcoming solo race around the world. This profile also sits with Charlie Dalin (APIVIA) who will carry the number 79 of Deux-Sèvres and the city of Niort where many of the French insurance companies are based.
A question of tradition
For others it is a tradition above and beyond, a number passed down as a legacy from one skipepr to the next. PRB is the model of an unwavering sponsor which has been present on the Vendée Globe for more than twenty years and so it proudly wears its Vendean home roots. The number 85 passes from skipper to skipper but is a permanent fixture on the monohulls sponsored by the building materials company of La Mhote-Achard which is just 21kms up the road from Les Sables d'Olonne.
Alan Roura (La Fabrique) sailed his first Vendée Globe in 2016 and then, in agreement with Bernard Stamm was allowed to keep the lucky No. 7 that Bernard Stamm had on the original Superbigou, the Rolland design on which the Swiss skipper made his first attempt in 2000.
"I was very attatched to this number partly because the first boat I sailed on, my parents', was the seventh in the series. So I asked Bernard who agreed immediately. This time Roura sets out on a newer IMOCA but will keep number 7. And, surprisingly, the English skipper who now takes charge of Superbigou also has a fondness for the number 7. Pip Hare has had to forego 7 but instead has the sail number 77, twice as lucky?
"All my boats have had seven in the number, my Mini was 743, the Class 40 was 137, my birthday is the seventh of the month...it is all significant! Me, superstitious? I need all the help I can get!" smiles Hare.
Others have stayed faithful to their original number. Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) starts his fifth Vendée Globe with the number 99 which he has had since 2005 (he won his first round the world race in 1999?) Isabelle Joschke (MACSF) sticks with tradition by keeping number 27 which was Marc Guillemot's when racing this boat as Safran.
Finally, some numbers are out of the ordinary as they are linked to the personal history of the sailors. Alain Gautier, winner of the Vendée Globe in 1992, has 101 on all his racing boats. “I liked this number, it is the same as the legendary Highway 101 south from California along the pacific coast and I found these three numbers have with a certain balance. It also has the advantage, for me who has sailed a lot in multihulls that it reads the same upside down as upright. Michel Desjoyeaux followed Gautier with Foncia, as his sponsor and kept the number when he went on to win Vendée Globe for a second time.
Jean Le Cam likes to have fun with numbers In 2004, he raced in the colours of Bonduelle, a company established in the Nord department which is No. 59 stands, all the more relevant as it is also Le Cam's year of birth. This time his number is double that: 118.
In 2012, François Gabart sailed under the No. 301 on his sail, the same number as that of his first Optimist which gave him his first taste of competition. This time Clarisse Crémer (Banque Populaire) sails the same Verdier-VPLP plan, which won the Vendée Globe 2012, but she will race with the number 30 as Banque Populaire is celebrating its 30th anniversary of sailing sponsorship and it will be her age age at the start of the Vendée Globe.