Last Sunday in a little French fishing village called Les Sables D’Olonne a race began which many people say is the most difficult sporting challenge left in the world today, writes Stewart Hosford.
Called the Vendee Globe the race sees 29 boats, all 60ft long, being sailed solo around the world without stopping.
The rules are pretty simple. You cannot stop, set foot on dry land and are not allowed any assistance or you are disqualified. Athletes at the top of their game competing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for weeks and months on end.
Historically only 50% of the boats that start will finish the race. It takes between 80-100 days to complete. The course – pretty simple actually – straight out of Les Sables into the Bay of Biscay, take a left and then sail down the Atlantic, turn left at the bottom of Africa, across the Southern ocean leaving Australia and New Zealand on the left and turn left again when you get to the dreaded Cape Horn at the tip of South America and then straight back up the Atlantic to finish.
Many more people have been up Mount Everest or even into outer space than have set out on their own to take on the oceans of the sea and come back non-stop. In fact, less than a 100 people have ever circumnavigated the world solo and non-stop since the race concept began with Sir Robin-Knox Johnston in 1969.
Of the 29 teams departing on Sunday, four of them have strong Irish connections.
Of course the race has its first ever Irish entry – Enda O’Coineen onboard Kilkullen Voyager - Team Ireland.
The Galway native has put together a great young Irish team to help prepare the boat, and after 24 hours racing Enda is currently lying in 26th position and settling into a routine.
Two other teams are lead by Tony O’Connor and Marcus Hutchinson. Marcus, from Kinsale is team director of the ultra competitive French team SMA. Tony O’Connor, from Dublin, is responsible for the first ever Japanese entrance in the Vendee Globe, Spirit of Yukoh.
The French team is currently in 8th place and the Japanese at 16th.
In the last three weeks over 2,5 million people have come to see the boats and as they started on Sunday 350,000 spectators lined the canal to watch the sailors depart.
For my part, as CEO of the HUGO BOSS team, as I return to Cork today, we are leading the pack around the North West tip of Spain.
Alex Thomson our skipper spent some of his most formative years at school in Crosshaven looking out at the boats in Cork Harbour and preparing for this own adventures at sea. The next three months as a team all we can do now is watch, hope and pray…
The sailors have completed 320 miles of a 40,000 km race which will last well into January and February 2017. The journey for the skippers has just begun.
As we start to think about the run up to Christmas here at home, spare a thought to these sailors who face the next three or four months alone battling with cold, Icebergs, waves the size of five story buildings and extreme sleep deprivation to try to beat the odds and complete this epic race.
If you want to follow the race closely check out http://www.vendeeglobe.org/en
* Stewart Hosford is the CEO of the Alex Thomson Racing/HUGO BOSS Sailing team and will be writing a series of articles for irishexaminer.com about the Vendee Globe 2016 - The first time the race has seen an Irish entry. Over the course of the coming three months Stewart will be keeping us up to date with all the updates on a race where the sailors sail non-stop around the world on their own. 29 sailors set out from France on Sunday the 6th of November and only 50% of them make it back to finish.
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