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Vendée Globe

French supremacy on the Vendée Globe?

By Berlioz Deborah

Tuesday 25th November

The French are masters when it comes to single-handed sailing. Which one needs any proof of this, they simply need to watch the ranking of the Vendée Globe. During the first fortnight of the solo non-stop round the world race, French racers have monopolised the  first five places. In addition to this, despite the Vendée Globe having the strongest British contingent in history, the Brit Mike Golding is the only non-Frenchman in the top ten. He must be starting to feel like a lone British frigate at the Battle of Trafalgar…

French legendary sailor, Eric Tabarly
French legendary sailor, Eric Tabarly

The question needs to be asked: what can possibly be at the root of this French supremacy?

First, the French are exceptionally well trained. In fact, a government-funded Academy of Excellence has been set up at Port la Forêt on the Breton coast, from which six skippers in the current race have graduated. The school only admits the best sailors and teaches them not only the technical aspects of solo sailing, but meteorology, electronics and psychology. The French sailors also have an enormous amount of experience as a result of having competed against each other from a young age and honing their skill in both the Transatlantic and Figaro races.

Yet, the reason for French success in this discipline lies above all in French culture. As it is an affordable sport in France, many French people start sailing small dingies when they are very young. In the UK, this may not be true to the same extent .

One should remember the emotion in France when, in 1998, at the height of the World Cup, legendary French sailor Eric Tabarly was lost overboard in the Irish sea, his body washed up on the Welsh coast three weeks later. He was seen as a true hero in his country, and his death only added something mythic to his aura.

Mike Golding
Mike Golding

A look at the French media during the Vendée Globe is sufficient to understand how important sailing is to French culture. Every night for instance, TV news programmes carry a three-minute race report ; the sport newspaper “L’Equipe” has a whole page dedicated the competition each day… More generally, each sailing competition or adventure attracts good media coverage. As a result, it is much easier for a French solo sailor to find sponsors than for a British one. “If you walk into the boardroom of any company in France, they will know about the Vendée Globe. In the UK, you’ve probably got to find someone who’s interested in sailing first and then hope they might know about the Vendée Globe”, said Phil Sharp to the Sunday Times, one of the most talented skippers of the next generation of British skippers .

However, it is worth wondering if the French are unbeatable at their own game. Does the British team really not stand a chance of ever wining the Vendée?  I would be cautious in answering. In fact, although Mike Golding, is currently in seventh place, he is almost exactly the same distance behind the leader as he was four years ago. He then managed to position himself to win the race but was  prevented from doing so because of a last minute breakage. The 48-year-old sailor can still regain the miles across the South Atlantic this week. It would surely be the perfect end to his career, and perhaps the beginning of a British phase in solo sailing. Who knows!


See also the Ranking on 19th December

And to discover always more about the Vendée Globe, visit the official website of the race 


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