The final week before the start gun for the Vendée Globe is fired, is a busy week. On previous occasions it has been full of skipper’s briefings, weather briefings, and safety briefings. Press conferences and media commitments. Sponsors have lunches and dinners with their invited guests for the big day and the final check of spares, food and clothing is done and then loaded on the boat. The list of fresh food is given to a team member to be responsible for in the last couple of days.
The demand for the sailor’s time increases and all this happens at a time when you are trying to spend quality time with friends and loved ones before you leave. Before you know it, you are eating your final supper ashore and having your final sleep in a bed. Often nerves and excitement get the better of the sailors on those occasions and they look to the start of the race to be able to get into a routine and live a far simpler life with their beloved machine.
Everything is prepared exactly for this moment
Your emotions are all over the place. You are excited to get going as all your preparations have led to this moment. Your team have worked tirelessly to get you to the start line and now it is your turn to go out there and deliver.
I remember being super excited on the morning of the departure. I knew what I was letting myself in for as I had previously spent a lot longer on my own sailing the wrong way around the world. However, for some of these sailors on this edition of the Vendée Globe, this will be the longest they have spent at sea alone. This prospect is a little daunting for some of them.
Before you know it, you are eating your final supper ashore and having your final sleep in a bed.
When I set off, I had sailed through the Southern Ocean twice before in what is considered the wrong direction. My only unknown was the feeling of surfing the waves in the right direction.
I knew all about the cold, the wind, and the size of the waves.
But again, some of these sailors have never experienced the Southern Ocean before. This means they will be a little anxious, desperate to know how cold it will be, how strong the winds they will face will be and just how big those waves will be?
The calm before the start
The feeling of determination is overwhelming and you can almost reach a sense of calm, as all the preparation has been done. For some of the projects leaving the dock on Sunday morning, they will still be finishing jobs before the last mooring line is released, but for the majority of the campaigns they will have a feeling of confidence that everything has been checked and they are as ready as they will ever be.
I was the first boat to leave the dock on the departure day in 2008 and we left at 07:30. We had thousands of fans lining the channel of Les Sables d’Olonne, something that we will not see this year due to COVID restrictions in place, but once the waving was done and we were out of the harbour, I had a little sleep. I probably had the best two hours sleep, while my team looked after the boat.
Just before the ten-minute gun my team jumped off the boat
I awoke refreshed, I ate and drank and then started to check the start line and wind to be placed where I wanted to be when the gun fired. Just before the ten-minute gun my team jumped off and I was all smiles as finally I was about to start the Vendée Globe that was the result of 2 years of hard work for a lot of people.
The only apprehension in a sailor’s mind is the potential risks that would result in having to abandon the race. We prepare for most eventualities, but some damage is beyond our control and ability to fix. This is what is always in the back of your mind.
The Race Village, a ghost town
This edition of the race is different. Whilst all the elements are still there, we are carrying this event out whilst a global pandemic effects the whole world. With current travel restrictions and quarantine measures already taking their toll on visitor numbers, we are also facing local restrictions that seem to be changing week to week, country by country.
The result is this final week will see no public at the race village as it has already closed its doors and is being dismantled. The pontoons, where we are used to seeing as a mass of people, looking for a skipper to sign their memorabilia of the event or to have a photo taken with a skipper as a fan, are now a ghost like scene of the pontoons deserted.
A different final week for the skippers
We need to look at the positive side. Many meetings and media requirements are being taken on a digital platform, allowing the skippers to remain fully rested with their feet up at home, safe and securely in their bubble. The teams are continuing to work on every final detail, checking and then checking again before departure time to ensure no surprises occur.
Their movement is now easy and free on the pontoons without trying to tackle the large crowds. Time with family and loved ones is more focussed with less interruptions. The skippers can sleep well, eat well, rest and focus their thoughts, playing through the first few hours and days of the race as the weather becomes ever more certain as each day rolls closer.
The harbour and channel for departure may not be a mass of people who have been camping out since the small hours of the night. But our thoughts and the online community will be following as we watch each and every one of the 33 intrepid sailors take on the ‘Everest of the Seas’.
About Dee Caffari
Dee Caffari has circumnavigated the world six times as a sailor, the first woman to sail solo and non-stop in both directions around the globe. Awarded as MBE for her achievements in sailing sport, she was skipper of the Volvo Ocean Race Team “Turn the Tide on Plastic” 2017. In the Vendée Globe 2008 she sailed to the sixth position in 99 days.
Join the start live
The launch of the Vendée Globe on Sunday, 8 November, will be broadcast live – from the time the boats leave the docks until after the start which is scheduled for 13:02 h local time.