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The Vendée Globe Breaks Records

by Ingrid Hale
Vendee globe race start - Paprec

Against unique challenges brought on by an unprecedented global health landscape, the ninth edition of the Vendée Globe emerged as a triumph, uniting, inspiring and engaging a wider audience than ever before. We were thrilled day and night with exceptional coverage, heart-stopping moments and incredible triumphs. It’s no wonder that the ninth edition of the race broke all audience records.

Strange beginnings

The Vendée Globe has always been an extraordinary adventure. Each edition is unique but none more so than this ninth race, with the range and depth of the sporting stories, the organisation of the Start Village, the start itself and the finishes.

The first, and some might say foremost victory, was in the race actually starting at all. The organisational protocols had to be constantly updated, adapting the Start Village to the ever-changing situation. The national protocols around the State’s safe-event requirements ensured the safety of staff, stakeholders, visitors, skippers and teams, culminating in the unfortunate necessity of a start ‘behind closed doors’.

The bigger picture

It was a difficult year for all the sailing teams who proved that, despite missing out on the two preparatory Vendée Globe Transatlantic races, they had nonetheless done good work to ensure that their boats were competitive and reliable. The ninth edition proved that the IMOCA fleet has come a long way in terms of speed, performance and durability over the course of the four month race.

In short, the race stood up to the challenges that the health situation brought, it proved to be an exciting sporting event from first place to last place. It has never been a closer finish than at the front of the fleet, and with multiple races within the race all the way through the record sized fleet. This ensured that no one skipper was out of touch with a rival or rivals for any significant period of time. An unprecedented 76 per cent of the starters finished the course.

Record numbers at the start and the finish

This ninth edition saw the largest number of candidates (registered potential projects) – 37 vs 34 in 2016. The biggest number of starters – 33 vs 30 in 2008, and the biggest number fo female starters  – six women vs none in 2016 race and two in 2012. This race also provided the greatest number of finishers in history: 25 of them made the final rankings, and two completed the course outside of the race after abandoning their race due to damage.

The women’s record for the race was broken by Clarisse Crémer in 87d 02h 24m 25s. She broke Ellen MacArthur’s 2001 record by 7 days. Well done Clarisse.

Design generations

Foils were in their infancy four years ago, and were considered experimental. This time round they were bigger,  more powerful and they offered a better overall performance. They could also be designed to a specific strength or performance profile. The latest generation of boats were designed around the foils in terms of hull shape and structures. These new generation boats had proven to be significantly quicker during the preceding two years before the race, but they were not as convincing over the entire race, demonstrating big spikes in speeds in certain conditions.

The latest generation foils did well, Charlie Dalin was the first over the finish line, and Thomas Ruyant finished 4th, before time compensations allocated to Kevin Escoffier’s rescuers were applied. These two latest generation IMOCA boats had problems with port foils for different reasons. On the sections of the race where they could use their starboard foils in favourable sailing conditions these new foilers were very effective.

Reliability vs speed

Reliability among the newest boats requires time on the water. Some of the last generation foilers were forced to abandon. Nicolas Troussel sailing Corum experienced the only dismasting on this edition of the race. Sébastien Simon sailing Arkéa Paprec retired after hitting a floating object, and Alex Thomson on HUGO BOSS retired with various structural problems and rudder damage.

Other sailors experienced problems which put their races on hold for different periods like L’Occitane en Provence (Armel Tripon), DMG Mori (Kojiro Shiraishi). Jérémie Beyou on Charal was forced to return to Les Sables d’Olonne to effect repairs and managed to restart nine days after the others.

Ocean racing with foils

This is a big topic for future development and experiments. This edition of the Vendée Globe gave teams and designers food for thought.

Older generation boats proved that they can still sail very well. Technical teams who had prepared their straight -daggerboard – boats well, were able to finish in the Top 10.

More than ever before there is scope on the Vendée Globe for projects which have modest budgets but lots of commitment and drive.

Overall there was a succession of weather phenomena, which paused or slowed the race at many different points allowing the fleet to re-compress, compacting back into discrete groups. Notably there was storm Theta at the Cape Verdes, the extension of the Saint Helena High to the very south of the Atlantic, which slowed the leaders’ exit into the fast lane east, high pressure zones of light winds in the Southern Oceans, very hard, confused seas in the Pacific and notably a long period of light winds in the Pacific just after Christmas. All these situations kept the fleet(s) compact with big, big comebacks.

This generation of boats saw the lowest rate of abandonments at only 24% (vs 37% with 9 abandons out of 24 starters in 2000). Good finishing positions of the 2016 and even 2008 generation boats were placed in the final standings.

Older generation boats are still good

These skippers sailing older generation boats were able to harness their full potential.

Yannick Bestaven (Maître CoQ IV) won the Vendée Globe on a 2016 foiling boat.

Louis Burton, on Bureau Vallée 2, the former Banque Populaire d’Armel Le Cléac’h (winner in 2016), took 3rd place.

Jean Le Cam on Yes We Cam with a 2008 boat with straight boards took 4th place.

Boris Herrmann, with the 2016 foiling boat SeaExplorer – Yacht Club de Monaco would have finished on the podium if he hadn’t hit a fishing boat close to the finish line.

Damien Seguin, the first skipper with a disability in the history of the race, with his 2008 IMOCA with straight daggerboards took a formidable 7th place with his 2008 IMOCA with straight daggerboards. He was ahead of eighth- placed Giancarlo Pedote’s first generation foiler, and the ninth placed daggerboard – boat of Benjamin Dutreux, followed by Maxime Sorel in 10th.

The field for the ninth edition was deep in terms of skippers’ experience, boat ages and designs, but it really also highlighted the diversity of projects and skippers’ profiles.

An incredible finish

The rescue of Kevin Escoffier by Jean Le Cam, with the assistance of Yannick Bestaven, Boris Herrmann and Sébastien Simon, underlined the race’s historic and continuing element of self-reliance wherever possible, and the solidarity among seafarers. In the long run the time compensations allocated to the relevant skippers had a major influence in the final standings on the rankings.

The race finish has never been closer, the level of suspense was extreme until the finish line, and even after the first skippers had finished.

A list of firsts

Boris Herrmann became the first German skipper to start and finish the race

Kojiro Shiraishi  became the first Asian and Japanese skipper to finish the race

Ari Huusela became the first Finnish and Nordic/Scandinavian skipper to start and finish the race

In the top 10, there were 2 latest-generation foilers, 4 previous-generation foilers, and 4 straight-daggerboard boats. This spread shows that this is anybody’s race, and that the bigger budgets and most technologically-advanced boats are not always placed well.

A successful start village

Despite health measures, including physical distancing measures, the Village welcomed 200,000 visitors over the 13 days it was open from October 17 to 29, before the second national confinement.

The Village welcomed 15,000 visitors per day with 5,000 people at any one time. Almost 60% of them came from regions other than Vendée. There was a strict protocol, with prior registration required and 98% capacity was reached for visits which were required to be less than 3 hours on average. The good news is that 97% of visitors were satisfied with the e-ticketing. Could this be the start of a new way to host events? 93% of visitors felt that the sanitary measures were sufficient.

A big thank you is extended to the 285 volunteers who accompanied and guided the visitors.

A site and app that beat all the records

The Vendée Globe seeks to engage with more and more supporters who follow and enjoy the solo round the world nonstop race. This was no small feat for this 9th edition as the success of the  2016/2017 edition was a tough act to follow.

Compared to the 8th edition, the Vendée Globe recorded 1.3 million more visitors to its website and to its mobile applications (11 million users vs. 9.7 million in 2016).

Virtual game success

The virtual race organised by Virtual Regatta reflected the up-swing in interest and registered more than a million players (1,068,908), more than double (+ 135%) the number of players of four years ago (456,000 players in 2016 ).

Although the game recorded 25% players from abroad – including a very high proportion from Germany and the United Kingdom – French player Jean-Claude Goudon won, setting a new record  of 69 days, 22 hours and 16 minutes.

4,471 classes participated in the game (111,775 students). This positions the virtual game as an educational support too.

Video views in the millions

115 million videos views (vs. 71 million in 2016): + 44 million views !!

63 million videos views on Dailymotion (vs. 24.7 million in 2016)

31.5 million videos views on YouTube (vs. 4.6 million in 2016)

18 million videos views on Facebook (vs. 41 million in 2016)

2.5 million videos views on Instagram (no videos in 2016)


20 million views acccumulated for shows on Vendée Globe platforms (vs. 13 million in 2016);

A programme also broadcast on Infosport + (more than 36 hours of broadcasting)

Doubling the community of fans

985,000 Social Media fans cumulatively! (vs 419,800 in 2016): + 135%

Facebook: 350,000 fans (vs. 264,000 in 2016), Twitter: 107,000 followers (vs. 54,000 in 2016), Instagram: 200,000 subscribers (vs 23,800 in 2016), LinkedIn: 14,000 subscribers (creation in 2020), Youtube: 114,000 subscribers (vs. 12,000 in 2016), Newsletter: 200,000 subscribers (vs. 66,000 in 2016)

Exceptional media coverage

The media coverage was exceptional despite several elements that did not set a positive backdrop. The Vendée Globe was placed in a news mix dominated by Covid-19, which led news agendas since last March, plus  the American elections and the knock-on effects of the results.

Despite these elements, the Vendée Globe held a special place in the news. Many newcomers have discovered the virtues of ocean racing, the skippers and the event itself.

Increasingly wider tv coverage

190 countries covered the race on 5 continents (identical to 2016). 118 channels (vs. 97 in 2016), an increase of 22%, and among them 67 channels are free, which represents 57% of the total channels (vs. 46% in 2016-17);

This represents 269 million euros in advertising equivalent (vs. 198 million in 2016), i.e. + 35%

A historical, international breakthrough

Internationally, the Vendée Globe has made a historic breakthrough. Based on a study launched in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Italy and Switzerland, the impact is greater than the French impact on the edition of 2016 (reminder: 45,000 pieces of media coverage).

There were 49,000 pieces of coverage, from all different types of media, in these countries, with 63 million euros of advertising equivalent, and 1.35 billion contacts reached, of which 48% are from Germany.

The international version of the website recorded an increase of 6% of its visitors (33% of visitors to the site come from international sources vs. 27% in 2016).

Vendée Globe junior educational content a success

Due to the health context, the Vendée Globe junior educational resources have never before seen so many people benefit than in in this 2020 edition, with record results recorded on the website:

6.44 M page views, (vs. 1.9 M pages in 2016), representing growth of + 240%!

440,000 visitors, which represents 3,500 visitors on average per day (compared to 1,800 in 2016), ie an increase of 94%.

With 78,000 downloads, the educational resources benefited from very high visibility with teachers (in Vendée and outside Vendée), but also with the general public.

Finally, 6,000 educational kits were sent to all classes in schools and colleges in Vendée (4,000) as well as to establishments outside Vendée (2,000), which requested them, including around thirty kits for schools located abroad. In 2016-2017, 1,500 educational kits – the content of which is now entirely dematerialized on the site – had been distributed to schools and socio-educational establishments).

A more responsible organisation

The organisation has turned a corner in its responsible approaches; with a clear reduction in single-use plastics, a respected commitment to favour national local suppliers (95% of food purchases were made in France, of which 48% in Vendée). Very little food waste was generated thanks to the good management of the event’s restaurateurs.

To these good practices can be added the establishment of the partnership to support marine scientific research at UNESCO. The Vendée Globe highlighted the importance of this scientific approach to the general public.

Even more engaged skippers

Many IMOCA Class skippers are environmentally committed men and women who were keen to convey messages on sustainable and socially responsible themes.

The environment and the protection of the oceans were supported by Alexia Barrier, Boris Herrmann, Stéphane Le Diraison, Fabrice Amedeo, Benjamin Dutreux, Didac Costa, Armel Tripon, Kevin Escoffier to name a few.

Health causes: Sam Davies with the Initiatives-Cœur project supported the association “Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque”, Maxime Sorel, sponsor of “Vaincre la Mucoviscidose”, and Charlie Dalin who supports the association “Petits Princes” which makes dreams come true for sick children and adolescents.

Inclusion initiatives: Damien Seguin with Groupe APICIL and “Des Pieds et des Mains”, Thomas Ruyant and his LinkedOut project or Clarisse Cremer and the Lazare association.

Diversity initiative: Isabelle Joschke created the association “Horizon mixité”

All in all the Vendée Globe can be regarded ads a success across many areas. This race management, media and communications should be studied for best practices. Well done too all involved.

The prize giving ceremony will be organised on May 22, 2021 in Les Sables d’Olonne, and will follow the health measures in place on that date.

To watch the replay of the press conference, click here





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