around the world

Posted on November 10, 2008
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The Vendee Globe solo yacht race is tough. Sailing a yacht on your own for 90 days across some of the most terrifying stretches of water in the world is nothing but lunacy. I get scared on Sydney harbour in a southerly with a six foot swell and a crew of six. How anyone can cope with 60 knot winds and monster storm swells in boats that are going close to 50kmh on your own is beyond contemplation. Like, when do you sleep? Here’s a story from The New York Times on the start

Before leaving the dock in Les Sables d’Olonne on the west coast of France, the British sailor Alex Thomson had already passed his first major challenge of the Vendée Globe, the grueling single-handed, nonstop around-the-world race that began Sunday.

Thomson, a race favorite, has spent the last 22 days completing the repair of a 5-by-12-foot hole in his 60-foot carbon racing sailboat, Hugo Boss, which was run through by a fishing boat while being delivered for the race.

This year’s race includes a record 30 competitors, and for the first time the world’s top solo ocean-racing sailors will be on the 26,000-nautical-mile course together. And this time, Thomson, 34, is determined to keep his slick black boat on course to victory. He dropped out of the last running of the Vendée Globe in 2004-5 and abandoned his first Hugo Boss sailboat in last year’s Velux 5 Oceans Race.

“I have had to just focus on fixing the boat and nothing else,” Thomson said in a telephone interview Sunday before the 1 p.m. start. “It wasn’t until yesterday that I was able to think I need to get into race mode.”

Thomson and his rivals motored past more than 100,000 cheering spectators along the beaches and jetties of this old port city, the host to all six Vendée Globes since the event began in 1989. The race started against a calm southwesterly breeze in the Bay of Biscay that was expected to rise to a full gale by Monday afternoon.

The sailors are racing the newest Open 60 boats, designed to a measurement rule that allows for innovation but keeps the boats evenly matched. They are made for the downwind prevailing breezes of the west-to-east course, with wide, flat, stable sterns that skim across the waves at high speeds and massive sails made of strong, lightweight fibers like Kevlar and Spectra.

The boats have been refined to top 40 miles an hour in the open ocean. And with “intelligent” autopilots that steer the boat like a human more than 90 percent of the time, skippers are free to track the fastest routes and fine-tune each sail for speed. They do all this while sleeping in 15-minute spurts for an average of two hours each day. continue reading

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