‘Everest of Sailing’ starts Nov. 7 - Soundings Online

‘Everest of Sailing’ starts Nov. 7

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Bruce Schwab is the only U.S. sailor in the non-stop single-handed Vendee Globe race around the world

Bruce Schwab is the only U.S. sailor in the non-stop single-handed Vendee Globe race around the world

Twenty-three skippers, including American Bruce Schwab, were to start the 23,000-mile Vendee Globe Nov. 7, the non-stop single-handed race around the world known as “the Everest of Sailing.”

Though entered in the race, Californian Schwab, fifth-place finisher in the 2002 Around Alone, was unsure he could make the start, having arrived in France with possible hull damage to his Open 60 Ocean Planet after twice hitting submerged objects crossing the Atlantic. He needed $50,000 for repairs and was trying to raise the money to do them.

Designed to a contrary philosophy by Steve Rander, owner of Schooner Creek Boatworks in Portland, Ore., and naval architect Thomas Wylie, Ocean Planet has a narrower beam and less sail area than the powerful French-built Finots. It is the only entry with an unstayed mast and wood-epoxy hull. Schwab has been racing Ocean Planet in Europe, where he was ranked seventh on the Open 60 circuit.

A quadrennial event, the fifth running of the Vendee Globe has drawn a field of tested veterans as well some young racers, including two Frenchwomen, Ann Liardet sailing Uunet and Karen Leibovici sailing Atlantica. Veteran French single-hander Mark Thiercelin, who finished second in the 1996-’97 Vendee and fourth in the 2000-’01, is racing in what he says is his last Vendee, sailing the Open 60 Pro Form. He is considered a top contender. Frenchman Roland Jourdain sailing Sill, Swiss racer Dominique Wavre sailing Temenos, and Briton Mike Golding sailing Ecover also are experienced circumnavigators expected to run strong.

The race starts and finishes in Les Sables-d’Olonne on the Bay of Biscay in France’s Vendee region; sailors are expected to cross the finish line in mid-February.

The future of the Vendee became uncertain last year when the race’s founder and owner, Philippe Jeantot, got into tax trouble with the French government, and the race went on the auction block to pay off his tax liens. A French court designated SEM Vendee, a consortium headed up by the Department (or state) of Vendee, as the race’s new owners. The consortium paid 2 million euros or about $2.5 million (U.S.) for the race.

The Vendee’s new race director is French sailor and race manager Denis Horeau, organizer of the Route de l’Or in 1998, The Race in 2000, and the Solitaire du Figaro for the past nine years.