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Guide to the Vendée Globe

PUBLISHED: 12:58 20 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:58 20 January 2017

The 2012/13 Vendée Globe © Sylvain NGR/Creative Commons

The 2012/13 Vendée Globe © Sylvain NGR/Creative Commons

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Find out more about the most challenging sailing race in the world, the Vendée Globe, and runner up Alex Thomson

What is the Vendée Globe?

It sounds straightforward enough: you have to sail around the world without stopping, single-handed and without assistance. Except it’s also a race. Known as ‘the Everest of the seas’, it’s one of the most relentless endurance tests and it tops the ambition-list of most competitive sailors.

The French record-setting sailor Philippe Jeantot first came up with the idea in 1987, back when only five sailors had ever successfully sailed non-stop around the world. It’s a race held every four years, so the 2016-2017 competition is only the eighth since its inception.

With a theoretical distance of 24,393 miles – starting and finishing at Les Sables-d’Olonne in the Vendée - it takes nearly three months to complete.

Indeed, many won’t finish at all: race statistics suggest that over 50% of those who line up at the start will not make it all the way around. Even though the skippers are skilled and experienced, they still face technical problems, accidents, illness and great risks: famously, in the 1996-1997 race, Canadian Gerry Roufs was lost at sea and never seen again. The Vendée Globe is not a race for the faint of heart.

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Armel Le Clac'h on the start line, the 2016/17 winner © Eric HOUDAS/Creative Commons Armel Le Clac'h on the start line, the 2016/17 winner © Eric HOUDAS/Creative Commons

The stages of the Vendée Globe

Essentially, each skipper sails the world from west to east, via the three major capes. From the long slide down the Atlantic to the treacherous voyage across the Southern Ocean, then the Pacific and the final climb back up the Atlantic, it’s a route filled with risk.

Les Sables to the Equator

Equator to Good Hope

Good Hope to Cape Leeuwin

Cape Leeuwin to Cape Horn

Cape Horn to Equator

Equator to Les Sables

2016/17 results

1st place: Frenchman Armel le Cleac’h who set a record time of 74 days, 3 hours, 35 minutes and 46 seconds

2nd place: Brit Alex Thomson who finished in 74 days, 19 hours, 35 minutes and 15 seconds

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Alex Thomson, the 2016-17 runner up © Eric HOUDAS/Creative Commons Alex Thomson, the 2016-17 runner up © Eric HOUDAS/Creative Commons

Alex Thomson

Age: 42

Born in: Bangor, Wales

Now lives in: Titchfield, UK

Boat: Launched 2015

Sponsors: Hugo Boss

Vendée Globe: 4th attempt

2016/17 finishing position: 2nd

Alex Thomson, this year’s only British competitor, has had the good fortune to be sponsored by Hugo Boss for an impressive 13 years; this time, all eyes were on his incredibly sleek and stylish boat.

Built near Southampton at Green Marine, specialists in carbon-built racing-yachts, it cost £3.5 million and was developed with German Konstantin Grcic, renowned for formal, high-tech design. Strikingly beautiful, it’s a complete one-off, custom-designed for Thomson.

“There are two sides to sponsorship,” Alex explains. “First comes the racing; but we work hard to give a good return back to our sponsors through PR, marketing and brand-awareness. It’s about the relationship you have with the sponsor. You have to listen to their requirements and ensure that, through racing, you deliver the best results.”

Famous for his daring, adrenaline stunts, such as diving from the top of his mast in a Hugo Boss suit, Alex Thomson is as much a one-off as his boat.

Quick questions

Tea or coffee? Tea

Music? None

Treats? Serrano ham, salted peanuts and mayonnaise

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