Harken Derm

Vendee Globe: The Official Race Doctor

Published on October 31st, 2016

The eighth Vendée Globe, which begins November 6 from Les Sables d’Olonn, France, is the only non-stop solo round the world race without assistance. For the 29 skippers and their IMOCA 60s, their medical emergencies will be cared for by the official race doctor.

As a former emergency doctor, Jean-Yves Chauve has been dealing with the injuries of sailors for thirty years, with this to be his eighth Vendée Globe. Here he offers some insight into the role…

What has changed since your first Vendée Globe in 1989?
“Satellite links have changed things. We can be more efficient. We can send pictures to the skipper, or chat using a video conference. But the big change is the speed of the boats. Weight reductions have meant that there is no room for personal comfort The body needs to be respected. As boats go faster, the risk of injury is higher, and these injuries are likely to be more serious.”

What risks do the Vendée Globe skippers face?
“Boats are extremely noisy and violent. There is the problem of getting rest. It’s hard to sleep in these conditions. There is the risk of internal injury, remembering that the brain is floating in the skull. When the brain is thrown forward it hits the skull, which can lead to bruising, bleeding or even a coma. Helmets aren’t much help in this area. They need air-bags!”

Are the skippers well prepared to look after themselves?
“Medical training is vital. They have to think about how to give themselves a drip. We talk things through with the sailors. We know how on these boats, one thing can lead to another. The medical kit is very complete, going from morphine to skin glue. At sea, the skippers can call up the doctor of their choice, but he must inform me what is happening and what treatment he has prescribed. It’s up to me to check to see if that is OK.”

Is there extra stress for you with the new foiling boats?
“I’ll be on stand-by, waiting anxiously for any calls. Of course, I’m more stressed this year, as the boats are so fast. Four years ago, nothing serious happened, but now the bar has been raised. This is a round the world race and should be treated as a sensible sporting event. The boats must not get the better of the men aboard.”

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Background:
The eighth Vendée Globe, which begins November 6 from Les Sables d’Olonn, France, is the only non-stop solo round the world race without assistance. Twenty-nine skippers representing four continents and ten nations will set sail on IMOCA 60s in pursuit of the record time set by François Gabart in the 2012-13 race of 78 days, 2 hours and 16 minutes.

For the first time in the history of the event, seven skippers will set sail on IMOCA 60s fitted with foils, which allow the boat to reduce displacement for speed gains in certain conditions. It will be a test to see if the gains can topple the traditional daggerboard configuration during the long and demanding race.

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Source: Vendee Globe / Olivia Maincent / M&M

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