How Tough Can Sailing Be?

Published on November 6th, 2016

By Joe Cooper, Windcheck Magazine
Fall appears to finally be upon us. As I write, the temperature is not in the 80s, the sky is overcast and the trees are shedding their leaves, finally. I am still buzzing after sailing the foiling cats at the Red Bull Foiling Generation ‘go for a sail’ event last Monday. That was a great way to blast out of this season. But what’s next? What are we all doing for the next three months or so until we can start thinking about 2017 sailing?

Halloween, cleaning up after Halloween, Veterans Day…really, go and check out Warrior Sailing. Think you’re having a bad hair day? Honestly, this is a fantastic, real way to really thank these men and women for their service. Volunteer, or add them to the list of great charities doing fantastic work to whom you will donate some of your bonus this year.

Then there is Thanksgiving, shopping, Christmas present wrapping, New Year’s Eve and related hangover recovery, skiing, and maybe Key West for some. It’s going to be a pretty normal kind of life for those of us who are not Warrior Sailors or asthmatics, right?

On November 6, 2016, 29 sailors from 10 countries get underway in what really is the world’s toughest sailing race. It is a race that makes all others pale in comparison, and pretty much any other ‘sporting’ activity too. It makes reality shows look childish. The experiences are not manufactured and there’s no film crew shooting your manufactured stress. More people have been in space and on Everest than have participated in the Vendée Globe. Fewer still have finished the Vendée Globe.

In the U.S., for those who recognize the name, the Vendée likely is regarded as one of those loony French, anti-social, single-handed races. Well, two out of three. It is French and it is single-handed. A refresher: The Vendée Globe is non-stop, around the globe, without assistance, single-handed in 60-foot fire-breathing monohulls, the top half dozen of which are new foiling boats. This remarkable race is covered on the nightly TV news, 100,000 people trek to Les Sables-d’Olonne for the start, and the rest of the media stats are mind boggling for a loony sailboat race.

As for the crazy part of it, well it is a risk, like any other sailing or, frankly, life activity and yes, this risk is higher than sailing to Bermuda or transatlantic. With higher risk comes higher planning and preparation, and preparation is, or should be, a staple of sailors going anywhere at anytime on anything for any reason.

Several of the French entries are sponsored, and have been in some cases for over 20 years, by multi-billion Euro, publicly traded French companies across the business spectrum. The French version of Home Depot, a couple huge banks, commercial real estate firms, major food suppliers and so on. These firms use sailing as an aggressive part of their marketing and branding programs.

The fact that the Vendée is hard, requires a special kind of mentality and approach, has many technical requirements and related difficulties that need to be managed, sometimes alone in very difficult circumstances, needs a team and leaders to make it all happen…well, these are the attributes companies say they want in their employees. At the other end of the spectrum, there are the largely or completely self-funded programs, one of which is American.

A native of Boston, MA, Rich Wilson is unique in this edition due to his age, his physical condition, and his goal. This is his second Vendée Globe to be sure, but there are three other entrants embarking on their second and five skippers doing their fourth. Rich’s funding comes largely from his educational program, sitesALIVE! It is a great program, and as you know I am very fond of anything that links sailing and kids. At 66, Rich is the oldest competitor in this edition. Full Story.

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