Heroes from the world of Solo Sailing

Published on September 15th, 2022

The inaugural Global Solo Challenge 2023-24 seeks to be a budget-friendly solo, non-stop race around the world. For boats from 32 to 55 feet with an IRC rating below 1.370, a pursuit start over 11 weeks begins in A Coruña, Spain, with the first boat to return deemed the winner.

In this report by Dave Proctor, he highlights some of the heroes from the world of solo sailing:

When I previously shared my list of heroes from the world of solo circumnavigation and who would be in my own hall of fame, the first person to read it prior to publication was the founder and organizer of the GSC, Marco Nannini.

“You haven’t even mentioned my childhood hero. Yves Parlier, for example,” he opined.

Of course not, he was not one of my top five heroes and that list was my ‘hall of fame.’

“Okay,” I immediately retorted, “so who would you nominate?”

Now I should explain that Marco is an experienced and successful offshore racer in his own right, having completed a crewed circumnavigation in the Global Ocean Race 2011-12. This was a five-stop race for Class40 yachts and his yacht, ‘Financial Crisis’ finished 2nd Overall.

He has also completed the Route du Rhum, came 2nd in the Round Britain and Ireland race, and won the 2009 OSTAR for solo sailors in class IRC3. In 2012, Marco was awarded the prestigious Italian Sailor of the Year award and is a recipient of the Italian Medal for Merit.

Given that Marco has the experience and I am, merely, a sailing enthusiast and journalist, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the names put forward by him for his own hall of fame.

Yves Parlier
In France and in the World of offshore racing, Parlier is regarded as a hero and has been accorded the nickname ‘The Extra-terrestrial’ for his exploits and capabilities, which have been considered out of this world!

As a measure of how well thought of he is in France, he has been made Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur and previously won the coveted French Sports personality of the year award.

His sailing achievements span the years 1985 to 2006, which saw him win the Mini Transat, Solitaire du Figaro, Transat British, Route du Café, Route du Rhum, Transat Jacques Vabre with E. Tabarly, the Route de l’Or in a team, the Course de l’Europe in a team. He competed in 3 Vendée Globe and in 2006 he became the Record holder for the 24h solo distance.

There is also the remarkable story of when during his third Vendée race his mast crashed down in high winds. He managed to get to land on a remote beach and after ten days, he managed to get his mast back into place and finish the race, despite him being left with minimal food supplies.

But there is so much more than him being just a sailor, he is also an acclaimed and innovative naval architect who specializes in developing and using new composite materials and is currently heavily involved in developing natural energy fueled yachts, incorporating solar power and using kites as opposed to fixed sails.

Michel Desjoueaux

Frenchman Desjoueaux is the only man to have won the Vendee Globe solo circumnavigational race twice, once in 2000-01 and then again in 2008–09. He has also won a number of solo transatlantic races, as well as the Route de Rhum and several editions of the Solitaire de Figaro, which is a race around the notorious Bay of Biscay. He has also had success in various multi-crewed races.

Francis Joyon
Another Frenchman, Joyon is not only a successful offshore racing sailor, having won races like the Route de Rhum, various trans-Atlantic races and others, he has also been spectacularly successful in going for long-distance sailing records.

In 2004, Joyon set the solo non-stop circumnavigation world record time of just under 73 days. The next year, British sailor Ellen Macarthur beat his record, but Joyon regained the record in 2008 completing the circumnavigation in just over 57.5 days (he later lost the record to one of my ‘heroes’ François Gabart)

He and his crew are also the current holders of the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest crewed circumnavigation, he won this trophy for completing the course in just under 41 days, which shaved a full five days off of the previous record.

To see the list of the speed records currently and previously held by this sailor, he must rate as one of the fastest and most competitive sailors, ever.

Jean Le Cam
Back in 2009, Frenchman Le Cam was competing in the Vendée Globe solo circumnavigational race, when his yacht capsized. He was approximately 200 miles from Cape Horn and was trapped beneath his boat. Another contestant in the race, Vincent Riou, on his yacht PRB, came to his aid and Le Cam was rescued after 16 hours trapped inside his upturned yacht.

Of course, such an incident did not deter Le Cam and he has gone on to compete in three further Vendée Globes and also win the Barcelona World Race, which is a non-stop circumnavigation for crews of two (Le Cam had Spaniard Bruno García with him).

Twelve years later and another sailor, Kevin Escoffier, boke his boat in half during the 2020/2021 Vendée Globe. Jean Le Cam went straight to assistance. Coincidentally, Escoffier was also sailing a boat called PRB. Le Cam was subsequently also awarded the Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur.

To date, Le Cam has completed six circumnavigations in organized races and numerous trans-Atlantic races.

Alex Thomson
Not another Frenchman, but a British sailor this time, Thomson’s interest in Offshore racing was kindled under the mentorship of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and businessman Sir Keith Mills (who was behind Britain’s successful Olympic bid and then established Britain’s Americas Cup team).

Thomson became a professional sailor at a young age and in 1999 at the age of 24, he won the Clipper round the world race, as a skipper (a race in stages, with the opportunity for amateur sailors to join as crew). Thomson still holds the record for the youngest skipper to win a circumnavigational race.

Thomson went on to gain a long-term sponsorship deal with fashion giant Hugo Boss and his subsequent boats were named after the fashion brand and featured their distinctive black background.

He went on to compete in five Vendée Globes (finishing in two of them) and two other circumnavigational races as well as a number of trans-Atlantic races.

Thomson is renowned as a fearless sailor and even though sometimes his risks backfired and he has lost boats, he would always give it his all.

He was also held in awe by many sailors for his weather routeing, sometimes brave sometimes bold and often pure genius.

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