Britain’s Alex Thomson said the 33 ships starting the ninth edition of the Vendee Globe race on Sunday will feel like “gladiators” as they glide out of the canal at Les Sables-d’Olonne and on to the high seas.
The approximately 24,296 nautical mile solo non-stop worldwide competition began at 1202 GMT on Sunday with forecasters indicating that the weather conditions will be “beautiful”.
Due to the coronavirus, the launch will take place without the usual gallery of thousands of spectators lining the harbor wall, but Thomson, who finished third in 2012 and second four years ago, is still preparing for goosebumps.
“You feel like a gladiator when you go down this canal,” he said. “I feel sorry for competitors who have never experienced this before,” says Thomson, whose boat Hugo Boss is one of the favorites before the race.
Stress levels have increased this year during the build-up to the beginning of the need for all ships to take a late coronavirus test that can see them prevented from starting.
Isabelle Joschke, one of six women on the starting line, said it was like “Damocles sword”.
Thomson said he had taken a total of about 20 tests.
“When we could sail again after the containment, we adopted a very strict policy regarding our way of acting, not only for me but also for the team,” he said.
“It was difficult for the team members and their families.”
Fortunately, all 33 skippers tested negative and got the green light on Saturday to start the race.
Another good news for all competitors in a record field is that the race promises to start in great conditions.
“We are going to ride in beautiful conditions with a southeasterly wind … with 12 to 15 knots wind more or less southeast,” meteorologist Christian Dumard told a press conference.
“The situation will be a bit more difficult in the evening as the first competitors face a depression off the coast of Ireland during the second part of the night.”
Although this race does not end until the end of January, it is the same excitement and nerve-wracking for the ships as at the beginning of a major sporting challenge.
“These are very intense moments, the heart rate is up, we have a lot of adrenaline,” says French skipper Charlie Dalin.
“The moment when you go from being surrounded by your team to being alone on board is quite special.
“When you see them jump into the water one by one, you feel it becoming more and more what it’s about. Suddenly there is silence, you can not talk to anyone anymore.
“You only hear the sound of the sail, the sound of the wind and the countdown of the stopwatch before starting.”