While most regattas and ocean races are announcing cancellations or postponements for 2020, the IMOCA Globe Series has gone the other way. Following the cancellations of two previously planned transatlantic races that would have taken the fleet from France to the US East Coast and back, the IMOCA class has taken the opportunity to announce the new Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne solo race instead. Taking place just four months before this year’s Vendée Globe, the race will be the only racing opportunity for about a third of this year’s record-setting fleet to actually qualify for the race. This one-off solo race to the Arctic Circle and back will serve as the first and last chance for several new builds — delayed in launching by the virus — to test their speed before the main event in November.
Beginning on July 4 from Les Sables-d’Olonne, France (the starting place of the Vendée Globe), the race will take sailors from France to a turning mark off the Azores before sailing due north to the edge of the Polar Circle, then back to Les Sables-d’Olonne. While not necessarily representative of a mostly-downwind race around the world via the Southern Ocean, this 3,600-mile route should expose sailors to almost every condition imaginable, from beating or fetching across Biscay and likely reaching to the Azores, to full-on high-latitude low-pressure systems and then light air in the many expected transition zones. The race should serve as a phenomenal proving ground before the ninth Vendée Globe.
With sponsors, sailors, the IMOCA class and global sailing fans suffering serious withdrawals and lack of content to follow, this race represents an opportunity for the IMOCA class to draw in new eyeballs during a time of reduction in professional sporting events. With no public race village, sailors tested and quarantined before the race, and the socially-distant nature of solo ocean racing, the IMOCA Globe Series has taken every precaution they can to responsibly run the race with no conflicts or risk of outbreak, and with full governmental support.
From a sporting perspective, this new race should be a thriller. Several hungry skippers and new boats are keen to show what they’ve got just before the Vendée Globe, which received an incredible 37 applications as of the November 2019 deadline. Of those 37 applications, a record-setting nine were brand-new builds, including a trio of new foilers designed by someone other than VPLP and Guillaume Verdier, the dominant designers of the last decade.
Argentinian designer ‘Juan K’ (Juan Kouyoumdjian) has made a return to the class and has just seen the second of his two new boats launch. French designer Samuel Manuard of Mini and Class 40 fame had a new build recently launched for Armel Tripon. Eleven skippers still need to qualify for the Vendée Globe, several new boats need to rack up some miles, and much of the rest of the fleet are eager to test their speed. So we would be surprised to see fewer than 20 boats hit the starting line come July 4. We’ll keep you updated on the race in July, as it will almost certainly be the most exciting thing going in the sailing world!