with the Arctic Vendée, heading north

So what’s up there? A few more days, and the 25 sailors who cast off this Sunday, June 12 in Les Sables-d’Olonne will be able to embark on some answers. They set off for the Vendée Arctique, a single-handed qualifying race for the next Vendée Globe around the world in 2024, but above all an unprecedented course full of promise: the sailors will circumnavigate Iceland, sail along the Arctic Circle, then dive back to square one.

In the Vendée Globe, the monohulls of the Imoca class are accustomed to the icy pitfalls of the South and the sirens of the fifties howling. But never have they gone so far north. During the first edition in 2020 of the Arctic Vendée, the boats had turned around south of the ice country. “A curious race, remembers the winner Jérémie Beyou. Very hectic by the winds at the start, then after weighed down by the fog, a rather gloomy atmosphere in phase with the Covid period. And then a mad descent, in a non-stop fight. It was quite striking. But this time, there is an element of unknown which is even more worrying. »

Traffic and extreme cold

The sailors know in particular that they will meet people around the island. “It’s a big plankton area, so there should be a lot of cetaceans, whales and sperm whales, fishermen too, a lot, in short, fairly dense traffic,” lists Jérémie Beyou. The risks of collision are legion. With icebergs? “The organization is very keen on safety issues by delimiting navigation exclusion zones, and we should not come across many, explains Arnaud Boissières, four Vendée Globes in a row on the clock. Personally, I’ve never seen one before, having only come across one on my first Vendée Globe, but at night. »

The Girondin, on the other hand, is preparing to deal with the cold. “Between 2 and 5°C no doubt, so I took a balaclava and hat, and even heaters”, he indicates. “I have almost the same equipment as on the Vendée Globe, even if the hardest should only last two or three days compared to a fortnight on the round the world race”, believes Jérémie Beyou. Another peculiarity: at this time of the year, boats around Iceland will rarely sail under the Moon. A virtual absence of night which symbolizes quite well the lack of respite that sailors should suffer.

“Clearing a road is very exhilarating”

The weather, in fact, can play many tricks. “The depressions are pushed north by the Azores High and come crashing into Iceland, which promises sport”, is having fun Benjamin Ferré, 31, third in the 2019 Mini-Transat but new to the class, with barely ten days at sea on his monohull. “The maneuvers will be numerous and demanding. We are going for a real marathon! »

Arnaud Boissières assures him that he has “clearly prepared sail for storms” and expect anyway “to something as committed as the Route du Rhum”. And Jérémie Beyou stresses the importance of coastal navigation around the Icelandic reliefs which can generate many wind changes: “I don’t really see when we will be able to rest. However, it will be necessary to manage the fatigue as well as possible because the second part of the race, always at the bottom, really solicits the organisms. »

So they apprehend, the foam riders, but with enthusiasm. “This kind of race brings freshness, novelty, and it’s also good for the public and the sponsors”, judge Arnaud Boissières. “Clearing a road is very exhilarating, especially since this explorer side had not arrived for a long time”, supports Benjamin Ferré. Too marked out, the world of sailing, with these races that are repeated, without downtime but without great surprise either?

“No doubt we sometimes overuse our world tours or our races, Jeremiah Beyou reflects. We do not manage to transcribe, in our stories or our videos, the extreme side of our machines and what the solo adventure represents. It’s more and more intense, almost inhuman. So yes, a new test is welcome. Usually, this type of “exotic” course is carried out double-handed or with a crew. There, it’s solo, with a strong potential for twists. I hope we will excite people. »


The Vendée Globe 2024 in sight

The Arctic Vendée and its 6,482 km to cover – the equivalent of the Route du Rhum – is the first of the qualifying races for the Vendée Globe 2024. Four others will follow, including the Route du Rhum which must cast off from Saint-Malo next November 6. It is the Transat New York-Vendée which will close the ban in July 2024, a race born in 2016 and whose only edition (in 2020, canceled by the pandemic) was won by Jérémie Beyou. Candidates for the Vendée Globe will apply themselves to accumulating miles, because this selection criterion can be decisive on a world tour that can only accommodate 40 solo sailors.

→ PODCAST. Clarisse Crémer: “During the Vendée Globe, I took the time to contemplate the oceans”


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