Vendée Globe 2024 : organisers, athletes and oceanographers join forces to protect the oceans


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Vendée Globe 2024

The first press conference to launch the Vendée Globe 2024 took place on 6 February at UNESCO’s Maison de l’Océan in Paris. A highly symbolic venue for the organisers of this 10th edition of the ocean race, who were able to unveil their ten new environmental commitments aimed at accelerating collective action to protect the oceans.

by Carole Saout-Grit

A legendary race for exceptional sailors

The start of the 10th edition of the Vendée Globe will officially be given on 10 November 2024 in Les Sables d’Olonne in Vendée (France). 38 men and 6 women, of 16 different nationalities, are already candidates to line up on the starting line of what is known as the Everest of the Seas, the greatest single-handed, non-stop, non-assisted ocean race around the world.

Route of the 10th  edition of the Vendée Globe 2024  ©Vendée Globe

Every 4 years, aboard their IMOCAs (a class of 18-metre monohull yachts), these exceptional sailors cover all the world’s oceans, covering 45,000 kilometres in less than 3 months of sailing. They pilot the biggest “Formula 1s of the seas” in sometimes Dantesque weather and ocean conditions. They all have the record to beat in mind, currently held by Armel Le Cléac’h, winner of the 2016-2017 edition aboard his IMOCA “Banque Populaire” in 74 days, 3 hours, 35 minutes and 46 seconds.

Arrival of Armel Le Cleac’h (FRA), skipper of Banque Populaire VIII, winner of the Vendee Globe in 74d 3h 35min 46sec, in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, on 19 January 2017- Photo : Vincent Curutchet / DPPI / Vendee Globe

But for many, the greatest victory will already be to complete this circumnavigation of the globe as far as Les Sables d’Olonne safe and sound, with no damage to either the sailor or the boat. For 17 of them, this Vendée Globe 2024 will be their “first time”, while others will undoubtedly be more seasoned from their previous participations, like Jean Le Cam from Brittany, who holds the record of 6 participations since 2004.

They all have one thing in common, they all know they are vulnerable alone in the middle of the ocean. So they’re preparing themselves both physically and mentally, to experience the immense joys of the race as well as the possible damage and other scares that could happen at any second of their journey.

A duty to set an example

Since 2003, the Vendée Globe organisers, supported by the semi-public company SAEM Vendée (comprising the Vendée Departmental Council, the town of Les Sables d’Olonne, the Pays de la Loire Region and 32 Vendée companies), have been quick to recognise the environmental impact that such an international sporting event can have, attracting several thousand visitors to each edition.

But it is also aware of its media impact, and wants to use it to raise public awareness of ocean conservation throughout the round-the-world race.

In 2024, the organisers therefore want to step up their exemplary role in their commitment to the environment and to raising awareness among the general public. They have therefore drawn up a new roadmap focusing on 4 key areas:

  1. Anticipate, by setting up measurement tools to assess the event’s carbon impact on the environment
  2. Reduce: implement actions to reduce this environmental impact (invitations to tender with environmental clauses, a charter for the players in the village, promoting the circular economy, encouraging soft mobility, innovative materials for the manufacture of the IMOCA boats, etc.).
  3. Inspire: it is by relying on the work of 4 scientific partners (Ifremer, TAAF, Polar Journal and Océans Connectés) that the Vendée Globe wishes to raise public awareness of ocean conservation, by ensuring that every Vendée Globe enthusiast can follow the race and the exploits of the skippers while acquiring knowledge about the ocean. An “OCEAN” page will be dedicated to all the educational content relating to ocean protection on the Vendée Globe website. This page will be updated in the run-up to the race, and then throughout the race, with news, photos and videos relating to the ocean and provided by the race’s ocean partners. This content will be added to the race news pages.
  4. Building a positive legacy: the Vendée Globe aims to take long-term action to protect the oceans, beyond the race itself, which takes place every 4 years. The SAEM Vendée and the Departement of Vendée have therefore created the “Vendée Globe Foundation” to support ocean protection and certain scientific research projects.

Working together to support scientific research

When you look at the career paths and achievements of the 44 skippers at this press conference, you quickly realise that many of them are already committed to social and environmental causes.

Some skippers have been working alongside scientists for several years now. This year, as part of the Decade of Ocean Sciences 2021-2030, UNESCO-CIO and the Vendée Globe signed an ambitious partnership agreement with the aim of equipping the boats with technological tools to enrich the international scientific databases of GOOS (Global Ocean Observing System), particularly in the little-visited areas of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.

Global view of different components of the GOOS (Global Ocean Observing System) – © IOC-UNESCO

At the start of the 2020 Vendée Globe, around ten skippers have taken on board 6 drifting buoys, a profiling float and other oceanographic instruments to enable continuous measurement of salinity, temperature and surface CO2 along their race route.

Boris Hermmann deploying an Argo profiler float during Vendée Globe 2020 © UNESCO

By 2024, there will be almost twenty skippers committed to science. For the moment, this commitment remains optional. But the Vendée Globe organisers are aiming, through the financial support provided to UNESCO for GOOS by the Vendée Globe Foundation, to make it compulsory for all the skippers in the IMOCA fleet to race for science from the 2028 edition.

Discover the OCEAN section of the Vendée Globe 2024

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