‘More men have walked on the moon than women have completed’ this boat race

By David Pendered

Nov. 8, 2020 – The strength of human spirit will be on display starting today, when six women and 27 men begin a round-the-world sailboat race. Each skipper will be alone in a 60-foot sailboat capable of speeds to 45 mph and, in the Southern Ocean, summiting waves 60 feet high.

This is a record year for women to compete in the Vendee Globe, historically a bastion of men. The race was started in 1989 and often is called the Everest of the Sea for the daring it presents and the allure of its simple rules:

  • Sail around the world, on a course this year of about 27,940 statute miles;
  • Alone;
  • Without stopping;
  • Without outside assistance.

In addition, skippers agree they won’t risk killing themselves by sailing into iceberg territory in the Southern Ocean. The temptation is to sail far south because the route shortens as it approaches the Antarctic Pole. The danger is collision with icebergs. Skippers agree to not violate an Antarctic Exclusion Zone that can be moved north if the ice moves north during the race.

More women are sailing this race than have competed in all of the eight previous Vendee Globe races. No woman has reached the podium. Fourth place is the highest ever, by a British engineer competing in this year’s event – Sam Davies.

Just 30 years old at the start of the 2020 Vendee Globe circumnavigation, French sailor Clarisse Cremer was a phenom who shifted to the 60- foot IMOCA boats after stunning the sailing world with her blinding speed as a novice in a 2017 race from France to Guadaloupe. (Credit: Yvan Zeda)

The reasons for the historically low participation among women are familiar, according to accounts by several female skippers: Sponsors favor men, and women face different types of challenges from men in getting time away from work to train for the event, and to compete in the in prerequisite races.

Here’s how Pip Hare explains the significance of six female skippers in this edition of the Vendee. Hare is a proven blue-water finisher, a British adventurer on land and sea who’s self-financed much of her campaign after she couldn’t secure early sponsors:

  • “More men have walked on the moon than women have completed the Vendée Globe, which is all the inspiration I need to succeed.”

The Vendee Globe 2020-21 begins and ends in Vendee, France. The Vendee region is located in west-central France, south of the Loire River and touching the Atlantic Ocean. The exact route each skipper sails depends on each evaluates weather systems in the ocean. The general outline from the start in Vendee is:

  • South past Brazil toward Uruguay;
  • Turn east and pass well south of Africa’s Cape of Good Hope;
  • Continue east over the fierce Southern Ocean to pass well south of Australia and New Zealand;
  • Pass barely south of Cape Horn, at the tip of South America;
  • Turn north to pass South America’s coast, pass north of Bermuda and home to Vendee.

Each of the six women is a success in the worlds of their choosing that include – professional sailor, engineer, business entrepreneur, environmental advocate. This is a quick introduction to the six female skippers in the fleet of 33 sailboats that on Sunday are to depart from Vendee, France on the Vendee Globe 2021:

Alexia Barrier

  • French, 40, founded 4myplanet to advance science and education. She has sailed 120,000 blue ocean miles, competed in 14 trans Atlantic races and now races a boat built for the 2000 Vendee Globe.

Clarisse Cremer

  • French, 30, founded a custom adventure travel business. She has catapulted to the Vendee Globe after finishing second in the 2017 Mini Transat and sails the boat that won the 2012-13 Vendee Globe.

Sam Davies

  • British, 46, an engineer and mother of one racing in her third Vendee Globe. She finished fourth in 2008-09 Vendee Globe, was dismasted in 2012-13, and sails a Vendee Globe finisher built in 2010.

Pip Hare

  • British, 46, a professional skipper who specializes in events of distance and endurance. She self-financed her rented boat, built in 1999, and searched until June to sign a title sponsor.

Isabelle Joschke

  • French-German, 43, a professional skipper and sailing instructor. She self-financed her first Mini Transat race, along with money her mother had borrowed to help her daughter. Her boat was a prototype in 2007.

Miranda Merron

  • British, 51, shifted 22 years ago from a career in advertising to become a professional sailor. She navigated an all-female team to a new world record in the 2009 Round Britain and Ireland race. Her boat was built in 2006.