Vendée Globe Yacht Racing - The Boat Construction

Vendée Globe: The Boat

words: Alexander Macheck, Arkadiusz Piatek and justin hynes
Photo: VINCENT CURUTCHET/DARK FRAME 

Vendee Globe is the world’s toughest yacht race, and the boats have to be up for the task. These vessels are stripped back in every way possible to ensure maximum speed on the high seas

The Vendée Globe yacht is an Open 60. The number in its name being its length in feet, equivalent to 18.28m. The boat is 5.85m across at its widest point. The yacht draws 4.5m of water and the mast is 28.10m tall.

These vessels are stripped back in every way possible to ensure maximum speed on the high seas. Open 60 boats can reach top speeds of 55kph, which is fast for a sailing vessel.

But this year that top speed should be bettered as foils are being allowed in the race for the first time. These hydrofoils lift the hull out of the water once a certain speed has been reached, dramatically reducing friction.

Vendée Globe Yacht Racing - The Boat Construction

© Oliver Michon/Gitana SA

How can such a large boat be sailed single-handed?

All the lines that operate the sail are fed into the cockpit at the rear. For most manoeuvres, the skipper doesn’t have to leave his main workstation at the rear of the boat.

However, he has to be in the middle or front part of the yacht if he wants to furl the sails. In these moments the boat is mostly steered on auto-pilot. 

Vendée Globe Yacht Racing - It's one person per boat

Solo mission: it’s one person per boat. The one exception is if you take on board a shipwrecked competitor until a rescue ship comes to get him or her

© B. Carlin/SMAO

The living quarters below deck are reduced to a bare minimum. It’s about 2m long and known as the ‘survival’ or ‘navigation cell’. Only this area and the engine room are freely accessible.

The rest of the hull is divided into six so-called ‘collision units’, fitted with waterproof hatches. If the boat capsizes or springs a leak after a collision (with an iceberg, say), these individually sealed units help to keep the yacht afloat.

Alessandro Di Benedetto sleeping

Alessandro Di Benedetto (ITA) grabs a 10- to 30-minute power nap during the 2012 race

© OLIVIER BLANCHET/DPPI

The construction

Achilles’ heel
For all their tech, the yachts remain vulnerable. The most frequent causes of boats not finishing are mast damage, hull breaches and hitting unknown objects.

No tricks
A seal blocks the connection between the engine and the ship’s propeller. If you break the seal, you’re out of the race. That way the engine only provides electricity.

Record under threat
This year is a first outing for foils, which help the boats go faster. So sailing around the world in under 78 days (the course record) isn’t unthinkable in 2016.

Read more
11 2016 The Red Bulletin

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