My Father and the Vendee Globe

So the Vendée Globe single-handed round-the-world yacht race started on Sunday.

You're probably thinking "But that's a yacht race. And this site is supposed to be about dinghy sailing"

And you'd be right.

But to my mind, the Vendée Globe is (pretty much) a dinghy race.

Firstly, the boats look like modern-day over-sized Lasers (or should that now be over-sized RS Aeros?). With a jib. And fancy daggerboards.

But that is not the main reason the Vendée Globe is (pretty much) a dinghy race.

Many years ago, the club that we were members of would have an annual race for the Wraysbury Lake Sailing Club Single-Handed Trophy. But this trophy wasn't for single-handed classes. This trophy was only open to Enterprises that were sailed single-handed!

That's right, my friend. You read that correctly. They sailed a two-handed boat on their own.

An Enterprise

An example of a fully-crewed Enterprise being sailed perfectly. Well, nearly perfect. They could probably sit forward a little.

And the race was completed non-stop. They couldn't come over to the pontoon for a bit of a rest. They couldn't moor up on one of the islands and relax for a bit. They were expected, in short, to complete the entire 40-minute race, on their own, with no breaks.

Just like the Vendée Globe competitors.

I'll allow you a minute to get over that sensational revelation.


Some of you will remember my experiences in long-distance racing and assume that I have a similar tale to tell about the WLSC Single-Handed Trophy, but I don't. I was never allowed to take part in the event.

I can only assume that the 40-minute race was considered too arduous for a delicate teenager like myself, and so it was left to my father to carry the family torch in this particular event.

I remember very clearly watching him sail to the start line - questions racing through my young mind:

  • Would he make it around the race course in one piece?
  • What would happen if a boat capsized - could one person even right an overturned Enterprise?
  • Why was my stomach rumbling?
  • Where had he left his wallet so I could get some change and buy some chocolate?
  • What was the score in the Liverpool match?
  • How much longer would this race go on for?
  • Were we expected to watch the whole race, or could I go and play Top Trumps with my friends?
  • Why is it the aim of a sailing race to do the least amount of sailing possible?

It was an emotional rollercoaster, and I'm sure the Vendée Globe is for the competitors' families, too. And it is fair to say that the Vendée Globe is not without its hardships and perils, but there are, when you think about it, several advantages to doing the Vendée Globe over the WLSC Single-Handed Race. For instance:

  1. They have loads of food on board - as far as I'm aware, my father had to survive on nothing at all.
  2. They have a nice covered bit on their deck so they won't get wet if it rains a bit.
  3. They have beds on board. My dad frequently gives the impression that he must have fallen fast asleep whilst sailing, but as far as I know, he's never actually done it.
  4. They have all kinds of navigation devices on board. The brave WLSC Single-Handed Race competitors had to remember the course by writing it on their hand in biro. Simpler times.

I'm proud to say that my father won the WLSC Single-Handed Trophy on at least one occasion, and quite possibly more.

But like all adventurer sailors, he brushed it off as if this epic achievement were but a trifle and we, his loving family, were happy to belittle his achievements support him in this belief.

And, like all adventurer sailors, he was badly malnourished and dehydrated when he came ashore, and he immediately began his carefully designed recovery programme.

And finally, like all adventurer sailors, he would never talk about his experiences. He never burdened us with the horrors he must have experienced out on that lake, in the Force 2 to 3, virtually out of earshot of the club house at times, with no-one for company for several minutes at a time. Except for the odd occasion when he might say "It's like that time I won the Wraysbury Lake Singl...", and we, being his supportive family, would immediately interrupt him and gently discourage him from reliving those hardships by saying something like "Oh, here he goes, showing off again" and he would quieten down, protected once more from his memories.

Much like I'm sure Michel Desjoyeaux's family do for him.

2 thoughts on “My Father and the Vendee Globe

  1. WLSC Single handed race was hardcore, and the trophy aptly enough was a carving of a single hand clutching a rope. Not for the faint hearted.

  2. I’d forgotten that trophy – it was a good one. I suspect the fact that it was not for the faint hearted was probably the reason I never took part…

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