Vendée Arctique - Les Sables d’Olonne: Aiming for the Arctic Circle


With its uncharted course going up to the north of Iceland, the Vendée Arctique - Les Sables d’Olonne promises to be as difficult as it is rewarding. A major challenge for Alan Roura in his preparation for the Route du Rhum and the Vendée Globe, in an area that the IMOCA fleet has never explored before*.

This Sunday, 25 skippers will be setting off on a single-handed 3,500-mile course in the northern sea. Among them, Alan Roura is determined to play his cards right, after a tough first race on board his new boat last May. On this Vendée Arctique - Les Sables d’Olonne, which is in theory as long as a Route du Rhum, the skipper of Hublot has well-defined goals. “I must continue to test some settings and apply what I learned during the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race,” he explained. “And because I still lack training, this long loop around Iceland will bring me a lot of experience on board. Not to mention that this is also an opportunity to qualify for the Vendée Globe**.” No way will he sail in downgraded mode: “I won’t be holding back! There will be other qualifying races, my goal is to be as efficient as possible.”

Express return trip to the Pole

This time, unlike in Brest, the weather conditions should be in favour of the yellow and black monohull. “The forecast still changes a lot, but the first few days of racing should be in about fifteen knots, on a reaching leg that’ll take us to the tip of Brittany,” rejoices the young Swiss sailor. “We will then have a transition phase to handle before a front passes between France and Ireland, then we’ll be on a downwind treadmill to the north of Iceland.” Hublot’s favourite point of sail, although weather files must – always – be read with caution. “These are great conditions for my boat,” confides Alan, “it’ll be tough to manage the calm phase as we may have a rubber band effect (Editor’s Note: when the back of the fleet swings back in the lead,) and the first ones out will hit the fresh wind and break away. I have to make sure I’m in the right group, from the start.” The start will be given on Sunday at 5 pm from Les Sables d’Olonne, heading north, going past the legendary Fastnet Rock, to go around Iceland via the east, before going back down to the Vendée. A course that will involve many manoeuvres and sail changes, a sophisticated navigation task and constant watch. “I know the race will be tiring and I came close to this northern zone on my North Atlantic record in 2019,” says Alan serenely. “We should hit up to 25 knots of wind, nothing extraordinary in IMOCA. It’s going round the island that seems the most tricky, with the coastline relief that may disrupt the winds, without being able to take any options or escape routes with the AEZ limit (Arctic Exclusion Zone) that mustn’t be crossed. It might be quite chilly too… This race will be interesting for sure!” A major challenge for Alan Roura and a necessary and logical step in the process of getting to grips with his boat. With a possible result at stake? Find out in about twelve days, in Les Sables d’Olonne.


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* As they head north of Iceland, the skippers will enter an adventure zone that the IMOCA fleet has never ventured into before. The Arctic Exclusion Zone (AEZ), which is determined as off limits to sailing for safety reasons, is the most polar zone ever proposed. The boundary line runs north to latitude 69°45.00 N. The most northern point of Iceland is at 66°46 N; the Antarctic continent spreads to 63°23 S; the Antarctic Exclusion Zone for the 2020 Vendée Globe was positioned at the bottom at 59°30 S, which is the equivalent, in the Northern Hemisphere, of the northern tip of Scotland; Les Sables d'Olonne is at latitude 46°29 N; the North and South poles are at 90° N and 90° S respectively; the Equator is at 0°00. 

**The Vendée Arctique - Les Sables d'Olonne is the first qualifying race for the 2024 Vendée Globe. Four others will enable the Vendée Globe candidates to qualify: the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe (November 2022), the return leg of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre (November 2023), the Transat CIC Brest - United States (May 2024), the New York - Vendée (July 2024).

In addition, candidates for the 2024 Vendée Globe aim to compile miles in race. This selection criterion will be taken into account if more than 40 solo sailors complete their application form for the Vendée Globe.

Photo © Vincent Curutchet / Hublot