It will be an historic edition of the solo epic that is expected to feature the highest ever number of entries – with up to 40 sailors on the startline in early November – the highest number of nationalities involved, with 11 nations represented, and a fleet with more new boats than any other year bar 2008.
Antoine Mermod, the President of the IMOCA Class, is looking forward like everyone else connected with the Class to this ultimate test of men and women and machines on the global course.
“2024 is the Vendée Globe year,” he told the Class.
“That means for most of the skippers and teams it is one of the main goals of their campaigns. This is the time when you find out if you have done a good job and where you are. And that makes for huge team pressure for that race and on the work in the final months leading up to it.”
Mermod has no doubt that the challenge of the Vendée Globe remains the gold standard for most of the skippers in the IMOCA family. “This is the round-the-world race without any stops and single-handed,” he said. “For the skippers themselves it is the ultimate challenge and a unique challenge, and something that is both exciting and daunting, and it brings with it a great deal of pressure and expectations.”
Ahead of the Vendée Globe are The Transat CIC from Lorient to the US starting at the end of April, the New York Vendée-Les Sables d’Olonne which sets sail at the end of May, and the annual Défi Azimut-Lorient Agglomération festival in mid-September.
Although the two Transats are important final qualifiers for the Vendée Globe which skippers will be keen to complete in one piece, Mermod has no doubt they will be hard-fought contests when IMOCA sailors will be looking to make their mark on the classic transatlantic course.
We will see a good fight, like it always is,” he said. “We can expect two really good races because we know the skippers and we know that it is always very tough to sail these kinds of boats – you cannot do it by half. You need to be fully involved and also there are many boats that can win this Vendée Globe. That means you have to be on the limit and to do that you need to train in racing mode and these transatlantic races are the perfect opportunities for that, he added.
Everyone wants this race
Among those eagerly awaiting the first battles of the new season is Charlie Dalin, one of the most consistent performers at the top of the fleet but a sailor whose 2023 season was cut short by ill health. Now fully fit, the MACIF – Santé Prévoyance skipper has unfinished business in the Vendée Globe having taken line honours on debut last time out, but ending up second overall after time corrections were taken into account.
We asked Dalin if winning this race would mean the world to him this time round. “Yeah, for sure,” said the modest 39-year-old, originally from Le Havre. “I was pretty close last time – two-and-a-half hours or so – even though it was my first go. So I have got the experience and the boat and the team to reach my goal, but we all know the Vendée Globe is a long race and many things happen – things that you cannot necessarily control.”
Dalin says the IMOCA Class goes into the 2024 season and the Vendée Globe in impressive style. “It is looking very competitive with a very high level – I don’t know if it is the highest ever, but it is definitely high,” he said. “I know everyone wants this race. The teams are getting better at dealing with such a long race and a high pace. The boat prep is getting better and better every time and now, with The Ocean Race, we have gained Southern Ocean experience halfway between the two Vendées. So it is not like before when you send IMOCAs to the south once every four years. We have doubled the frequency so that is a good return on experience for everyone, for all the teams, observing, seeing what sails were used and seeing drone footage of the boats in big seas.”
I feel capable of doing it
While Dalin will be aiming for the podium, the 22-year-old French sailor Violette Dorange will be making her Vendée Globe debut on board DeVenir, after an impressive first season in the Class last year. Like almost all the skippers, her boat is currently undergoing its winter re-fit while Dorange hunts for more backing for her campaign to go alongside sponsors McDonalds.
“I can’t wait to concentrate on the re-fit with my team,” she enthused. “I can’t wait to discover all the aspects of the boat and I am also really looking forward to getting back out to sea. I’m not used to having so much time without sailing!”
Dorange will start the Vendée Globe at the age of 23, making her the youngest skipper ever to take on the solo global challenge. “It’s been a few years now that I’ve always been the youngest in each category, so it’s a record that I want to go after,” she explained. “But I know that I will go into the race very well prepared so even though I will be the youngest, I feel capable of doing it.”
IMOCA reaffirms its commitment
While much of the focus will be on the water over the next 12 months, the Class will continue working on its sustainability goals with further expansion of the Green Sail Rule, the use of Life Cycle Analysis and the introduction of a Carbon Cap that could go as far as halving harmful emissions during boat construction. It will also continue its work alongside the Marine Mammal Advisory Group to minimise collisions with mammals at sea.
Like all of her fellow skippers, Dorange is fully behind these initiatives.
It’s what we all have to do,” she said. “We all have to make an effort in this area and it means a lot to me because we talk about it a lot – it’s important to my generation.
Mermod summarised the thinking behind this aspect of the Class’s work. “Since 2017 this has been a priority for IMOCA because on the one hand, this generation of skippers are high level sportsmen and women while, on the other, they want to push forward their values and especially their values of sustainability, whether it be social or environmental, and for them it is very important.
“But this is also aligned with the society in which we are all living,” he added, “and we are working very hard to find the best way to improve what we do.”