Led by Swiss yachtsman Benard Stamm, the 20 yachts left the landing stage at 9.30am Saturday ready to take off on the 44,450-kilometre journey that will mean almost three
months alone on the high seas.
They will brave the Roaring 40s, the Furious 50s, the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin and Cape Horn, not to mention the solitude.
Three British sailors will take part, one of them the only woman in the race.
- Samantha Davies, a 38-year-old mother, at the helm of Saveol, who finished fourth in 2009;
- Mike Golding, a former firefighter and three-time world champion, tackling his fourth Vendee in Gamesa;
- Alex Thomson, who cut the east-west solo transatlantic record for 60-foot monohulls by over 24 hours in July but failed to complete the last two Vendées, on Hugo Boss.
Golding’s nine-year-old son, Soren, burst into tears as his father left the quay for a long
The favourites are French participants Vincent Riou, who won in 2005, and Armel Le Cleac’h, who came second in the last race.
They hope to beat the record of 2009 winner Michel Desjoyeaux – 84 days, three hours and nine minutes – and maybe even to go round the world in 80 days.
A record million people visited Les Sables Olonne to view the yachts ahead of the race.
The 2012-2013 race will be the seventh Vendée Globe. The race started in 1989.
Two participants have died during the race - Britain's Nigel Burgess in 1992 and Canada's Gerry Roufs in 1996. American Mike Plant died while sailing from York to take part in 1992.