August 26, 2012

The real and virtual Vendées

HAVING NOTICED that the latest Vendée Globe is starting in November, I was vaguely thinking of entering  the virtual game that runs at the same time.  This free Internet game lasts about 100 days as it mimics the real singlehanded, non-stop, around-the-world sailing race, but it has certain disadvantages for those of us living far west of the French headquarters on the Bay of Biscay.  Wind and weather conditions are updated every 24 hours at a time convenient to players in France.  That translates to the early hours of the morning on the West Coast of America.

Nevertheless, such is the fascination of steering your own boat in competition with 300,000 other virtual players that during the last race four years ago I did in fact stumble out of bed in the middle of the night and stab at the computer keys to put my boat on a new course with a new suit of sails. 

I must admit that I put her on autopilot under reduced sail for several weeks and let her jog across the South Pacific on her own, mainly because I had no chance of catching up with the leading 100,000 or so players, since I started three weeks late.  But I took over the controls again to round Cape Horn, which was surprisingly thrilling even when viewed on the screen of a computer, and guide her up to the finish in France.

This time around, the organizers of the 2012/2013 virtual Vendée are expecting half a million entrants, so the competition is going to be mighty stiff.  If you’d like to join in the fun, Google “Virtual Vendée Globe” toward the end of October.

As far as I know, there are no American entrants in the real Vendée Globe, the toughest of all singlehanded sailboat races, which forbids all outside assistance. Most of the 20 entrants are French, with a scattering of other Europeans. There is a trio of Brits, including Samantha Davies, who is expected to do well.

The boats themselves are simply giant 60-foot surfboards, very fast, very wide, and very unseaworthy.  In past races, several boats overturned by large seas in the Southern Ocean have remained upside down indefinitely because of their extreme beam.

I notice that Americans didn’t feature among the medal winners in the recent Olympic sailing regatta, either. This seems to be a bad time for American competitive sailing. I wonder what’s happening.

Today’s Thought
Thou shalt not covet: but tradition
Approves all forms of competition.
— Arthur Hugh Clough, The Latest Decalogue

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
(26) “If you throw him a small pea, sir, he’ll show you how he plays water polo.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Jack said...

John, with the disadvantage of your geographical position, maybe a bit of "outside the box thinking".... Have you considered the Donald Crowhurst sailing plan?

John Vigor said...

Jack, if I could figure a way to do it, I'd be very tempted, believe me. But the beady-eyed French server watches everyone very closely. In any case, the real fun of this virtual game is the way you find yourself competing with individual yachts in your area. Sometimes there is intense competition for a week or more before one of you gets a lucky break and manages to streak ahead after the other hits a calm or an iceberg.

John V.

Jack said...

Well good luck! I will monitor your progress with interest! I'm sure you will keep us all following your blog, updated . I'm going to be cheering for Alex Thomson in the real thing.....
Cheers, Jack

doryman said...

As for the lack of American sailors.


Too bad the old cash cow has to drive everything.

Stuart said...

Then there's the recent ramming of the race committee boat by one of the (US) Oracle boats at the start of a fleet race in San Francisco last week.
The cash cow was not at the helm, apparently.
What is happening to the US sailors indeed...