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Last Updated: Monday, 8 November, 2004, 09:41 GMT
Adventurers to Grand Prix racers
French Vendee Globe competitor Marc Thiercelin
The 20-strong Vendee Globe fleet face over 90 days alone at sea
The Vendee Globe non-stop around-the-world race is the pinnacle of single-handed sailing.

The race has evolved from the early days when adventurers set out to discover if it was possible to a Grand Prix event with fierce competition.

The race, which made a household name of Briton Ellen MacArthur in 2001, will take over 90 days to complete.

The arduous route takes the fleet eastwards around the globe past the southern tips of Africa, Australia and South America.

The first man to circumnavigate the globe alone is widely thought to have been Joshua Slocum over 100 years ago.

He set sail from Boston, USA, in his 37ft yacht and three years - and 46,000 miles later, stopping where he fancied - he returned.

In 1966, Sir Francis Chichester and his Gypsy Moth sailed from Plymouth, UK, stopping only in Sydney on his way around the world in 313 days.

Ellen MacArthur
Aged 24, MacArthur finished second in 2001

Chichester set the stage for the Golden Globe race and two years later, Robin Knox-Johnston, sailing Suhaili, became the first person to sail non-stop around the world, beating a collection of men driven for different reasons to take up the challenge.

Chay Blyth was a soldier who couldn't sail, Frenchman Bernard Moitessier challenged for the lead before deciding to quit the race and go cruising, and Donald Crowhurst infamously fabricated his whole voyage while drifting around the Atlantic before committing suicide.

Other assorted solo circumnavigations followed, including Blyth's first non-stop voyage westwards around the world, against the prevailing winds and currents.

But the biennial Vendee Globe was launched by Frenchman Philippe Jeantot in 1989.

France's Titouan Lamazou, onboard Ecureuil d'Aquitaine II, won in 109 days, with only seven of the 14 starters finishing.

Two years later another Frenchman, Alain Gautier, on Bagages Superior triumphed in 110 days but the race was marred by the loss of Briton Nigel Burgess in the Bay of Biscay.

The 1997-98 edition, won by France's Christophe Auguin in 105 days, was marked by some incredible feats of heroism and survival.

In exceptional conditions in the treacherous Southern Ocean, France's Raphael Dinelli capsized and was eventually rescued by British competitor Pete Goss, who had to turn back into severe weather to reach him.

Shortly after, Britain's Tony Bullimore spent several days inside the upturned hull of his Exide Challenger as he awaited rescue from by the Australian Navy, while France's Thierry Dubois was saved in similar fashion.

However, the danger of the event was brought home when Canadian Gerry Roufs was lost at sea.

The last staging of the race in 2000-01 brought it onto a global stage with the exploits of MacArthur.

At 24 she became the fastest woman and youngest person to sail around the world alone as she finished a close second behind winner Michel Desjoyeaux in 94 days.

The Frenchman, aided by new technology and favourable conditions, crossed the line in a record 93 days three hours 57 minutes.

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