For Vincent Riou, winner of the Vendée in 2004-05 and third in 2008-09, the main difference relates to the sailors’ skills.
“A Vendée Globe sailor needs to be very much an all-rounder while in a Volvo Ocean Race team, you have got to be a hyper-specialist,” says the skipper of PRB. “I like the multi-tasking aspect of the single-handed sailing but I’m often frustrated not to be able to go deeper in certain areas. From that point of view, I’d like to be involved in a team project.”
Arnaud Boissières, skipper of Akena Verandas and seventh in 2008-09, speaks of a difference of rhythm.
“I followed the last Volvo and the victory of Groupama sailing team," he says. "These are full-on and painful sprints, which last for two to three weeks. They entirely fix the boat during the stopovers.
"On our side, we’re forced to slow down and it’s crucial to manage the material. When sailing alone, we’re using 80 to 100% of our boat’s potential. Looking at the Volvo from a distance, these guys seem nuts to me!”
What about the boats? “Our 60-foot IMOCA are designed differently with sheltered cockpits,” says Boissières, adding that he would have to switch on his “windscreen wipers” if he was on board a Volvo boat.
Jean Le Cam, leaving for his third Vendée Globe onboard SynerCiel, would like to rethink the Vendée boats following the new Volvo one-design strategy.
“I kept a close look at the Volvo decisions for its future because the IMOCA class would also like to standardise the boats and to control the cost. For me, the one-design is an evident choice.”
Despite these differences, the two races have an awful lot in common. But which one is the most adventurous?
There is no such opposition according to Riou: “People take part in the Vendée and the Volvo for the racing first and foremost, even though they always end up finding the adventure in it.
“This adventurous aspect may be slightly less important during the Volvo because they stop regularly. It simplifies it. During the four weeks we spend in the southern ocean, we are definitely far from the world. It’s a different scale but it’s still the same thing though.”
“It seems to me like a philosophical difference rather than anything,” adds Boissières. “You've got guys who will enter the Volvo several times without ever sailing single-handed, and vice-versa. The Volvo guys look more like rugby players than me, who sails solo. When you see these images, wahoo! But it’s only another way to sail.”
So – can you be both a Vendée Globe skipper and a Volvo Ocean Race fan? "Like many sailors, I followed it with great interest,” concludes Riou. “It’s an amazing race with a very high level and so is the Vendée Globe today.”