A race around the world and a race against time inspired 20 skippers to embark on a chance at the ultimate title. The Vendée Globe is the only single-handed, non-stop, round-the-world yacht race and is regarded as a critical test of individual endurance. Founded in 1989 by Philippe Jeantot, a French deep sea diver, the race takes place every four years. The skippers set sail on November 12, 2012, from Les Sables-d’Olonne, France, and finished at the same location.

The International Monohull Open Class Association (IMOCA) administers the “Open 60” class of sailboats competing in the Vendée Globe race. This class of high-performance racing yachts is “open” – meaning it does not represent fixed boat designs – and consists of 60-foot monohulls. The IMOCA defines and updates the class rules and helped coordinate the Vendée Globe race.

High-performance sailing yachts, used in challenging environments, are engineered to be stronger, faster and lighter. To meet these standards, boats are now largely constructed from composite materials, which offer significant advantages in terms of weight, strength and adaptability. The top three finishers of the Vendée Globe, profiled here, used composite materials throughout their yacht designs, as did most of the other competing yachts.

Skippers: Francois Gabart and Armel Le Cléac´h
Boat: Macif (1st place) and Banque Populaire (2nd place)

Macif_1-webFrancois Gabart’s Macif is one of the most recent monohulls in the IMOCA fleet. It was built to be fast, reliable and solid. Gabart, 29, entered this race for the first time and became the youngest skipper to win the Vendée Globe. He finished in 78 days, breaking the previous record of 84 days.

Armel Le Cléac’h, 35, and his Banque Populaire came in just three hours behind Gabart, making this the closest finish in race history. Both yachts incorporated composites from the same firm, Hexcel Composites Ltd. Hexcel supplied its trademarked HexPly prepreg to CDK Technologies of France, which built the yachts. “Each yacht was made of 120 C carbon fiber prepreg from Hexcel and combined with a honeycomb structure,” says Michel Ollivier, operations manager at CDK Technologies. According to Ollivier, you can’t have a racing boat of this caliber without integrating composite materials.

“For over 30 years, we have supplied carbon fiber prepregs, honeycombs and adhesives to boat builders and all of the racing boats have hull, deck, keel, mast and rigging built in carbon fiber composites these days,” says Rachel Owens, communications manager at Hexcel Composites.