Earthwatch ambassador and record-breaking yachtsman Brian Thompson hopes to make history by becoming the first British sailor to win the most coveted prize in solo ocean racing, the Vendée Globe, around-the-world, solo yacht race regarded as the ultimate challenge in ocean racing.
Sailed non-stop and without assistance, the race is a severe test of individual stamina. Founded in 1989 by Philippe Jeantot, the Vendée Globe takes place every four years. The 2008 race commenced November 9th from the harbor of Les Sables d'Olonne, France.
As challenging as the race is on its own terms, Thompson is upping the ante by sailing for science as well as for the record books. He'll be recording sightings of marine life for Earthwatch researchers as he skippers the high-performance The Pindar Open 60-class yacht through 23,000 nautical miles-which should take about three months.
Thompson will be blogging throughout the race, and Earthwatch scientists will also post regular articles about the threats facing our oceans to his blog as he experiences them first hand. Thompson will sail through a wide range of marine habitats on the journey: from Western Europe down the Atlantic African coast, eastward around the African Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas, then clockwise around Antarctica, keeping Australia's Cape Leeuwin and Chile's Cape Horn to port before sailing east across the Atlantic to return to Les Sables d'Olonne. Like the traditional "Clipper Route" upon which it is based, most of the Vendée Globe race takes place in the treacherous Southern Ocean.
Unlike the captains on those clippers of yore, however, Team Pindar's skipper will be looking to help protect the natural resources he encounters, not exploit them. "Having first learned to sail at just three years old, the ocean has always been a major part of my life." Thompson says. "Out on the water is where I come alive-it can be exhilarating, beautiful and also very challenging. Consequently, I have grown to develop an enormous respect for it. With over 70% of the earth's surface covered by water, the oceans are under threat from pollution, overfishing, and climate change. I am delighted to be working with Earthwatch and looking forward to learning more about how we can all play a part in tackling the issues that are harming our planet."
Although the race will push his physical and mental endurance to the limit, and he will experience violent seas and storms, prolonged sleep deprivation, extreme isolation, and perpetual cold and damp, Thompson says he enjoys the serenity and challenges of solo sailing.
Thompson will fly the flag for Earthwatch during the race to raise awareness of the threats to ocean health and of Earthwatch's many ocean research projects. And his sponsors at Pindar and AlphaGraphics are equally committed to their partnership with Earthwatch and its mission, right down to refitting the racing yacht itself. As Thompson explains, "The Pindar Open 60 has recently undergone a refit and has been modified with environmental issues in mind, including solar panels. My goal is to make the boat's consumption of electricity carbon free for the Vendée Globe Race, through very efficient solar panels plus wind generation. Apart from making an environmental statement, it will have a sporting benefit for the campaign, through making the boat lighter by removing hundreds of kilos of fuel, and making it more reliable without the reliance on internal combustion engines."