A New Lease Of Life For Sailing And Sailors: Ulysse Nardin And The “Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne”.


Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".
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Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".


In November 2019, Ulysse Nardin announced that it would be getting involved with the most gruelling solo sailing race; an epic challenge: the Vendée Globe solo non-stop yacht race around the world without assistance. In the spirit that unites it with the intrepid explorers and adventurers of this world, Ulysse Nardin is now giving some thought to its partnership with “The Everest of the Sea” by becoming the official timekeeper of a major first, the Vendée-Arctique-Les-Sables d’Olonne, launching 4 July – the final race before the Vendée Globe. Northwards!

Photo credits: Yvan Zedda, Défi Azimut
Photo credits: Yvan Zedda, Défi Azimut


The first sporting event to be resumed after lockdown, the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne has a cheerful and optimistic message. Most of the competitors have not been able to go sailing for several months given the situation, so are keener than ever to take the helm and make some waves. Exploration of the sea and self-exploration as the only outlook. Preparing for the biggest challenge of their lives in extreme sporting conditions. They won’t be waiting much longer, as the start date is in the diary in under 3 weeks’ time, 4 July 2020. 3,600 nautical miles (approx. 6,600 kilometres) solo, on an innovative route around a large triangle culminating near the Arctic Circle (60°N), passing through Iceland’s volcanic region and the deep blue of the Azores. Before flirting with the 60°S during the Vendée Globe, the IMOCA Class skippers are going to venture far north for the first time: solo, non-stop and without assistance. Ten to 12 days sailing in sea conditions little known to skippers. But that’s not all! There will be no night-time in the middle of summer when approaching the Arctic Circle. It’s sure to play havoc with the sailors’ body clocks and really put them to the test beneath a sky that never sleeps. This race will effortlessly convey values dear to the watchmaking Manufacture: nature, excelling oneself and exploration. Just like the Vendée Globe, the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne is not for those who doubt their capability. This is a competition only for those sailors who are ready to push their limits, confront their fears and the incredible force of nature in order to complete an epic adventure, their own Odyssey. A unique preparatory ‘prologue’ to experience the kind of stormy and wild conditions encountered during the Vendée Globe. This short race will allow skippers to test boats just back from the yard and for some to qualify for the Vendée Globe. A real mental and technical ‘warm-up’ to test their limits and break in their boats, approve any changes, enter into the spirit of the Vendée Globe and qualify.

Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".


The IMOCA Class and Vendée Globe Race Management have been working side by side to replace the two solo transatlantic races that due to the COVID-19 crisis could not take place as planned in the spring. Originally, the IMOCA Globe Series championship included two transatlantic races at the start of the 2020 season: the Transat CIC in May (Brest-Charleston) that got cancelled, followed by the Transat New York-Vendée-Les Sables d’Olonne, which has been reinvented, giving rise to this unique route to the Arctic.

Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".

Through their partnership, the IMOCA Class and Ulysse Nardin have decided to add an extra dimension to this adventure in the far north by creating the Ulysse Nardin Challenge: a race within a race to reward the 1st skipper-adventurer to pass the COI-UNESCO Waypoint (66°34 N-25 W). Very fitting for a watch brand born out of nautical navigation instruments. The first to achieve this milestone will receive a lucky Ulysse Nardin 44mm blue DIVER, a call to adventure strapped to the wrist.

Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".

The route is triangular in shape. One of the basic shapes in geometry, the triangle evokes the symbolism of the number 3. In many traditions, it reflects the notions of determination, power and fire, as well as stability and balance in architecture. You can see three important crossing points for skippers, three virtual beacons for the race’s three “science and literature partners”: The Pasteur Institute, COI-UNESCO and Éditions Galimard.

Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".

Ulysses conveys images and above all, stories that have permeated western culture. The character is over 2,000 years old, featuring in Homer’s work, in the Iliad, then in the Odyssey. He is in a boat. He has the most incredible adventures at sea. The sirens’ song… the Cyclops… Ulysses is ingenious, cunning, extraordinarily clever. He thinks faster and above and beyond others. He is an adventurer. He knows how to wait, he knows how to persevere, he is courageous, he enjoys discovering and exploring. Those lining up for the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne embody the values of Ulysse Nardin: courage, temerity, adventure and selflessness. They are “Ulysses” too. Says Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin.

Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".

We are delighted to welcome Ulysse Nardin on board as Official Timekeeper of the Vendée-Arctique-Les-Sables d’Olonne. It is a collaboration in keeping with the partnership that the brand has with the Vendée Globe”, said Antoine Mermod, President of the IMOCA Class. “The prologue to the solo round the world race, this event – designed with this unique journey to the Arctic Circle – will attract skippers and their boats while taking them on a real sea voyage. What better brand than Ulysse Nardin, which speaks to adventurers, to support us in this major first for the IMOCA fleet.”

Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".


Of course, everything is being done to protect skippers and the event team is adapting to the current health context. Among other things, a strict 5-day confinement period is planned before the racers set off, as well as serological testing. There will be no departure village on site, or public reception. The sailors are invited to go straight to the starting line from their home port, without passing by the pontoons. The arrival plan may be more flexible if the situation allows it, but for now, the precautionary approach dictates a strict framework and organisation focused on the competitors, on safety and 100% digital communication.

Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".

Ironically enough, the sailors should be experts in confinement, owing to their experience solo sailing on the open sea” reveals Françoise BEZZOLA, Marketing Director at Ulysse Nardin. “What the sailors experience during their time at sea is strangely reminiscent of the confinement that we have just gone through she adds.

Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".

About Ulysse Nardin – Manufacture of Freedom

Ulysse Nardin is the Pioneering Manufacture inspired by the sea and delivering innovative timepieces to free spirits.

Founded by Mr. Ulysse Nardin in 1846 and a proud member of the global luxury group Kering since November 2014, Ulysse Nardin has written some of the finest chapters in the history of Haute Horlogerie. The company’s earliest renown came from its links to the nautical world: its marine chronometers are among the most reliable ever made, still sought by collectors around the world. A pioneer of cutting-edge technologies and the innovative use of materials like silicium, the brand is one of the few with the in-house expertise to produce its own high-precision components and movements. This exceptional level of watchmaking excellence has earned Ulysse Nardin membership in the most exclusive circle of Swiss watchmaking, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. Today, from its sites in Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, the brand’s continuing quest for horological perfection centers around five collections: The Marine, the Diver, the Classico, the Executive and the Freak. In 2020, Ulysse Nardin explores the Xtremes, bringing the X-factor to the core of its collections. www.ulysse-nardin.com

Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".

About the Vendée – Arctique – Les Sables d’Olonne

Due to the COVID-19 global health crisis, the second edition of the New York – Vendée – Les Sables d’Olonne could not be held as planned. The race organised by the IMOCA Class and orchestrated by the Sea to See society has been totally revised to offer racers a new route equivalent to a transatlantic distance: Vendée – Arctic – Les Sables d’Olonne. The qualifier for the Vendée Globe gives IMOCA Class sailors the opportunity to take on the high seas alone one last time, on a large Atlantic loop leading to Iceland at the Arctic Circle. For them, it is a real dress rehearsal for the Vendée Globe in the autumn.

Vendée - Arctique - Les Sables d’Olonne
Vendée – Arctique – Les Sables d’Olonne

About the Vendée Globe

The Vendée Globe is currently the only solo non-stop yacht race around the world without assistance. The event followed in the wake of the Golden Globe which, in 1968, initiated the first circumnavigation of this type via the three capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn). Twenty years later, it was navigator Philippe Jeantot who, after his double victory in the BOC Challenge (single-handed round-the-world race with stages), came up with the idea for a new solo race around the world, but… non-stop! The Vendée Globe was born. On 26 November 1989, 13 sailors took part in the 1st edition, which took over 3 months. Only 7 made it to Les Sables d’Olonne.Ulysse Nardin And The "Vendee-Arctique-Les Sables D’olonne".

Eight editions of what the wider public now refer to as the Everest of the Seas have allowed 167 competitors to take part in this extraordinary race. Only 89 of them have made it over the finish line. This figure alone reveals the incredible difficulty of this global event, where solo racers are faced with extreme cold, gigantic waves and stormy skies that sweep the Southern Ocean. Above all, the Vendée Globe is a journey beyond the sea and into the depths of oneself. It has recognised some very worthy sailors: Titouan Lamazouen in 1990, Alain Gautier in 1993, Christophe Auguin in 1997, Vincent Riouen in 2005, François Gabart in 2013 and Armel Le Cléac’h in 2017. The sailor from Finistère became the new event record holder in 74 days. Just one sailor has won it twice: Michel Desjoyeaux, in 2001 and 2009. The 9th Vendée Globe will set off from Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday 8 November 2020.

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