Just like every other sport in the Olympic Games this year, sailing has a host of interesting characters with compelling backstories and thrilling competition. Unfortunately, the powers that be at the major news and TV networks have worked together to ensure that we, the public, will never hear or see these stories. At Sailing Anarchy we tend to do things a bit differently and are committed to covering another major yacht race on the European continent this year: the Vendee Globe. A major part of that commitment is not just in covering the race itself, but in telling the captivating and awe-inspiring stories of the incredible men and women who will compete in this race. And one of this writer’s personal favorites is that of the French- Italian skipper Alessandro Di Benedetto.
The vast majority of Vendee Globe skippers have followed a well defined route to the starting line, gradually working their way up through the ranks of shorthanded offshore racing; Mini Transats, Figaro, Class 40, etc. Not Alessandro di Benedetto. In true Anarchist fashion, he has truly blazed his own path to the forefront of the solo ocean racing world. Beginning sailing at the age of 6, Alessandro sailed Opti’s, Lasers and windsurfers out of Sicily. By the age of 21 he began pushing the boundaries of what was possible and sailed double handed from Sicily across the Atlantic to Martinique on a 21-foot Hobie Cat. Inspired by the immense challenge and even greater reward of the passage, di Benedetto continued making double handed and singlehanded passages on sport cats until 2002 when he crossed the Atlantic solo on a 20′ catamaran, sailing from the Canary Islands to Guadaloupe Island, a distance of 2,700 nautical miles. This in itself was quite noteworthy, but only serves to tell the first chapter of Alessandro’s remarkable voyage to the Vendee starting line.
In 2006, Alessandro took off on another voyage, one that many thought impossible: solo across the Pacific from Yokohama, Japan to San Francisco. Successfully completing the 4,500 mile passage on his 20′ catamaran with no cabin, Alessandro became the first person to sail solo across the Atlantic and the Pacific on a sport catamaran; a record that still stands to this date. While many would be content to rest on their laurels, Alessandro had become even more deeply inspired to sail and began planning for his most notable and extreme voyage yet; solo around the world on a 6.5 meter Mini Transat. Sailing out of Les Sables d’Olonne in October 2009, Alessandro followed the route of the Vendee, leaving the three great capes to port and Antarctica to starboard. Again, many thought the voyage was impossible, but if there was one person who could do it, it was Alessandro. With a bit of luck, benign weather and a reliable boat, he seemed to stand a reasonable chance of successfully completing the voyage.
Unfortunately, the boat didn’t hold up. When Alessandro’s Mini dismasted south of Cape Horn, many thought the voyage to be a failure. Surely Alessandro would have to limp into port or require assistance. But that’s not how Alessandro di Benedetto rolls. Showing an unrivaled level of self-reliance, determination and courage, Alessandro devised a plan and set a jury-rig on the tiny "Findomestic". Rounding Cape Horn under jury rig on his tiny 21-foot boat, di Benedetto persevered to sail all the way back to Les Sables d’Olonne and thus complete his world record voyage in 268 days and some change. Sailing back into port in July 2010, Alessandro’s voyage was ratified and he officially became the smallest boat to ever complete a solo, non-stop, unassisted circumnavigation. In 2011, the Cruising Club of America caught wind of Alessandro’s remarkable voyage and rightfully awarded him one of the most prestigious awards that a yachtsman can receive; the Rod Stephens Trophy citing "his resourcefulness at sea in jury-rigging his 21-foot boat upon his approach to Cape Horn during his non-stop unassisted circumnavigation of the globe".
Coming as a surprise to exactly no one, di Benedetto began pursuing his next goal: the Vendee Globe. Assembling a team of friends, sailors and shipwrights, the remarkable French-Italian skipper attracted the likes of "Team Plastique" to come onboard as his title sponsor, helping him to acquire a well-traveled Finot-Conq designed IMOCA 60. A veteran of the past 3 Vendee Globe races, Team Plastique has received a thorough refit since her last Vendee, in which she was known as Akena Verandas and skippered by Arnaud Boissières to a solid 7th place finish.
Team Plastique is now fully prepared for her fourth Vendee Globe and Alessandro has been busy conducting sea trials and a qualification sail. Sailing out of Les Sables d’Olonne on July 15, di Benedetto sailed back into port last Friday to become an officially qualified entrant of the 2012 Vendee Globe race. In a world of instant gratification and an ever-decreasing work ethic, Alessandro di Benedetto can serve to inspire all of us, this writer included. He represents the very qualities that the Vendee Globe was founded on: self-reliance, determination, humility and courage.
The Vendee Globe race begins on November 10 in Les Sables d’Olonne, France. Stay tuned to Sailing Anarchy as we provide unrivaled pre-start coverage, skipper profiles, live coverage of the start and constant updates throughout the course of the race. -Ronnie Simpson