Offshore races have contributed to the increased popularity of sailing. Many sailing enthusiasts attend the start or finish of The Route du Rhum and Vendée Globe races. The ninth edition of the Vendée Globe, which took place in 2020, attracted no less than 1.5 million visitors for the departure of the 33 competing skippers. A record event which demonstrates the public’s taste for offshore racing, synonymous with convivial events and celebration. These offshore races are regulated and, to compete, require the participants’ boats to adhere to specific characteristics. Herewith are the different classes of sailboat and the races associated with them:
The main classes of sailboats
Ocean racing boats hold no secrets for enthusiasts. But it can be difficult to distinguish between the different categories of boat and races. Races are governed by class rules or gauges, in sailing jargon. These are the main sailboat classes to discover:
The IMOCA Class
The IMOCA, International Monohull Open Class Association, is a class rule that allows monohull boat to compete in this specific class. One of the main rules is that the IMOCA hull must not exceed 60 feet in length. This feature allows a single-handed skipper to navigate solo. This class is particularly well known because IMOCA boats are the only ones allowed to compete in the flagship race, the Vendée Globe. IMOCA skippers can also compete solo in other races: in the Route du Rhum or double-handed in the Transat Jacques Vabre.
The Figaro Bénéteau Class
The Figaro Bénéteau class was created in 1990 and brings together monohull yachts with the same design. They’re all built by the same shipyard in accordance with strict criteria. The plans are technically identical, which allows skippers to compete fairly. Figaro 2s were replaced by Figaro 3s in 2019 after almost 15 years of racing. The Figaro 3 is optimized to be smaller, less expensive and faster thanks to the addition of foils. These yachts have their own offshore racing circuit, among them the Figaro Solo (Solitaire du Figaro), the Double-handed Transat (Transat en Double) or the Sardinha Cup.
The Class40 is a monohull yacht limited to a length of 40 feet (12.19 m). Although this category is governed by strict class rules, the conditions to meet the requirements are quite simple. Some materials are prohibited, boats must have a keel and a fixed mast or to have a length (40 ft) and width within certain limits. What is unique about the Class40 category is that boats can be piloted by professionals or by amateurs. Class40 is a particularly rich, dynamic and enjoyable category of offshore racing because of the variety of profiles and types of courses offered. Class40 skippers can compete in many races, either solo (such as the Route du Rhum) or double-handed (the Transat Jacques Vabre or the CIC Normandy Channel Race).
The Mini Class
The Mini class is the smallest class in ocean racing with boats measuring only 6.50 m. The construction and operation of these boats require a smaller budget than other ocean racing classes. This is the reason why the sailors participating are often amateurs. The Mini 6.50 is an ideal class to start and develop knowledge of the sea and of navigation. In fact, many famous skippers started out competing in this class. This was the case for example, of Arnaud Boissières who finished the Vendée Globe four times in succession. The flagship event of the Mini class is the Mini Transat, an unassisted solo transatlantic race. In order to qualify, skippers in the mini class must accumulate a certain number of miles by participating throughout the season in various races in this category.
The list of classes isn’t exhaustive, but boats need to conform to gauges which allow the skippers to participate in the associated races. Each class has its own specific criteria that must be applied to enter a boat in an offshore race.