Every four years this place becomes the global center of ocean sports, a hotspot for sailing enthusiasts. The toughest race in the world starts from here on Sunday lunchtime at 1:02 p.m., one-handed, non-stop and around the globe without outside help.
Even in the three weeks before the event, which takes place every four years in November, around two million visitors flock to the Race Village - these are extraordinary dimensions even for France. Sponsors release double-digit million budgets for the spectacle, the 60-foot-long Imoca yachts are high-tech devices at their best, and their skippers enjoy hero status. One superlative chases the next.
But this year everything is different. Due to the high number of people infected with corona across the country, the launch will take place behind closed doors; Spectators have no access. The prefect has even ordered a curfew for the citizens of Les Sables on Sunday, so that the beaches and the jetties - otherwise densely lined with crowds - will remain empty. Despite the Corona conditions, we can be there, close to the team around Boris Herrmann, the first German challenger in the history of this race, albeit under the strictest conditions. Because these do not only apply to the skippers and their teams: the media must also adhere to walkways and restricted areas. Without a negative PCR test, nobody can even come near the port basin.
Photo gallery: Racevillage Vendee Globe Les Sables 2020
For Boris, the lockdown in Les Sables began a week ago. His technical team has been in strict quarantine since yesterday. It is just a matter of not risking anything in the last few days before the start. Because if you were positive at the last Corona test today, you would be excluded from the race. Years of preparation would have been in vain.
As with all teams, the players in Team Malizi are kept away from the action and strictly separated from each other. The organization pays extreme attention to compliance with the hygiene rules. Meticulous work was done to ensure a smooth start on Sunday.
Past the strict inspectors, an unusual, almost disturbing picture emerged at last. The tent city in the harbor of the legendary coastal town of the Vendée department on the French Biscay coast is beautifully decorated, but deserted. The entire traffic routing had been adjusted weeks ago, but the cars are missing. Even from afar, the starting port in the center is reminiscent of a ghost town. Posters hang at every intersection, barriers, marquees, snack and sponsorship booths, stages - everything as always. But nothing is happening anywhere. Tarpaulins and flags rattle unnoticed in the wind. Music is rumbling from a stage somewhere, probably to lighten up the sadness. But for whom? In spite of everything, a few stand builders are still tinkering with installations that no one will step on. No crowds will be queuing in front of the otherwise coveted souvenir stands. And dozens of brand new, powerfully motorized inflatables are lined up in the water, paved with banners, which will be in use on Sunday. But nobody needs them yet. A place like a deep sleep
The strangely quiet scenery takes place in front of the imposing backdrop of the 33-boat Vendée fleet, which - as if nothing was happening - is waiting for its pilots in the middle of the large Marinam Quai Vendée Globe. The large, but filigree solo racers shine in the sun with their monstrous wing masts. You can already guess at its tremendous speed potential at a standstill.
Individual team members give the boats the finishing touches. The huge foils and oar blades are striking. You have to take a closer look to see the many remote-controlled video camera installations that help the skippers to control the trim in the cockpit or below deck.
Most recently, the helpers loaded provisions, fresh fruit and vegetables on board. Because at least for the first one or two weeks this offers a welcome change from the otherwise pre-cooked or freeze-dried rations, which will determine the majority of food intake for the next 70 or 80 days.
You greet each other, mask in front of your face, with a knowing, depressed nod. Like seals, divers unexpectedly lift their heads here and their heads out of the turquoise-cloudy harbor water. They inspect and clean the hulls from below.
The mood is subdued - too much is still at stake - but cautiously optimistic. The protagonists have not yet been released into the vastness of the ocean. Anyone who has the situation of the last few months in mind knows that almost everything can change every day.
Only one thing seems to be absolutely certain: it starts on Sunday 13:02!