With only seven months to go before the next solo round the world race, the Vendée Globe is in a state of change. Denis Horeau, the new race director, explained the new regime to Elaine Bunting

It’s not so much the future of the Vendee Globe that has been looking shaky as the immediate present. The epic solo round the world race begins again this November, and until yesterday there were big questions about what shape it would take following the prosecution for tax evasion of founder Philippe Jeantot and the subsequent sale of the event.

In January, the rights to the race were bought by a consortium headed by the Vendee region council and including local business interests and the town of Les Sables d’Olonne, from which the race begins and ends. The solo skippers entered for the race, in particular, have been wondering what public ownership would mean for a race that needs to be expertly controlled.

Yesterday,in Paris, the funding and structure of the new organising team was revealed, as were some of the immediate ideas to make the Vendee Globe more international and competitive with other major races.

The total budget for the race is E4.5 million. Funds have put up by the Vendée region and Les Sables d’Olonne, but the lion’s share is from frozen pizza manufacturer Sodebo, a large international company with headquarters in the Vendée. Sodebo have been involved in the race before: they sponsored Thomas Coville’s Open 60 four years ago.

The new race director is Denis Horeau, who has a long background in race organisation. M. Horeau is a former ocean racer himself – he sailed with Philippe Jeantot in his Credit Agricole days – and has been organising events for 15 years. He was the race director of the first Vendée Globe in 1989, and has worked on the Gold Race from New York to San Francisco, La Solitaire du Figaro and on The Race with Bruno Peyron.

His first change is to increase the prizemoney for the event to E475,000 and sweep away upfront entry fees, therefore making it easier for the lower budget campaigns to take part. “The competitors don’t think they should have to pay, so the Vendée decided to have a fee of E10,000 that would be refunded in the middle of the race,” says M. Horeau. “It’s a deposit, in order that we have serious entries.”

For the first time, the race organisers will require the skippers to have personal insurance. “The Vendée will pay 75 per cent of the insurance for all the skippers, which means that that they will be able to leave money to the families if ever we had a problem,” says M. Horeau, admitting that tragedies on previous races have left some families in considerable hardship.

Asked if he would consider requiring boat insurance to cover the costs of a possible rescue, M. Horeau says: “Not for this race. There is the Geneva Convention which says [states] must help someone in danger, so it’s a lawyer’s matter. It’s too tough for me to answer.”

In an effort to make the next race more international, Denis Horeau is appointing three race officers to form a part of the 24-hour watch rota. Former solo racer David Adams, from Australia, will be the race officer while the race is between Cape Town and Cape Horn, and a UK sailor is being sought as another English speaking race officer. “I really want this team to be bi-lingual,” says M. Horeau. “We need to make the race more international and we must respect the international entries and push it for them.”

The new race organisation will continue to impose the same rules and stability tests set out by IMOCA, the class association of the Open 60s. “The rules are much more strict than before,” M. Horeau says, “and as we are in a rush we don’t have time to look at them. But we will have a serious look at the IMOCA rules and if necessary make changes for next time.” He adds that his intention is to shape the race in consultation with the skippers.

This time, the Vendée Globe will feature only Open 60s and not IMOCA Open 50s. M. Horeau sees no prospect of this changing in future. “I consider that, in terms of safety, having the 50s brings nothing. And in terms of media, it’s easier for people to understand a race with similar boats, so I don’t see the value of adding them.”

Asked if he envisaged adding a multihull class in future, he replied: “We have not decided yet about multihulls.”

All material from the race, be it video footage or stills photography, will be available free and the new organisation is undertaking to distribute it worldwide. That doesn’t necessarily include material from the boats, however. “Now we must go forward with negotiating with the skippers,” says M. Horeau.

“These aren’t major changes,” he says, “and I don’t think we need to make any. It’s a popular event in France and I want to keep on growing the successful elements. The main value of the Vendée Globe is the strengths it already has.”

The changes have been broadly welcomed, particularly outside France. “Generally, having a fresh organiser, and one that is more business orientated is a good thing,” says Mike Golding, Britain’s top entry in the next race.

He dismisses prizemoney as being significant, other than as PR, but says: “It has always been quite jingoistic and this organisation has a great chance to broaden its appeal. In the class, there are an increasing number of international sponsors, and with businesses like Motorola and Skandia we have more of an obligation to make events that fit a wider bill.”