Vendée Globe skippers have to be prepared to face medical emergencies while sailing alone and far away from any direct assistance for months. Hence the importance of the survival training session they need to attend before the start of the round-the-world race. Vendée Globe official physician Jean-Yves Chauve tells us more about this training and about his mission before and during the competition.
Jean-Yves Chauve, M.D. is a Vendée Globe personality to be reckoned with when it comes to the issues of health and medical care. He is known for his radio assistance of Bertrand de Broc when the French skipper had to stitch his own tongue while sailing south of Australia during the 1992-1993 Vendée Globe. But even though the most visible part of his job is done during the race, Doctor Chauve’s mission begins long before the actual start of the race, as he explains: « Before the race, my focus is mainly on prevention. Basically, I gather the medical files sent by each skipper’s general physician. We have to keep in mind the yachtsmen’s average age is higher than in most other sports. They may be well-trained athletes, they’re just not as efficient as they were in their twenties! »
In addition to the skippers’ fitness, another element makes a solid prevention effort necessary. « In single-handed races, the skippers push their bodies in a very demanding way. They sometimes have to wake up and rush on the deck for physically exhausting operations, without time to gradually warm up».
That creates a context in which a cardiac incident is not unlikely, which prompts the doctor to pay close attention to the cardiac sonograms and the physical test results each skipper includes in his or her medical file. But he also has to make sure none of the yachtsmen suffers from any pathological contraindication that would make it impossible to safely compete in such an extreme race in complete isolation, such as convulsions or blood coagulation problems. These pathologies, even though they are relatively easy to deal with on dry land, can be life-threatening for a skipper who cannot have any direct medical assistance at sea.
A wrong response is worse than no response at all
To make up for that absence of immediate care, the first tool yachtsmen can rely on is their first-aid kits, designed for the occasion. « It matches all the specific needs of long-distance single-handed races and it is the same for everyone. I must be notified when an item is added and it must be approved to avoid adding products that could turn out to enhance the skippers’ performances », adds Doctor Chauve. « But traumas are the most serious medical risks and if that happens, medication can’t really help, except when it comes to pain control».
That is precisely why all Vendée Globe competitors have to attend a mandatory training session teaching them the basic elements of medical response. « It is a 26-hour training dealing with what to do in case of fracture, sprain or dental issue as well as how to dress a wound or use stitching glue. It also helps them get more familiar with the first-aid kit. The training doesn’t focus on physiology or anatomy but it features simulations of actual accidents. Because a wrong response is often worse than no response at all », the physician explains.
Efficient and self-sufficient
As the Vendée Globe is a category 0 offshore race, entrants must go through that training, which is sometimes called « survival training », in addition to the basic first-response session. In spite of their solid experience and the fact the training is valid for five years, many yachtsmen prefer taking it again on a more regular basis, just to be on the safe side. As Chauve summarizes, « No skipper wants to leave anything to chance, this is how they see things. Making sure the boat sails fast is good, but the skipper has to be ok too. That’s why, for medical care as well as for mechanics, weather forecasts, electronics, communication and computers, Vendée Globe skippers have to be efficient and self-sufficient ».
- Vendee Globe Media
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