Well heroes, is a form of speaking, let's say those that accomplished incredible feats of human determination, courage, showing great sailing skills and all other that make them not only great sailors but almost super men. Let's start with the Yves Parlier story on the 2000 Vendee Globe. The French at the time were was so impressed that nick named him the extra-terrestrial LOL.
Yves was at the time a top solo sailor as well as a composite engineer . He won his first mini Transat at the age of 24, with a boat built by himself, having as the most odd characteristic a carbon mast, one of the first if not the first to be used successfully in sail racing (1987).
Since then he won lots of races, was the French solo Offshore champion in 1991 and had been 4th on the 1996 Vendee Globe edition. On the 1996 edition, he had to make a pit stop to repair a rudder (and was disqualified) but even so he finished the circumnavigation anyway, out of the race, just for the sake of it. Quite different from most of today's top sailors that when they have a big problem send the boat home on a cargo.
On the 2000 edition he was decided to do a great vendee and to finish it, no matter what. He started like a bullet and was the first to reach the Austral seas beating the 24 hour solo sail record on the process.
At the middle of the big austral Ocean Desjoyeaux (the only one that managed to win two times the vendee) overtook him. Yves was on a string of bad luck having been almost stopped for two days, without wind. A big fight for the lead started then. Yves was pushing hard for several days on big winds, sailing at almost 50º latitude, when, at the middle of nowhere, he lost his mast. He sent this enigmatic message by telex: "I have dismasted. I am going on. I do not need assistance."
He knew that he was not going to win the race but he was decided to finish it without assistance at all costs. He jury rigged and started a slow journey to the almost deserted Stewart Island, on the South of NZ.
Refusing any assistance, not to be disqualified, he decided to make a rig good enough for allowing him to finish the race, meaning half way around the world. He started working but, on a moonless night, a storm with 60k winds hit him and he finished on a beach with the boat lying on the side.
At the time we all thought that it had been a great effort, but that it had sadly ended....... Not Yves!!!!
With the aid of a raft he made with jerrycans, he manages to refloat the boat. The mast was broken in 3 pieces and he successfully joins together two of the parts making a polymerization, using an "oven" made with 25-watt bulbs, a survival blanket and polar clothing.
Alone, he manages to put the mast up, recuts the sails to the new mast size and after having made a huge harvest of seaweed, 12 days later, he sets sail for half a circumnavigation. He was already eating everything he could find ashore because he knew that the food was not going to last.
I cannot post the pictures because they are copy righted but don't miss them here. They are quite incredible. I love the raft LOL.http://www.thmartinez.com/folio/339/yves-parlier-vendee-globe-exclusives-images.html
He got a big storm on the horn, lost all communication with land (no weather information) and was seriously weakened by the lack of food ( at this time he had only bad smelling seaweed to eat):
"I'd collected about 400 kilos of seaweed, so it was just everywhere and there was also that smell and taste. One evening I had to force myself to eat. I really didn't want to eat any more; It made me sick. At the same time I was losing my strength. Then the wind started to pick up and my satellite phone broke down, so I no longer had any direct contact with land. I started to lose morale and threw myself at the food stores. I ate everything, all the chocolate and cheese. That was the hardest moment of the race psychologically,"http://edition.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/sailing/03/13/parlier.ppl/
It was only by shear determination that he brought back his boat home, where he arrived about a month after Desjoyeaux , that won his first Vendee beating in extremis Ellen Mac Arthur. Even so he was not the last and left two other competitors behind. One of the best Vendees ever.
When he arrived at Sables d'Olonne he was received like an hero and had the biggest reception of the race, bigger than the winner or the one given to Ellen.
Those are the men (and women) that made sail popular in France and it it is due to them that sail solo offshore racing has no difficulty in finding sponsoring to maintain a considerable number of professional solo sail racers. The French like them!!!