Vendée Globe 2020

A didactic proposal for project-based learning

On 8 November 2020, at 2:20 pm, the starting pistol was fired to launch the 9th Vendée Globe 2020, the single-handed, non-stop, unassisted, round-the-world yacht race, and it was this event that inspired the Maritime Museum of Barcelona (MMB) and the Barcelona Ocean Sailing Foundation (FNOB) to devise the educational programme Vendée Globe 2020: monitoring a round-the-world voyage.

For approximately 6 months, this shared educational experience was carried out by the organisations involved, the ocean yacht racers, various experts collaborating on the project and, above all, the teachers and students who took part in the project, and who showed great motivation and involvement in the activities. The result was an experience that was unique, enthralling and exciting, and which sparked great interest among lots of boys and girls in their classrooms, and even beyond…

Discovering the Vendée Globe

Without any doubt, the Vendée Globe is the biggest competitive challenge followed by people all round the planet, and it has become a legendary yacht race for the world’s top sailors. In fact, it is considered to be one of the toughest tests on the planet, and it has often been compared to climbing Everest: it’s a unique, extraordinary challenge.

The yacht race begins and ends at Les Sables-d’Olonne, a city in the prefecture of La Rochelle, in the west of France. The route of the race, which is 21,660 miles (40,024 km) in length, involves skirting the Antarctic and rounding the world’s three great capes: Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin and the legendary Cape Horn, leaving all three to starboard.

In the 2020 race, 33 vessels took part, skippered by 27 men and 6 women. One of these was Dídac Costa, an experienced Barcelona-born sailor, 40 years old and a fire-fighter by profession, who succeeded in completing his third round-the-world voyage, and his second sailing solo.

In light of this, the Maritime Museum of Barcelona and the Barcelona Ocean Sailing Foundation decided that the yacht race would make an ideal framework with which to bring the oceans and the world of sailing into schools, where students could get involved in classroom activities based on monitoring the race in real time, and with Dídac Costa as the protagonist.

Monitoring a round-the-world yacht race

Circumnavigating the planet in a yacht race like the Vendée Globe, in which the sailors have to cope with sailing completely alone for three months on board yachts that are true wonders of technology (the IMOCA 60, considered to be the Formula One vessels of the oceans), involves a wide range of disciplines that encourage global learning and cover different areas of the school curriculum, particularly favouring project-based learning.

To that end, the activities devised for the educational programme were specifically aimed at fostering global learning. In fact, the yacht race represented a perfect opportunity to communicate values, skills and knowledge that are fundamental for the process of teaching and student learning, at the same time as it enabled students to work in the classroom during the Covid-19 pandemic, just as teachers were taught in the training sessions.

As the main activity, the aim was to carry out a live monitoring of the race via a series of challenges that students could work on in the classroom. The challenges were organised into three basic subject areas: Planet Sea, Humans and Sailing, and they allowed teachers to cover areas that are highly important within school curriculum – subjects such as geography, geographical coordinates, food and nutrition, sleep patterns, energy generation, meteorology, gender-related matters, values, etc. In this way, the boys and girls were able to find out, in real time, all about the participants in the yacht race and their experiences, as well as exploring in greater depth some of the most inhospitable oceans on the planet, plus many other topics.

In addition, further supplementary activities were devised, including the Living Ocean, Living Planet poster display. In this activity, students were asked to design posters that would raise awareness about the problem of plastic waste in the oceans. Eight posters were selected out of all of the pictures submitted, and these were presented to the skippers of the yachts One Planet One Ocean, La Fabrique and Merci. This meant that these students’ messages travelled on the yachts all the way around the world, and this represented an extra motivating factor for the students involved and for their families.

Students from the schools involved also had the chance to visit the main office of FNOB for a talk about ocean sailing, as well as taking part in virtual chats with experts and enjoying a day trying various kinds of water sports in collaboration with Club Natació Barcelona. The students also visited the Maritime Museum of Barcelona to take part in activities such as Stories of ships and Following in the footsteps of the discoverers, to find out more about subjects related to the history of sailing.

As a closing activity, the 36 schools taking part in the project (totalling 171 class groups comprising 5,556 students) were invited to take part in a live virtual interview with the sailor who had become an important figure for many of the boys and girls, both as a person and as a sportsman: Dídac Costa.

Social media were also used – and particularly Instagram – to stimulate the educational programme. Thus the profile @voltaalmonvg20 was created, which was adopted as a tool for communicating between the organisation and the schools. This not only made it easier to monitor the yacht race, it was also used for presenting challenges for classes to solve and for posting examples of students’ work.

Activities for everyone

It is not often that a sporting event is used as the unifying element for an educational programme, and it is even less common that the experience should produce an exhibition on the subject.

However, one of the most significant results of the whole experience was the creation of the exhibition Vendée Globe 2020. A single-handed, round-the-world yacht race, which was seen by more than 6,000 visitors, in spite of the unusual circumstances produced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other proposals that came to fruition included the series Online ocean conversations, organised with the aim of helping the general public to understand, through the contributions of experts, important aspects of the yacht race. Further activities included the 9th Micro-stories competition, in which the theme this year was Your journey around the world, and the virtual quiz Find out how much you know about the Vendée Globe.

In addition, there were several activities designed for families – firstly, as part of the series Small stories, great women, organised in collaboration with other museums in the city, the MMB offered people the chance to get to know Samantha Davies, one of the women sailors who took part in the 2020 yacht race. Then there was The story of the round-the-world journey, a children’s story relating the adventures of Dídac Costa and his friends. And finally there was the children’s newsletter Patapum, which devoted a special issue to the Vendée Globe 2020.