Hectic scenes on the pontoons - and it's only Thursday!

Vendée Globe fever is already gripping Les Sables d’Olonne. In France, only Le Tour de France attracts more passionate public support than yacht racing and, with the start fully four days away, the crowds are already flocking to the docks to admire the carbon fibre flyers that will take their solo skippers around the world, non-stop.

The fleet is arranged so that the boats with deck spreaders are moored either bow or stern to on the port side of the dock as you walk onto it. These boats have masts like multihulls, huge unstayed wing sections, most with no spreaders except for two huge shafts mounted athwartships on deck at the mast base. Shrouds made from hi tech fibres are bent from the chainplates, through the end of the deck spreaders and up to the mast. If these boats were moored alongside, losing your hat would be the least of your worries.

The boats with more conventional rigging arrangements are alongside and you get a much better view of the boats – the cockpit set up, the arrangements designers have made to protect skippers from the elements, and the bewildering array of control lines all leading into the cockpit. There are between 20-25 on each boat, controlling furlers, halyards, sheets, tacks, barber haulers, mast rotators, daggerboards and a dozen other functions besides.

Bearing in mind this is the fifth running of this event, and that the fleet has got more and more competitive with every running, it’s amazing to see that there is no general concensus on how to do anything. Some have rotating wing masts supported by deck spreaders, others have conventional rigs. For steering, some have two wheels, some have a tiller above each of the two rudder stocks, some have a two-pronged tiller on a single quadrant driving twin rudders, one has a vertical T-bar, like a cross between a tiller and a wheel.

Some hulls sport spray rails at the bow, intended to lift the bow when it digs in at high speed, while others have trim tabs at the stern, which aim to trim the bow down at speed. Some have very hard chines running aft, others have a traditional smooth curve. They’re all very fast but it’s surprising that nearly every skipper has chosen to optimise their boat in a different way.

Watch out for Yachting Monthly’s analysis of the reasons for this amazing diversity.