The Vendee Globe is a non-stop, solo, 28,000 mile race around the world's three southern capes. With the risk of heavy storms, colossal waves and potential damage to boats, competitors have only a 50% chance of finishing.
In the seven editions since 1989, 138 sailors have started the race, but only 71 have finished.
Frenchman Francois Gabart won the last Vendee Globe at just 29 years old, becoming its youngest champion. His finish time of 78 days and two hours set a new race record.
Fellow Frenchman Armel le Cleac'h finished just two hours behind him after 78 days of racing -- the narrowest margin of victory in the Vendee Globe's history.
Known as 'the Everest of the Seas', the marathon race sets sail from Les Sables d'Olonne on France's western coast.
Competitors race in powerful Imoca Open 60 yachts.
British sailor Alex Thompson came third in 2013, finishing in 80 days and 19 hours. After damage to his boat forced him to pull out in both 2004 and 2008, this year's race will be his fourth attempt.
The winner of the last edition, Francois Gabart, sails into the harbor to finish after 78 days -- a new race record.
At 66, US skipper Rich Wilson is the race's oldest competitor.
He described it as "the greatest sailboat race in the world bar none."
Attempting the endurance race for the second time, Wilson is used to spending long periods alone at sea. "There's a difference between loneliness and solitude. The loneliness part isn't so bad because with satellite telephones you can talk to anyone, any time any place."
"The part that's hard is that if something goes wrong, there's no one there to help you fix it," said Wilson.