NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the 'Transat Bakerley' solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the ‘Transat Bakerley’ solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

Francois Gabart, the young heart-throb of French solo offshore sailing, completed his first solo win on board his new 100ft trimaran, Macif, today when he crossed the finish line off New York.

The 33-year-old Frenchman, who in 2013 became the youngest ever winner of the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race, sailed a brilliant race from Plymouth, covering the official distance of 3,050 nautical miles in 8 days, 8 hours, 54 minutes and 39 seconds. He narrowly missed out on a new race record, which was set by Michel Desjoyeaux in 2004, and still stands at a time of 8 days, 8 hours, 29 minutes.

Gabart actually sailed a total distance of 4,634 miles at an average speed of 23.11 knots in a remarkable voyage that, unusually for The Transat bakerly, took him and his close rival Thomas Coville on Sodebo, hundreds of miles south of the Azores into the tradewinds before sling-shotting northwest up to New York.

His beautiful blue, white and yellow Van Peteghem Lauriot-Prevost-designed multihull, in which Gabart hopes to set a new outright solo round-the-world record, reached the finish at 18:24 local time in New York, as recorded by the Sandy Hook Pilot Association boat, with its jubilant skipper waving to his team support boat as he crossed the line.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the 'Transat Bakerley' solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the ‘Transat Bakerley’ solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

Shortly afterwards Gabart reflected on a race that, for much of the time, saw him in close company with Coville on the older Sodebo. For the first three days the two skippers were never more than a few miles apart, having crossed the Bay of Biscay in sight of each other.

The competition with Thomas on Sodebo was wonderful. It made the race incredible for me.  We are working together to organise more races for these type of boats, and when we see what happened in The Transat bakerly, and how close the competition was, we know there is a place for it. This is just the beginning of the journey.”

Gabart clearly loved his first outing on his new mile-munching ocean-racing thoroughbred, and he more than stepped up to the challenge that the 30-metre giant posed. “It was a big challenge for me. You should have 10 or 15 people to manage these boats, and it’s just me. It was my first solo race on Macif, and I didn’t know if I was able to do it, so I am really proud of what I did.

“To arrive into New York was perfect. The boat is in good shape. Me? Well, maybe not! I’m very tired, but I’m incredibly proud.”

As winner of the Ultime class, Gabart will be presented with a special watch from The Transat bakerly official timekeeper Ralf Tech.

Commenting on Gabart’s performance, The Transat bakerly Event Director Herve Favre said: “Francois and Thomas put on an amazing show at the front of the fleet and Francois has emerged a worthy and deserving winner. Over the next week we will see the winners of the IMOCA 60, Multi50 and Class40s emerge and each winner will be a hero in my book.”

The Big Apple has only been used once before in the race as the finish port and that was in the very first edition in 1960 when the winner, one Sir Francis Chichester on the monohull Gipsy Moth III, was at sea for 40 days, 12 hours 30 minutes. Sailing a multihull from a different century, Gabart was 32 days, 3 hours and 36 minutes quicker than the British legend.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the 'Transat Bakerley' solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the ‘Transat Bakerley’ solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

As Gabart crossed the line Coville was still some 118nm from the finish while the third-placed trimaran in the Ultime class – Actual skippered by Yves Le Blevec – was still 509.6nm away.

For the other classes in the fleet, the finish line is still over 800 miles away. Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) continues to lead the IMOCA 60 fleet with an anticipated arrival time of 19:00 local time on Friday. Vincent Riou on PRB is 76 miles behind and still hot on his stern.

In the four-boat Multi50 class, Gilles Lamiré (Frenchtech Rennes St Malo) is continuing to extend his lead, with a 219 mile advantage between him and the chasing Lalou Roucayrol (Arkema).

Trading places at the top of the Class40 fleet is Isabelle Joschke (Generali–Horizon Mixité) and Thibaut Vauchel-Camus (Solidaires en Peloton–Arsep), with Joschke currently holding a six-mile advantage.

On Tuesday Armel Tripon on Black Pepper announced his retirement from The Transat bakerly, after he sustained damage in the week’s earlier storms, leaving eight Class40s now en route to the Big Apple.

Track the race here.

The class rankings at 20:00 BST – updated every four hours. 

ULTIME
1. Francois Gabart/Macif – Finished after 8 days, 8 hours, 54 minutes and 39 seconds
2. Thomas Coville/Sodebo – 88.21nm from the finish
3. Yves Le Blevec/Actual – 504.50nm from the finish

IMOCA 60
1. Armel Le Cléac’h/Banque Populaire – 857.2nm from the finish
2. Vincent Riou/PRB – 76.10nm from the leader
3. Jean-Pierre Dick/St Michel Virbac – 182.74nm from the leader

MULTI50
1. Gilles Lamiré/French Tech Rennes St Malo – 950nm from the finish
2. Lalou Roucayrol/Arkema – 219.62nm from the leader
3. Pierre Antoine/Olmix – 415.94nm from the leader

CLASS40
1. Isabelle Joschke/Generali Horizon Mixité – 1421.3nm from the finish
2. Thibaut Vauchel-Camus/Solidaires en Peloton – ARSEP – 6.60nm from the leader
3. Phil Sharp/Imerys – 18.59nm from the leader

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the 'Transat Bakerley' solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the ‘Transat Bakerley’ solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK - New York. USA. Image licensed to Lloyd Images

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK – New York. USA.  Image licensed to Lloyd Images

The 25 boats in The Transat Bakerly 2016 fleet set sail today on one of the great races in solo sailing, the 3,050-nautical mile passage across the north Atlantic from Plymouth to New York.

Spectators both on shore and on the water turned out to watch as the mainly French fleet gathered under grey skies on Plymouth Sound to answer the starter’s gun fired from the decks of the Royal Navy frigate HMS Kent at 14.30pm.

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK - New York. USA. Image licensed to Lloyd Images

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK – New York. USA.  Image licensed to Lloyd Images

Ahead of the solo skippers and their boats lies one of the most daunting challenges in professional sport – the north Atlantic, complete with bitterly cold storm force headwinds, an ever-present adverse swell, freezing fog and even the danger of ice.

The forecast for this year’s race – the first time this classic has been staged since 2008 – is for a reasonably quiet start but for 45-knot headwinds and big seas for the leading yachts by Wednesday, as they head into the Western Approaches.

The fleet is divided into four classes, each of which will produce an official winner of The Transat bakerly. The fastest boats are the giant trimarans of the Ultime class, three of which are battling it out for line honours, with the first expected to reach the finish at New York in around eight days.

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK - New York. USA. Image licensed to Lloyd Images

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK – New York. USA.
Image licensed to Lloyd Images

Behind them comes the five-strong fleet of smaller Multi50 trimarans which could fly across the “pond” in 12 days, alongside the six IMOCA 60s – the state-of-the-art monohulls used in the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race that starts later this year.

The slowest boats will be the smaller monohulls of the 10-strong Class40 fleet which should take around 15 days to complete the course, but in which we should see some of the tightest racing.

Alongside the fleet is a one-off entry by the French racing legend Loick Peyron who is sailing Eric Tabarly’s 44ft wooden ketch Pen Duick II in the same trim as she was when Tabarly raced her to victory in The Transat (then called the OSTAR) in 1964. Peyron is expecting to take around 27 days to reach the finish at New York.

Loick Peyron sets off on his voyage to New York aboard Pen Duick II. (Photo © Vincent Curutchet/Lloyd Images/OC Sport)

Loick Peyron sets off on his voyage to New York aboard Pen Duick II. (Photo © Vincent Curutchet/Lloyd Images/OC Sport)

Among the first to show in 10-12 knot southwesterly breeze, as the fleet headed out to sea, was the Multi50 Fenêtrea-Cardinal skippered by Frenchman Erwan Le Roux who ripped across the startline flying-a-hull ahead of two Ultimes, the bright green Sodebo skippered by former Volvo Ocean Race winner Thomas Coville and the blue-hulled MACIF, skippered by François Gabart.

Several skippers were caught out by the lighter-than-forecast conditions at the start and were hastily shaking out reefs as those with full mainsails took advantage. Among the quickest away was Armel Le Cléac’h on the IMOCA 60 Banque Populaire VIII who flew out of the blocks and established an early lead.

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK - New York. USA. Image licensed to Lloyd Images

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK – New York. USA. Image licensed to Lloyd Images

The IMOCA 60 class will see a fascinating battle over the next two weeks between the three entries with foils – Banque Populaire VIII, Edmond de Rothschild (Sébastien Josse) and St Michel-Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick), and those with more conventional underwater profiles – PRB (Vincent Riou), SMA (Paul Meilhat) and 44 (Richard Tolkien). The foilers may well be quicker but will they be tough enough to last this toughest of courses?

Earlier there were pre-start nerves on a damp and overcast Monday morning as the skippers enjoyed a final big English breakfast and prepared to depart from Plymouth’s Sutton Harbour Marina and Plymouth Yacht Haven. Sébastien Josse was in a realistic mood about what lies ahead.

“I am in the mindset of someone who is about to experience very demanding times physically and mentally,” he said. “The Transat bakerly is not much fun but I am very happy to be here. I know I am going to be cold and it’s going to be tough, but I know why I am doing it. I want to do well and I am just thinking through all the things I must not forget and the mistakes to avoid.”

His fellow Frenchman Armel Tripon on the Class40 entry Black Pepper also talked of the jitters as he prepared to take on the north Atlantic. “Although I slept well I feel I have a little ball of nerves in my stomach but it will disappear once I am on the water,” he said.

Like all the skippers, Tripon was eyeing the forecast and trying to assess his routing choices, whether to head north or south once clear of the southern Irish coast. “It is not obvious – there is a strategic choice to make at the outset,” said Tripon.

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK - New York. USA. Image licensed to Lloyd Images

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK – New York. USA.
Image licensed to Lloyd Images

Hervé Favre, Event Director commented: “This race is one of the classics in solo sailing and after it was not staged four years ago we at OC Sport are proud to relaunch it this year. I am delighted to see this hugely competitive fleet of sailors on state-of the art racing machinery now taking on The Transat bakerly 2016 and we wish them all the best for the undoubted challenges that lie ahead.”

So fasten your seatbelts, this promises to be a wild ride across one of the most notorious stretches of water on the planet – the 2016 Transat bakerly is underway.

Track the race here

Find out more about the race here.

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK - New York. USA. Image licensed to Lloyd Images

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK – New York. USA.
Image licensed to Lloyd Images

 

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK - New York. USA. Image licensed to Lloyd Images

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK – New York. USA.  Image licensed to Lloyd Images

 

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK - New York. USA. Image licensed to Lloyd Images

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK – New York. USA.  Image licensed to Lloyd Images

Loick Peyron Route du Rhum 2014

Loick Peyron Route du Rhum 2014

 

As it so often does La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe sees deeply contrasting fortunes on the race course between Saint-Malo and Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe this Saturday evening.

Race leader Loick Peyron just over 700 miles to go to the finish line with a lead of 180 miles over second placed Yann Guichard. Ahead there seems a fighting chance of a victory in the mythical French transatlantic, one win which has so far eluded him over six previous attempts. And the icing on the cake is a possible chance of beating Lionel Lemonchois’ race record of 7 day 17 hours, which he set in 2006. Peyron’s target is to cross the line before 0619hrs UTC (0719hrs CET/0219hrs local) on the morning of Monday 10th.

Heading east, nursing his shattered dreams and his hobbled, dismasted Class 40 Cat Phones is British skipper Conrad Humphreys. He has a long, lonely 330 miles to make under engine to the safe haven of Cascais by Lisbon, about four days of solitude, trying to stay positive and look forwards to his next race. Humphreys suffered some kind of rigging failure – he believes – which caused his mast to snap in two places whilst sailing in relatively moderate sea and wind conditions late on Friday afternoon. The Plymouth skipper suffered the same fate at the very start of his solo ocean-racing career on this race in 2002. Back then it was during of one of the most notorious storms of the race’s history. So it hurts more when it appears to be a mechanical failure of some type.

“As you can imagine, I feel absolute devastation about what has happened,” said Conrad. “But all the rigging has gone. I had to cut it all away. We’ve lost it all. It’s very upsetting.” Humphreys had fought back to 12th place in the fleet after having to pit-stop on the first night. “We’d managed to claw our way back into it after our earlier pit stop. I thought I had a good chance of getting a good result. I dreamt of finishing this race – it’s such a fantastic race with a fantastic field.”

“I am devastated, very very sad.” He only had enough fuel on board for around 100 miles at the time so a rendezvous was arranged with the cargo ship Federal Maas, which transferred a further 200 litres to him in pitch darkness. “It was pretty terrifying,” said Humphreys. “But the Indian captain was amazing. He and his crew kept getting the line on to my boat with jerry cans of diesel. They came alongside and they were obviously a long way up – around 10 metres above me – so to get the line down in those conditions and in the dark was just amazing. I can’t thank them enough.”

Contacted via satellite phone by the race organisers this morning, Conrad describes the moment he lost his rig and the situation he is currently in: “At the time I was reaching in 15/17 knots of breeze, I am not 100% sure of what happened. I think one of the check-stays or the runners gave way, but certainly one of the cables. The mast broke in two places, I tried to recover it, and then later I managed to rendezvous with a cargo ship. It came along side. It was pretty terrifying when they transferred the diesel. I am now motoring towards Cascais (Portugal), which is about 350 miles away. I am absolutely gutted, particularly when I had clawed by way back into the race. I was thinking I could get into the top ten and was really thinking I could finish this race, even after having to pit stop. The boat is very, very quick under reaching conditions and I had really managed to get into a good position and making good ground. I am devastated, very very sad. It is such a fantastic race and I really thought I had a good chance of getting a good result.”

After a night with no sleep or food, his job now is to progressively transfer the fuel into the fuel tanks. Conrad’s technical operations manager Hugh Fletcher explained: “Conrad has a load of jerry cans so has had to make a funnel from the top of a 5-litre bottle of water so he can get the fuel into the tank.

“The problem is that there is a big following sea of around 4 metres and it’s breaking over the back of the boat which is making the whole platform unstable. It’s also risking getting water into the fuel tank. But he’s done a brilliant job so far and has managed to fill the tank. And he’s motoring at six knots so he’s making good progress.”

For triple round-the-world sailor Humphreys the Route du Rhum still remains unfinished business …

With just over 1000 miles to go to the finish line the two pairs of leaders in the Multi50 class and the IMOCA Class are still in the same stretch of the ocean, working on the NE margin of the Azores high pressure, racing in unsettled 15-18kts trade winds, requiring a lot of trimming. IMOCA leader Francois Gabart still has about 25 miles of advantage and is two knots fast than second placed Jérémie Beyou (Maitre Coq). Italy’s Alessandro di Benedetto (Team Plastique AFM Telethon) got back under way yesterday evening after making his composite repairs to his rudder mechanism. He is still 270 miles ahead of longstanding rival Tanguy de Lamotte who beat him to the finish of last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre by mere minutes and with whom he raced around the world as his nearest rival on the last Vendée Globe. De Lamotte has a newer, faster boat now and is averaging more than two knots quicker than the Italian double circumnavigator. Erwan Le Roux leads the Multi 50s by less than one mile on the late afternoon rankings!

Half of the Class 40 fleet are under spinnakers west of Madeira. The conditions may be loosely called ‘Trade Winds’ but in reality it is often more like the Doldrums with some squalls and big changes in wind direction and pressure. For a Sudist (southern) solo skipper it is the northern route, closer to the rhumb line which paid the top dividend for Kito de Pavant (Otio Bastide-Medical) The Mediterranean skipper from the Midi region is in control with more than 35 miles ahead of Yannick Bestaven (Curator) and Spain’s Alex Pella (Tales 2 Santander). Miranda Merron, the French based English skipper, is seventh at 84 miles behind the leaders.

In the Rhum class the difference is clear. Andrea Mura (mono) is sailing well offshore, in the southeast of the Azores and Anne Caseneuve (in multi) in the middle of the first Class40 in the west of Madeira. Mura leads. And Merron’s last remaining compatriot, Sir Robin Knox Johnston is ninth.

ETA (Estimated Time UTC)
Ultime: Monday, November 10 between 0300hrs and 0700hrs
Multi50: Thursday, November 13 between 14 and 22 hours
IMOCA: Friday, November 13 to 20 hours
Class40: Tuesday, November 18 at 330
Rhum Class: Sunday 23 November

They Said:
Ultime Class / Loick Peyron – Banque Populaire: “We had a beautiful night. Now we are sailing in squalls and there is not much wind so we are slowing down a bit. So we are on one long port tack and we will see if I do not have to do one last gybe before the finish in Guadeloupe. It is not bad to go round the ridge of high pressure, but at some point you have to cross it and try and not get caught up in the squalls and high winds. Every night it is a little more perturbed and I just do not know why. I slept well and had a long siesta. Seeing the full moon as backdrop is pretty amazing, I have rarely seen a more beautiful moon rise, a Star Wars worthy moon!”

Ultime Class / Yann Eliès – PAPREC RECYCLING: “I have a problem with the port rudder and I hope we still have some of it at the finish, which should be in around 24 hours. There is a bit left of it and we just have to hope that will hold the next 24 hours. I am guessing there is a bit missing on the outside top art, but not sure, as there is too much swell to go and look.

The pace is very intense, as we have had a lot wind. Since Madeira, I have been enjoying it. Like everyone we had to sit tight and hold it together. There have been tough times where I lost a lot of ground because I had minor technical problems and then once the trade winds came in it is great and I am really enjoying it.

We have good conditions behind compared to those ahead that have had rather week trades. I am still not sure about the choice of sail, the trim, but then that is normal as I am new to this.

I am 200 miles behind the leaders. If I had not had technical problems at a crucial time before Madeira, I would be behind, but not by so far. That is only a small disappointment.”

Class 40 / Kito de Pavant – Otio – Bastide Medical: “I have not seen the sun nor moon for a few days. We are going through an area with unpleasant drizzle that I suppose comes after the ridge of low low pressure. The weather is facetious and I am very careful not to get into a more southern area where the anticyclone is struggling to rebuild. I gybe the minute the wind dies a bit. For now, things are going pretty well for me. Whilst it is getting warmer, I am not tempted to take off a layer or two or the wet weather gear. I can’t wait for the deck to be a bit drier so I can consider some major repairs that are needed.‏

Rhum Class / Willy Bissainte – Tradysion Gwadloup: “This is the washing machine , but it ‘s okay. We have 25 knots of wind, a little sea, and a crosswind but it is manageable. I ‘m glad the wind like this. It is better than being becalmed like I was four years ago. I am not complaining! At the moment I have to my right the sun and to my left the clouds. We need to have clouds to have wind, so much the better for the race! I continue to duel with the Finn, Ari Huusela, who has the same boat as me, a Pogo -40, and will do so right up tot the finish…”

Multi 50 Class / Yves Le Blévec – ACTUAL: “There is one night we need to catch up on so we had better be going fast! I have a fast boat, so it is easier. It sails well and I am doing everything I can to make it go fast. There are good conditions and will try and hold on to those. The sea is nice, flat with a steady wind. We have some 15-20 knots, and will have to go into the low-pressure areas, so things will slow down. We see update reports every hour so can see the competition and work out which ones are not doing so well in the conditions.

I must be able to eat well and rest well. I have made bacon and eggs and was about to make my tea. The program for today: helm a bit, study my course, and call each other and eat / sleep to be in good shape ….”

Multi 50 Class / Pierre Antoine – OLMIX: This is one of the most rare phenomenons – Pierre Antoine was struck by lightning and rescued earlier this week. He describes the accident and rescue operation:

“I had been through severe and violent thunderstorms Monday night. The lightening struck on Tuesday morning when the squalls had passed. It came as an incredible and very violent surprise. It was as if someone had thrown a grenade inside the boat. So I went down to get the fire extinguishers and try and put out the fire, but saw that we were taking on water fast and already standing in 50 cm and that the batteries were flooded.

It was terrible and I knew I could not continue to sail and that the race was over. I ended up with 1.5 meters of water inside.

I let of the alarm to call the Maritimes Rescue Services. I have to thank the Spanish rescue services that were so quick in the salvage, particularly since I no longer had any means of communication.

It was a pretty brutal experience.

The boat was towed into the port of Corunna. We saved the boat. We managed to bring it before the big gale. It is not in good condition and pretty mashed up. It looks really but that boat is repairable, there is no structural damage. There is a big project but the boat will be able to sail once again.”

Class 40 / Giancarlo Pedote – Fantastica: “Everything is going very well, I had a pretty hard early part of the race. Now things are slow and the sky is a little cloudier. I have between 17 and 18 knots of wind, there is the odd gust, but we are not doing too badly here. I had a lot of damage on the first night but things are better. I am fine and just trying to sail at 100% holding on, not lag behind and believe that you can do it right up to the end!

There is an area of very high pressure that we have to sail round to avoid getting stuck in the area of no wind. There will also be favourable winds to sail south.

It is a matter of negotiating getting round whilst also looking to cover the least number of miles possible on the most direct course.”

ROUTE DU RHUM - DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX

ROUTE DU RHUM – DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX

ROUTE DU RHUM - DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start      © ALEXIS COURCOUX

ROUTE DU RHUM – DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start © ALEXIS COURCOUX

As the tenth edition of the legendary Route du Rhum solo Transatlantic race to Guadeloupe started off Saint Malo, France this Sunday afternoon under grey skies and a moderate SSW’ly breeze. The perennial question of just how hard to push through the first 24-36 hours at sea was foremost in the minds of most of the 91 skippers.

 

When the start gun sounded at 1400hrs local time (1300hrs CET) to mark a spectacular send off for a 3,524 miles contest, which engages and entrances the French public like no other ocean race, breezes were only 15-17kts. But a tough, complicated first night at sea is in prospect, a precursor to 36 hours of bruising, very changeable breezes and big unruly seas.

Such conditions, gusting to 40kts after midnight tonight, are widely acknowledged to be potentially boat or equipment breaking. But the big ticket reward for fighting successfully through the worst of the fronts and emerging in A1 racing shape, will be a fast passage south towards Guadeloupe. Such an early gain might be crucial to the final result.

ROUTE DU RHUM - DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start      © ALEXIS COURCOUX

ROUTE DU RHUM – DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start © ALEXIS COURCOUX

The converse is doubly true. Any trouble or undue conservatism might be terminal as far as hopes of a podium place in any of the three classes.

In short, the maxim of not being able to win the race on the first night, but being able to lose it over that keynote, initial period, has perhaps never been truer.

The routing south is relatively direct, fast down the Iberian peninsula with a fairly straightforward, quick section under the Azores high pressure which shapes the course. The Ultimes – the giant multis – are expected to be south of Madeira by Tuesday night when the IMOCA Open 60s will already be at the latitude of Lisbon and the Class 40 leaders passing Cape Finisterre.

Vincent Riou, Vendée Globe winner who triumphed in last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre two-handed race to Brasil, said of the forecast: “I carried out statistical studies, set up 140 different routings using ten years of files in my pre-race analysis and I can’t recall a single example of the weather being as favourable for the IMOCAs as what seems to lie ahead‏.”

The change in weather from the idyllic Indian summer conditions which have prevailed through the build up weeks to gusty winds, heavy rain showers and cooler temperatures could do nothing to dampen the extraordinary ardour displayed by the crowds which so openly embrace the Rhum legend. From all walks of life, from babes-in-arms to the elderly, they descend on Saint Malo and the nearby beaches and promontories to see the start and the opening miles.

Lemonchois Leads
It was fitting then that the tens of thousands who braved the deluges and the breeze were rewarded when it was the owner of the race record, Lionel Lemonchois, winner of the Multi 50 Class in the last edition and overall winner in 2006, who passed their Cap Fréhel vantage point, 18 miles after the start line leading the whole fleet on the Ultime Prince de Bretagne.

 

Thomas Coville on Sodebo lead the Caribbean-bound armada off the start line dicing with the more nimble, smaller Multi70 of Sidney Gavignet Musandam-Oman Air which also lead for a short time. The fleet’s ultimate Ultime, the 40m long Spindrift (Yann Guichard) was seventh to Fréhel, clearly needing time and opportunity to wind up to her high average top speeds. Coville has the potent mix of tens of thousands of solo miles under his belt as well as an Ultime (the 31m long ex Geronimo of Olivier de Kersauson with new main hull and mostly new floats and a new rig) which is optimised for solo racing.

The favourites to win each of the different classes seemed to make their way quickly to the front of their respective packs. Vendée Globe victor François Gabart established a very early lead in the IMOCA Open 60s on MACIF, ahead of PRB (Vincent Riou) and Jérémie Beyou (Maitre-CoQ). In the 43 strong Class 40 fleet Sébastien Rogue quickly worked GDF SUEZ in to the lead. He remains unbeaten and won last year’s TJV. Defending class champion Italy’s Andrea Mura was at the front of the Rhum class with his highly updated Open 50 Vento di Sardegna.

Spain’s highly rated Alex Pella was second in Class 40 on Tales 2, Britain’s Conrad Humphreys 20th on Cat Phones Built For It and Miranda Merron sailing Campagne de France in 22nd.

The key international, non-French skippers made solid starts to their races. Self-preservation was key priority for 75 year old Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on Grey Power, who said pre-start that his main goal was to get safely clear of Cape Finisterre, before pressing the accelerator.

He is in good company not least with ‘junior’ rivals Patrick Morvan, 70 and Bob Escoffier, 65 all racing in this Rhum class which features race legend craft as well as sailors. Two of the original sisterships to Mike Birch’s 11.22m Olympus – which stole victory by 98 seconds in the inaugural race in 1978 – are racing in this fleet replaying the fight against the monohull Kriter V which finished second.

First to return to Saint-Malo with a technical problem- needing to repair his rigging – was the Class40 of Jean Edouard Criquioche, Région haute Normandie, who had to turn round after just 45 minutes on course. And the Portuguese skipper in the Rhum class Ricardo Diniz was also reported to be heading back with trouble with his diesel.

Order at Cap Fréhel

1 – Lionel Lemonchois (Prince de Bretagne) / 1st Ultime
2 – Sidney Gavignet (Musandam – Oman Sail)
3 – Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim’)
4 – Loïck Peyron (Maxi Solo Banque Populaire VII)
5 – Sébastien Josse (Edmond De Rothschild)
6 – Yann Eliès (Paprec Recyclage)
7 – Yann Guichard (Spindrift 2)
8 – Yves Le Blévec (Actual) / 1st Multi50
9 – Francis Joyon (Idec Sport)
10 – Erwan Leroux (FenêtréA – Cardinal)
11 – Lalou Roucayrol (Arkema Région Aquitaine)
12 – François Gabart (MACIF) / 1st IMOCA
13 – Vincent Riou (PRB) 14 – Loïc Fequet (Maître Jacques)
15 – Jérémie Beyou (Maître Coq)
16 – Marc Guillemot (Safran)
17 – Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée)
18 – Bertrand De Broc (Votre Nom Autour du Monde)
19 – Tanguy De Lamotte (Initiatives-Coeur)
20 – Armel Tripon (Humble for Heroes)
21 – Erik Nigon (Vers un monde sans sida)
22 – Pierre Antoine (Olmix)
23 – Andrea Mura (Vento Di Sardegna) / 1st Rhum
24 – Sébastien Rogues (GDF SUEZ) / 1st Class40‏

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Passage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 - Saint Malo le 01/ 11/14  (Photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX)

Passage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 – Saint Malo le 01/ 11/14 (Photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX)

The weather forecast for the first few days of La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe seems to suggest that the 3,542 miles from Saint-Malo to Pointe-à-Pitre will be quick. But first up there will be an active frontal system to cross before Ushant.

Sunday afternoon’s start will see the SSW’ly breeze at around 15-18kts with some squally bursts perhaps. But the first three days of racing will be quite tough for the 91 solo skippers competing on this legendary Transatlantic. And with such a promising forecast it seems there might be every chance the outright race record of 7 days 17 hours 19mins 6 secs of Lionel Lemonchois, set in 2006 on Gitana XI, might fall.

It had to happen some time. The blocking high pressure system which has provided summer-like weather for most of the times in Saint-Malo will give way to more usual Autumnal conditions, an Atlantic low pressure arriving on cue for Sunday’s start. The weather will worsen progressively along the Brittany coast and there will likely be rain just after the 1400hrs local time start gun.

Passage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 - Saint Malo le 01/11/2014 Fleet (Photo Passage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 - Saint Malo le 01/ 11/14  (Photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX))

assage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 – Saint Malo le 01/11/2014 Fleet (Photo Passage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 – Saint Malo le 01/ 11/14 (Photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX))

The 91 solo skippers gathered for their final meteo briefing this morning as Meteo Consult provided them with their final weather analysis. Sunday afternoon will see SSW’ly winds of around 15-18 kts but with some much bigger gusts. The breeze will veer more west behind the front, easing slightly initially but it will always be gusty. The air temperature will be around 13-16 deg C. The Ultime leaders might well have passed Cap Fréhel ahead of the front but for most this will mean headwinds.

The soloists will have a long port tack to get out of the Channel. But around midnight a second, more active front will bring a big increase in wind strength from the SW, gusting to 40-45kts with a chaotic sea. And this will be one of the key phases of this Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe. Approaching and around the tip of Brittany there are a powerful combination of big untidy waves, busy maritime traffic and gusty winds, so the real strategy here will be trying not to break anything whilst still keeping the pace on.

By daytime Monday the biggest Ultimes should be into the brisk NW’ly which will make for a fast descent to Madeira which they should reach by Tuesday night. But meantime for the first part of Monday the IMOCA and Multi 50s will have a pretty tough time trying to find the right tempo across the first part of Biscay in an unruly, nasty sea making a messy, stressful passage to Cape Finisterre for Tuesday morning.

Overall it is quite a promising forecast. Class 40 and the Rhum fleet will need to take it more carefully but there really is only one general route south and the fleets should enjoy more of a speed rather than strategy race.

In the Class 40 fleet Briton Conrad Humphreys says he has never been better prepared or felt as good before a race start but the pressure will be on from the start. There is a critical stage early on where the skippers must time their approach through Sunday night’s front to make sure they can get comfortably inside the Ushant traffic separation zone, or not. There is a tactical danger in being squeezed out to the west by the zone when the main opposition is inside, able to cut the corner and get south across Biscay earlier.

assage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 - Saint Malo le 01/11/2014 Fleet (Photo Passage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 - Saint Malo le 01/ 11/14  (Photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX))

assage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 – Saint Malo le 01/11/2014 Fleet (Photo Passage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 – Saint Malo le 01/ 11/14 (Photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX))

“The critical thing will be how far west you get and whether you are positioned inside or outside the separation zone at Ushant. If you are caught half way you can’t cross the separation zone. And so the timing of that shift is important. After that the Bay of Biscay is going to be quite lively. I think the sea state will be one of the worst things, 4-5m swell with waves on top and then a lot of rain. The further south we get the High will have an effect and it will start to calm down a bit, but I think for most of the first 24-36 hours it will be quite wild. It is so critical to be with the pack and to get through that first shift with them. If you don’t they can be going quite fast and the ones who don’t will be still on the wind, have less runway to get around Ushant and so on. I have to say you will have to sail quite aggressively.”

In boisterous sea and wind conditions, with rain showers passing through, the start itself holds the possibility is problems. Indeed that is the phase that concerns Miranda Merron (Campagne de France) most immediately. The France-based English soloist said after the weather briefing:

“It’s November. You are going to take a kicking some time and this first bit looks tough, but it is the start with all the traffic and stress around that worries me most. I just want to get away cleanly and safely.”

They said:
Ari Huusela (FINLAND) – Rhum Class, Neste Oil:
“It is a victory to be here. In total we have had almost 20 people involved in the project at home in Finland. It is my passion to sail alone, that is why I want to do this race. This is the pinnacle. I have had this boat two years after it took me seven years to realise my dream. I think the boat is good, I am going to enjoy it as much as possible.”

Yann Guichard (Ultime) – SPINDRIFT 2:
“Everyone knows that the start phase is always critical. I know that if I have to do an emergency change of tack, it can’t be done in two minutes. The first twelve hours are going to be complicated. It looks like we’re going to have to do two changes of tack. This isn’t where the race is going to be won, but it is where it can be lost.”

Loïck Peyron (Ultime) – MAXI SOLO BANQUE POPULAIRE VII:
“The start is never easy for anyone. And here it’s going to be violent. There is going to be wind and lots of rain: typical sailor’s weather. This will make things a bit more dramatic, as we’re straight into the rough stuff.”

To follow the race on click La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe

 

assage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 - Saint Malo le 01/11/2014 Fleet (Photo Passage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 - Saint Malo le 01/ 11/14 (Photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX))

assage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 – Saint Malo le 01/11/2014 Fleet (Photo Passage des ecluses pour les concurrents de la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 – Saint Malo le 01/ 11/14 (Photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX))