At lunchtime Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre starting horn was sounded and the 118 skippers in their 59 multi-coloured offshore boats weaved across the start line in front of Cape de la Hève, beating into 12-14 knots of north-easterly wind. Among them are two Irish skippers Joan Mulloy from County Mayo as Afloat reported here and Mikey Ferguson in County Down here. The Irish co-skippers are neck and neck in 26th and 27th place according to rankings here.
The biennial double-handed 4,350-mile race, the longest and toughest transat in the sailing calendar, will take them to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil.
Already the race is dishing up a fair amount of drama with the news at 06:50 (UTC) this morning, while leading the Class40 fleet, British skipper, Luke Berry and his French co-skipper, Tanguy Le Turquais, informed the race management their Class40, Lamotte - Module Creation, had dismasted. The two skippers are doing well and are safe on board the boat.
At yesterday's start, Both IMOCA and Class40 fleets were tightly bunched, but line honours appeared to go to Bureau Vallée II (IMOCA) and Aïna Enfance and Avenir, the Class40 favourite.
The Route de Café is a marathon not a sprint, but the start along the coast is never simple, especially when the blood is up and adrenaline flowing in front the crowds lining the pontoons, channel, beaches and coast. Not to mention the live TV audience. And, of course, the choppy shallow sea with plenty of current against them as they race the 16 miles of coast to round the Region Normandie buoy off Étretat. The fastest among them should take a little under three hours before they turn to head west towards Cotentin under spinnaker.
There should be an intense downwind race in the Channel overnight when the wind will continue to strengthen. Through that time and the morning, as they all exit the Channel, it will be decision time as to whether to go east, west or further west. That could provide an early test of the different trajectories the latest generation foiling IMOCA may take, although Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss has said his priority is finishing not winning, especially after being helicoptered to safety when his boat capsized four years ago. Britain’s Samantha Davies, in an older boat but with hugely upgraded foils on Initiatives-Cœur, is keeping an open mind.
“Once we’re west of Ushant then we’ve got to make a decision,” she said. “I don’t want to make a decision yet because it’s not clear enough and sometimes if you decide in your head you influence yourself when you’re making further decisions.
“We’re pretty open at the moment, (laughs) we’re going to have all the sails out on the deck to work out which one we’re going to use. We are at one with Initiatives-Cœur and super happy to be finally at sea and heading for Brazil.”
The small Class40 have the same dilemma.
“Do we go west fully, for me there is still an option, but it’s a bit of a tricky one,” Luke Berry (Lamotte – Module Creation) said. “We’re still waiting for the info from our weather routers - you’re allowed a weather router before you start - so, we’ll make our decision sometime tonight. It’s not a (Class40) group decision, there are some that are going to go their own way and we’re not here to follow the others, but we’re not going to do lone cowboy either. It’s going to be more of downwind race out of the Channel, but it’s do we go up into the Celtic sea or not?
Britain’s Sam Goodchild, one of Berry’s main rivals, on Leyton, says that the risks and rewards are not clear.
“We don’t think we have to make our decision until tomorrow morning,” he said. “We’ve got all the ideas in our head, we don’t know what the risks and the gains are yet, it’s not as straightforward as if you go west, you break or you win, and if you go south you’re safe.”
There were emotional scenes on the pontoon before departure as the said goodbye to their friends, family and partners, except perhaps for Miranda Merron and Halvard Mabire, who are partners on both land and sea.
Top ten at midnight France time
- Leyton, Sam Goodchild / Fabien Delahaye
2. Lamotte - Module Creation, Luke Berry / Tanguy Le Turquais
3. Aïna Enfance & Avenir, Aymeric Chappellier / Pierre Leboucher
4. Credit Mutuel, Ian Lipinski / Adrien Hardy
5. Crosscall Chamonix Mont-Blanc, Louis Duc / Aurelien Ducroz
6. Beijaflore, William Mathelin-Moreaux / Marc Guillemot
7. Entraide Marine-Adosm, Charles-Louis Mourruau / Estelle Greck
8. Banque Du Leman, Simon Koster / Valentin Gautier
9. Linkt, Jorg Riechers / Cedric Chateau
10. Made In Midi, Kito De Pavant / Achille Nebout
- Solidaires En Peloton - Arsep, Thibaut Vauchel-Camus / Fred Duthil
2. Primonial, Sebastien Rogues / Matthieu Souben
3. Groupe Gca - Mille Et Un Sourires, Gilles Lamire / Antoine Carpentier
- Banque Populaire X, Clarisse Cremer / Armel Le Cleac'h
2. Groupe Apicil, Damien Seguin / Yoann Richomme
3. Arkea - Paprec, Sebastien Simon / Vincent Riou
4. Corum L'epargne, Nicolas Troussel / Jean Le Cam
5. PRB, Kevin Escoffier / Nicolas Lunven
6. Malizia Ii - Yacht Club De Monaco, Boris Herrmann / Will Harris
7. Initiatives-Cœur, Samantha Davies / Paul Meilhat
8. Bureau Vallee 2, Louis Burton / Davy Beaudart
9. Prysmian Group, Giancarlo Pedote / Anthony Marchand
10. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson / Neal McDonald