A sea mist shrouding the start zone off Les Sables d’Olonne held up the start of the ninth edition of the Vendée Globe, the solo non-stop round the world race, for nearly one hour and 20 minutes.
But for their patience the record-sized 33 boat fleet was rewarded by late autumn sunshine, a near perfect 10-12 knots south easterly breezes and flat seas when the start gun finally sounded at 1420hrs French time, sending the lone 27 men and 6 women skippers off on their 24,296 nautical miles round the world challenge.
For the nervous first timers the added delay ratcheted up the tension on top of a morning of bubbling emotions. In contrast, the super-experienced solo racers grabbed a welcome quiet cat-nap after enduring what almost all reported to be a sleepless final night on land.
When the gun sounded at 1420hrs (French time) Louis Burton on Bureau Vallée 2 broke the start line first. But the third-time Vendée Globe skipper, racing the boat which won in 2016-17 and holds the race record, was notably seconds ahead of the gun.
He is penalised according to the strict race rules, required to halt his race for five hours – stopping racing and resuming from the same point – before 38°40,000N, so just north of Lisbon.
With two to three months of racing ahead, safe prudent starts were otherwise the order of the day. But as the fleet accelerated away from the line, the fast, foiling IMOCAs started to build speed on the flat seas.
It was the newest, least proven boat of the eight new 2020 generation builds to line up in this race - the Juan Kouyoumdjian designed Corum L’Épargne sailed by first-timer Nico Troussel, who set the early pace, at the vanguard of an armada heading due west into a complex first week at sea. Pre-race favourite Jérémie Beyou lay second and Britain’s Sam Davies was fourth on Initiatives Coeur.
As the afternoon wore on and the pace lifted, on the heels of a strengthening breeze, Beyou’s Charal held the lead making 26kts ahead of Charlie Dalin on Apivia in second with Briton Alex Thomson gradually winding up the potent HUGO BOSS after his promised safe, steady start, to lie third at 1600hrs local time.
Into the first long night of this Vendée Globe and Jérémie Beyou (Charal) is where he wants to be, leading the charge in a still moderate S’ly breeze which is seeing the leaders making around 17-20 knots of boat speed. On the 21hrs TU ranking there is almost seven miles between Beyou and Alex Thomson on HUGO BOSS who is sixth and was slowed just as the position report was run as was Charlie Dalin on Apivia For sure the breeze has not been as settled as was initially predicted.
The two newest IMOCAs, neither of which has completed a race, are second and third, Nico Troussel moving at 20kts up to second on Corum L’Épargne at 0.7 of mile behind the leader and Armel Tripon on L’Occitaine at +2.7 miles.
Meanwhile a bitterly disappointed Fabrice Amedeo is heading back to Les Sables d’Olonne for what should be a swift pitstop to repair a headsail hook. Amedeo was making seven knots with 24 miles to sail back to Les Sables d’Olonne where he should reach in the small hours of the morning.
Maxime Sorel is going well as the best none foiler in 16th