Massive fleet of solo sailors for Route du Rhum

The tenth edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe starts on Sunday 2nd November 2014 at 1400hrs CET (1300hrs UTC) off the Pointe Grouin. There are 91 solo skippers racing in five classes. There are 24 trimarans, 1 catamaran and 66 monohulls. The theoretical course from Saint-Malo to Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe is 3,542 miles and the record is 7 days 17 hours 19 minutes.

Since 1978’s inaugural edition of this famous race, the course has not really changed, except in the second edition when the soloists had to round Martinique first and in 2002 when they could head directly to the finish line at Pointe-à-Pitre (without rounding the island).

3,542 miles is the official distance between the start line off the Pointe du Grouin and the finish line off the Creole Beach Hotel off Gosier. There are several marks to be adhered to, notably leaving the Cap Fréhel mark to starboard, Ushant and the TSS traffic separation zone to port, then the islet of the Tête à l’Anglais et l’île and Guadeloupe are left to port (so there is effectively most of an anti clockwise circumnavigation on the islands) before Basse-Terre where the mark is left to starboard.

The start line off Grouin point is orientated North South with big exclusion zones marked out so the solo skippers can manoeuvre in safety. The start line is divided into two more or less equal sections, the multihulls offshore and the monos closer to the point. The warning signal is given at eight minutes and preparatory signal at four minutes at which point the skipper must be solo. The finish line is closed at 35 days after the start so finishers after December 7th will not be given a finish time. The solo skippers can anchor themselves for shelter or to repair but if they make a technical stop to a jetty, buoy or dock they are considered to have had help and so must make a stop of a minimum of four hours.

There are five classes, totalling 91 soloists. There are 43 Class 40s (monohulls 12.18m long), there are 20 in the Rhum Class (14 monohulls, over 12m long and 6 multihulls, between 12 and 18m long). There are 11 Multi50s (Class 18.28m) and eight Ultimes (Multihull over 18.28m). Only the Rhum class, the Multi 50s and the Ultimes can be supported by external on shore weather routers.

Among the roll honour Lionel Lemonchois is the only skipper racing this time who has won the race twice, in 2006 in the ORMA Class and in 2010 in the Multi50. Laurent Bourgnon has also achieved the double on the ORMA multihull (1994 and 1998) as well as Franck-Yves Escoffier in Multi50 (2002 and 2006).

Two other previous winners are on the starting line this time: Thomas Coville (IMOCA monohull in 1998) and Andrea Mura (Class Rhum 2010).

Two days before the start of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, wheather information suppliers Meteo Consult’s Cyrille Duchesne is predicting a bouncy, difficult breezy, fast first 72-hours. But the course should run fast and after the first stage it should be relatively straightforward.

The Indian Summer in Saint Malo is over from Saturday and from then the weather will turn cloudy, returning to Autumn. At the start Sunday afternoon at 1400hrs the fleet will be under the influence of a low pressure system. There will be around 15-17kts from the SW with gusts to 25kts.

The wind will then back and build as they get out of the English Channel, stronger offshore. We can expect a long port tack to the Scilly then a tack to start the dive south.

The first boats should pass a front early in Monday morning off the point of Brittany when the wind shifts to the WNW and during this phase the gusts could reach 40kts. But thereafter it will be fast, reaching in 20kts across Biscay. That should get them quickly down to the Portuguese trades when speeds will remain high in winds to 25-30kts. The leaders should be at Cape Finisterre by late Monday and the Ultimes at Madeira on Tuesday!

The number of the day:
Seven former winners of La Route du Rhum gathered today in Saint-Malo. Only one was missing and he had a good reason he could not attend. Presented to the public were Mike Birch (1978), Marc Pajot (1982), Philippe Poupon (1986), Florence Arthaud (1990), Laurent Bourgnon (1994 and 1998), Lionel Lemonchois (2006) who is of course racing again this edition, and Franck Cammas (2010). Only Michel Desjoyeaux who won in 2002 at the end of the most tempestuous edition is absent, involved in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Records:
The record reference time for La Route du Rhum was set by Lionel Lemonchois on an ORMA trimaran in 2006: 7 days 17 hours 19 minutes. In the other categories, the reference time is 12d 11h IMOCA 60 (Roland Jourdain 2006), Multi50 of 11d17h 28' (Franck-Yves Escoffier in 2006), Class40 17j 23h 10 '(Thomas Ruyant in 2010), and the Rhum class in 19d 09h 40 '(Andrea Mura in 2010). The passage time from the Basse-Terre buoy to the finish line off Guadeloupe sets a reference time also.

Sir Robin is the oldest competitor

Clipper Race founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, 75, is carrying out final preparations on his yacht Grey power ahead of his return to competitive solo racing in Sunday’s Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe race start.

The oldest competitor in the French solo Transatlantic race has had a busy week on board his Open 60 yacht in Saint Malo, Brittany. The media spotlight has been upon Sir Robin with many interviews taking place, and he was also given the medal of the honour of the City of Saint Malo by the Mayor.

Sir Robin is now doing last minute victualing and will spend time with family later. The course and safety briefing took place on Thursday and the final weather briefing will happen Saturday.

“There has been an incredible atmosphere here in the race village all week with hundreds of thousands of visitors. It is great to be back here 32 years after I first did my Route du Rhum race.

“I have enjoyed seeing friends and fellow competitors including Loick Peyron and Francois Gabart. Now I am ready to go and can’t wait to get out there. I will be taking it easy as far as Cap Finisterre while I negotiate the shipping lanes, and then I will start to race harder.”

After enjoying sailing with Clipper Race crew in the 2013 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race which formed part of the circumnavigation, Knox-Johnston decided to return to competitive solo racing.

Sir Robin had become jealous of watching his Clipper Race crews sail off at the start of new legs during their round the world voyage.

Knox-Johnston created the Clipper Race in 1995 to provide a platform for anyone of any age and any walk of life to experience the thrill of ocean racing and for many, a circumnavigation.

“The great thing about ocean racing is that you can do it at any age, and that’s what I want to prove through my participation. In my head I feel 48. I feel younger and fitter than most and am ready to race,” Sir Robin added.

He is racing in the same boat he sailed round the world in during the 2006/7 Velux Five Oceans Race, aged 68.

The biennial Clipper Race event has inspired more than 3,000 amateur sailors to compete in what is now the longest ocean race around the planet at more than 40,000 miles since it was established in 1996.

Sir Robin is the only British sailor to have won ‘Yachtsman of the Year’ three times. He has sailed around the world four times, twice solo, including the Golden Globe historic circumnavigation in 1968/69, and once winning the Jules Verne Trophy in 1994. He last competed in the Route du Rhum in 1982, on the 70-foot catamaran Sea Falcon.

Yann Guichard discusses the race

With Saint-Malo still basking in summer temperatures, Yann Guichard gives us an update:

The grand départ: The departure is going to be very difficult, with the front expected to pass by at around 2pm. If the front does pass at that time, we will face headwinds with gusts of 20-25 knots, so we will perhaps have to change tack twice to reach the Cap Fréhel buoy. There will be an offshore wind so there will not be much of a tide, but with so many boats on the water it will be choppy. We hope the front will pass later, as then the wind will come from one of the sides.

Safety measures:Spindrift 2 will be surrounded by six tenders (semi-rigid boats) to ensure its safety and that of the surrounding boats, as we expect to set off from an area where there will be many spectator boats.”

Eight on board:During the pre-departure phase I will have eight trusted team-mates on board with me. The aim is to relieve me of as much pressure as possible. I know it will be difficult to achieve this, but the aim is for me to expend as few nervous impulses as possible. Xavier Revil will be responsible for the boat as we approach the departure time, until I am alone. That way I can focus on my strategy and communicate with my team, especially the routers.

The English Channel and beyond?: “Once the weather front has passed, the wind will calm down slightly, before picking up to a speed of around 30 knots as I leave the English Channel, with the swell reaching 3-4 metres. The aim is to sail into the Atlantic at 100% of the boat’s capacity. I’m mentally prepared for this type of start to the Route du Rhum, and I’m ready. At least we know the southern route is not closed. At the moment it looks like it will be the quickest route, but the conditions are still changing fast. The speed will remain high, ideal for the large boats. We will be able to accelerate with Spindrift 2. The cold wind will bring unstable conditions, but we should still sail quickly, with winds of 30 knots until we reach Madeira. After that, current forecasts suggest the trade wind will not be strong, which could throw the race wide open.”

Mental imagery:I do not have a ritual. A good pasta meal before I set off is enough. But I do a lot of mental imagery, especially for phases such as the race start. I picture all possible scenarios, good and bad, to make sure I am ready for any problems. I calm myself down, and in my head I perform a tack, a gybe, and I picture where I need to place my hands and my feet and what I should not do.

Emotion:For sure, the pressure is starting to mount, but I am not too stressed. I am sleeping well and enjoying the moment. Many people believe in this project, but many do not, so I really want to prove them wrong.

The relationship with Spindrift 2: “I have always felt close to my boats, but even more so with this one, because the challenge is so immense that I have to trust her even more. I do not talk to her, but I take care of her. We are taking on this challenge together, so taking good care of her helps me to trust her.

Departure schedule for Spindrift racing:

Saturday, November 1st:
3pm: the maxi-trimaran Spindrift 2 will leave her dock at the Gare Maritime in Saint-Malo.
5.30pm approx.: she will be moored at the mooring buoy by the town of Dinard, ready to enter the race area the next day.
Members of the technical team will take turns on board to guard the boat.

Sunday, November 2nd:
7am: technical team briefing
10am approx.: departure from the mooring buoy to reach the start area by Pointe du Grouin.
Boat configuration and preparation for departure on the water.
Team members must abandon boats at least 4 minutes before the race start at 2pm.
 
Spindrift racing routers:
Yann will be alone aboard Spindrift 2, but will work with two onshore routers responsible for keeping an eye on him and the boat. More importantly, they will process all the weather data to help Yann with his strategy. Navigating the boat is so demanding that Yann will not have time to spend sat at the card table. The analysis will be done back on dry land by the routers, who will offer different route recommendations, from which Yann will select the option he believes is best. The skipper will work with meteorologist Richard Silvani of Météo France, who has been a professional router for about fifteen years. Silvani’s achievements include guiding Laurent Bourgnon to two Route du Rhum victories. Yann is also supported by the sailor Erwan Israël, who brings not only his weather knowledge but also his experience as a sailor. Erwan won the Volvo Ocean Race with Franck Cammas in 2012 and broke the record for the Discovery Route with the Spindrift 2 crew in 2013.

 

 

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