After nine editions over 32 years, Pointe-a-Pitre – the finish city for La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe – has shown it knows how to throw a welcome party to the heroic finishers of the classic, four yearly 3542 miles solo race from Saint Malo.
And this Sunday afternoon around the humid, sticky heat of the race village docks the bands the dancers and thousands of locals, many of whom have grown up with the race, were warming up, making ready to greet Loick Peyron who is on course for an historic victory, and a possible new race record.
It will be some welcome.
Peyron is predicted to cross the finish line around 0230hrs TU/0330hrs CET/2230hrs local. To beat the established race record of 7 days and 17 hours he needs to break the line by 0619hrsTU/0719hrsCET/0219hrslocal time.
At 1600hrs TU this afternoon Peyron, on the 31.5m trimaran Maxi Solo Banque Populaire, was 178nm miles from the finish line, averaging 23kts. His nearest rival Yann Guichard on the 40m Spindrift 2 is over 240 miles in his wake.
For Loick Peyron whose 49th passage of the Atlantic this race will complete- his 18th solo – winning the Route du Rhum would add to a remarkably full collection of sailing honours. In 2011-12 he skippered the 14 man team which currently holds the all out non-stop around the world Jules Verne Trophy record aboard Banque Populaire V, the trimaran which is ironically finishing second to him, as Spindrift 2. He has won the Transat three times, the Transat Jacques Vabre twice.
Adding to the B2B race back from Brazil in 2007 this will be his seventh Transatlantic win solo or two up. He was second in the 1990 Vendee Globe after rescuing fellow competitor Philippe Poupon and won the 2011 Barcelona World Race round the world with Jean-Pierre Dick. He has raced in the last two America's Cups, in 2013 with Atrtemis Racing and in 2010 with Alinghi.
Peyron has led since the first night of the race and has scarcely put a foot wrong, supported by routers Marcel van Triest and Armel Le Cleac'h – who should have been sailing this race as solo skipper.
The fight at the front of Class 40, in which there were 43 starters, continues with no let up. Spain's Alex Pella is credited with a slender lead over Kito de Pavant this evening, the two racing side by side, 10 miles apart, as they move into the second week of racing.
Pella, racing the Botin designed Spanish owned, designed and built Tales 2 in which he finished second in last year's Transat Jaques Vabre, continues to show slightly superior reaching speed and has stayed sightly south of de Pavant. And in recent days the duo have emerged 24 miles ahead of Yannick Bestaven. And both the two leaders were around two knots quicker this evening.
Pella who has a second and third to his credit racing the Mini Transat in 2003 and 2005 has stayed largely away from the Class 40 circuit, training solo from the boat's base in Santander. He finished fourth overall in the last Barcelona World Race with compatriot Pepe Ribes. He was bubbling with enthusiam when he spoke to race control this morning:
“It is still a bit unstable in terms of wind direction. The breeze is down a bit I have only 13kts. The level in this class is high, both the boats and the guys. I am so happy to be here in this great race. I am very happy to be here and it's a great race. I am very proud of this boat which is of Spanish design and Spanish build. I had some technical problems at the beginning but it is a versatile boat which goes well in all conditions. It will be downwind to the finish with a few gybes: it will be very interesting. I am loving it! I came to this race not knowing how it would be and here I am very happy because I fight with people I like such as Kito (De Pavant) and Yannick (Bestaven): This is great! “
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is in to his Open 60 Grey Power's sweet spot reaching conditions and today he said that he is progressively attacking the boats in front before tipping Anne Caseneuve as the likely winner of the Classe Rhum in which he races:
“I have just overtaken a Class 40, we chatted on the VHF for a bit which was nice. These conditions do suit my boat better and so I am going better than I was yesterday. This boat just does not really go to windward and that is what it was yesterday. It is not a boat for racing upwind or close hauled. Once the wind frees off as it has now then she picks up and goes. We are much faster since last night. I was quick across Biscay and I feel am closing in on the boats in front except for the boat which is second in this class which I think is extremely strong with a good chance to be the first boat to finish.
“The conditions are just what you would expect in the Atlantic at this time of year but right now the sun is shining, the sea is blue the sky is blue. It is wonderful sailing. One could faster if I put up one of the gennakers but then it is whoopsy when one of the squalls comes through and you dont want all that much sail up. I am sailing safely and comfortably at the moment.
“It is a shame about Conrad Humphreys (who was dismasted Friday night) he is one of the few Brits out there doing this kind of racing.
I have known Loick since 1986 and he is the most delightful guy as well as a fantastic sailor and I shall be absolutely delighted for him. He is one of these people who needs to, and deserves to not just win this race but to also set a record.”
Ari Huusela (Neste Oil) ” I am so good now. I had such a tough first few days but now I am relaxed with ten knots of boat speed and heading south west. Now it is 20kts from the NW and I am surfing along with the main and small jib and it is really good. I am very happy. Last night I got some rest. I have one small problem, but nothing too bad.
The first few days were horrendous. It was actually horrible but I kept the boat in one piece and here I am.”