Many of the skippers in The Transat's Open 60 class will have more on their agenda than just reaching Boston in first place.
Crucially The Transat is the last opportunity for many to qualify for November's Vendée Globe challenge and these skippers will also understand the importance of having to reach the finish line in one piece.
Jean Le CAM'S brand new Marc Lombard Open 60 designs Bonduelle launched this month falls into this category as does Jean-Pierre DICK'S new Virbac, which despite winning last year's Transat Jacques Vabre was dismasted during the Defi Atlantique and failed to complete the race inside the time limit.
Other Open 60s who must finish the Transat to get their spot on the Vendée start line include Charles HEDRICH'S Objectif 3, Norbert SEDLAKEC on Austria One, Conrad HUMPHREYS on Motorola (formerly Mike GOLDING'S Ecover) and Herve LAURENT on UUDS.
The pressure is slightly less on former Vendée Globe competitors Roland JOURDAIN on the new Sill, sistership to Bonduelle, and Marc THIERCELIN who is sailing his new boat Pro-Form (the former Tiscali/Whirlpool). Under the existing Notice of Race, Jourdain and Thiercelin can still qualify for the Vendée Globe by completing a 2500 mile solo passage by 20 September 2004 if they fail to finish The Transat. However, the new Vendée Globe organisers announced this week will be issuing a new Notice of Race so things could still change.
However, many have already qualified and will be using the race to test their craft prior to sailing them around the world. Those who completed Le Defi Atlantique single-handed race between Salvador de Bahia, Brazil and La Rochelle last year will have already qualified for the Vendée Globe. These include Alex THOMSON'S AT Racing, Mike GOLDING'S new Ecover, Anne LIARDET'S Gonnagitcha, Vincent RIOU on PRB, Nick MOLONEY on Skandia and Sebastien JOSSE'S VMI.
Swiss ocean racing veteran Dominique WAVRE sailed the last Vendée Globe on board his present boat and therefore automatically qualifies to sail in it again. A similar story for Around Alone winner Bernard STAMM sailing Cheminées Poujoulat-Armor Lux.
Mike SANDERSON on Pindar AlphaGraphics is the only competitor in the Open 60 division not competing in the Vendée Globe this autumn.
Meanwhile the qualifications continue. This week Dominique Demachy on his 50ft multihull Gifi completed his, as did Yves PARLIER who arrived back in his home port of Arcachon on Thursday aboard his radical new 60ft catamaran Médiatis Région Aquitaine. For the first 500 miles Parlier averaged 20 knots, an indication of the potential of his new twin masted vessel.
Karine FAUCONNIER, daughter of 1984 winner Yvon FAUCONNIER, set out on her qualifier this week, but returned prematurely to sort out some technical problems on her 60ft trimaran Sergio Tacchini. Franck Yves ESCOFFIER is currently in the middle of his qualifier while Mike SANDERSON plans to leave on Monday (5 April).
The monohull 50ft class has lost one of its competitors, when Italian Simon ACCATI Sheard on board the Berret/Racoupeau-designed Tredici retired due to lack of funds.