The rapid and good-natured final technical briefing took place at 0900 GMT yesterday morning for the skippers in this the 5th edition of the Vendée Globe
Hosted by Race Director, Denis HOREAU; Deputy Mayor of Les Sables D'Olonne, Louis Guédon; Chairman of the SAEM Vendée, Philippe de Villiers; President of the French Sailing Federation (FFV), Jean-Pierre Champion; Jean-Yves Chauve the race doctor; Sylvie Viant, President of the UNCL; Alain Gautier, safety adviser to the Race Director; and Richard Silvani, the weather consultant from Météo France. Coastal Course No.2 has been selected given the 15 knots, north-easterly winds forecast, with good visibility despite the overcast skies. The first of the competitors will leave the dock at 0730 GMT and the start is planned for 1202 GMT.
All forecasts for the start of the fifth edition of the Vendée Globe 2004 agree on a big high pressure blockage over southern Ireland with a low pressure system situated out to the west of Gibraltar and the Canaries, with little change in the coming days. With the start zone located at the edge of an area of high pressure, a front will be able to creep in creating a covering of cloud, fortunately inactive and thus not holding rain. This is not set to affect the visibility and conditions should remain fairly bright. The north-easterly winds over the start zone should be fairly light at around 15 knots, dropping off to 5/8 knots by around 1500 GMT as it veers north, with a direct northerly 10 knot wind by 2000 GMT. Initially the competitors are likely to be on a flyer in the downwind conditions across the Bay of Biscay, with the first options really coming into play 3 days after the start. There should be around 30-35 knots at Cape Finisterre, which is set to become a sustained 30 knot wind as the zone of high pressure shifts to the west, providing good downwind conditions. On Wednesday a depression centred to the west of the Canaries will start to affect the state of play.
With regards the course for the start, given the weather, Course No.2 has been selected by the Race Committee. 3 zones have been reserved for the competitors and those with the appropriate accreditation. The first mark to be rounded will be "Les Sables d'Olonne" mark and the second the "Bourgenay" mark, very large yellow cylindrical buoys sporting a yellow flashlight and the race flag. The start line will be marked out by the French navy frigate the Stern and a large yellow Sodebo mark.
8 minutes from the start the Vendée Globe flag will be hoisted from the frigate. 4 minutes from the start the India Flag will be hoisted which means that the shore crews must be off the boat. At 1 minute from the start the India Flag will be lowered and finally the start will be signalled by the lowering of the Vendée Globe flag.
President of the Race Committee for the UNCL, Sylvie VIANT, stated that there would not be much of a current but warned the competitors "not to overshoot the start line", as according to the present rules in force, the competitors would be forced to go around the outside of the start line and re-cross in the correct manner. This news was greeted with some concern by Vincent Riou and Dominic Wavre who believe the current ruling to be too penalising, especially if having to perform the penalty amidst thousands of spectator boats. Sylvie Viant agreed that it may be possible to set a penalty at a certain GPS position further down the course instead and that, were this possible it would be noted in a Rider 2 to the Sailing Instructions. There will be 5 members making up the International Jury for this edition; 2 French, 1 Spaniard, 1 Brit and 1 Belgian.
Employed as adviser to the Race Director throughout the race, winner of the second edition of the Vendée Globe Alain GAUTIER expressed his thoughts about how things were shaping up prior to tomorrow's start at 1202 GMT. "The Imoca class measurements have had a good effect. The only thing I would suggest is that we have the tendency to store all our emergency equipment in a box, which is fine when the boat is the right way up but upside down it's a different matter. I would suggest that everyone put there survival suit and distress beacon within reach and not use it as movable ballast."
Philippe De Villiers said of the Race Organisation, "We are conscious of the fact that not everything is perfect - at the arrival we'd like to discuss all that with each skipper in preparation for the next Vendée Globe in 2008". The finish line is to be located south of a point called Le Nouch, a fairly long way offshore from the local airport in Les Sables d'Olonne in case of a big swell.
Practical information for tonight and the pre-start tomorrow: Tonight between 1600 and 1800 GMT will be the presentation of the skippers for the public. The first of the fleet, Anne Liardet (Roxy), will leave the Vendée Globe pontoon at 0730 GMT with each competitor designated a certain departure time at 5 to 7 minute intervals. On their exit, the competing boats may be towed, make headway under their own power or receive help from the organisation, each at their own responsibility. Should one of the boats experience delays the following boat will replace that particular boat so as the last boat to leave the pontoon, at around 1000 GMT, Roland Jourdain, is not penalised in any way.
Info for the race : The Press Headquarters will be situated in the Montparnasse railway station in Paris from Sunday night. The first race positions will be given at 1500 GMT on Sunday. One message from each skipper must be sent by email on Sunday night. The first weather flash will be broadcast by Météo France on Monday morning and the first radio chat session will be held at 1030 GMT.