At precisely 1202 GMT this 7th November 2004 the 20 competitors in the fifth edition of the Vendée Globe headed off from Les Sables d'Olonne, on the Atlantic coast of France, under grey skies with a considerably lighter than forecast 8 knot north-westerly
The fleet are set to return here in around 3 months' time after completing a tour of the planet around the 3 capes of Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn, single-handed and without assistance. The IMOCA 60 foot monohulls began with a clean start on a 6-mile coastal course prior to taking on the 23 680 mile total course. It was the winning boat of the last edition, PRB, now skippered by Vincent RIOU, who was first to unfurl his gennaker and hit wind on the start line. He was chased by American Bruce Schwab on Ocean Planet second and Dominic Wavre on Temenos third, all the boats on a port tack under full main and gennaker on flat seas. The British boats Hugo Boss (Alex THOMSON) and Hellomoto (Conrad Humphreys) were 6th and 7th respectively, Australian Nick Moloney was 8th on Skandia, British sailor, Mike Golding on Ecover, was 16th and Austrian Norbert Sedlacek on Brother 18th. By the first mark, Virbac Paprec had taken the lead, PRB snatching it back again by the second mark. Around 300 000 spectators lined the pontoons, the channel, the beaches and the spectator craft this morning in scenes reminiscent of the arrival of Michel Desjoyeaux and Ellen Macarthur on the last edition - an emotional start to the adventure of a lifetime.
Around 45 minutes before the start of the race, the President of the Race Committee, Sylvie Viant, changed the initial planned coastal course from procedure 2 to 3 due to the lack of wind on the start zone. From the start line situated between the French navy frigate Stern and the Sodebo mark, the twenty 60 foot monohulls headed slightly inland to the Roches de Joanne mark located off Bourgenay. Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick) was the first to pass this mark at 12h29m14s GMT followed by PRB and VMI. The fleet then headed back up the coast towards Les Sables d´Olonne leaving the lower Pironnière mark to their left. The frontrunners passed this mark at 13h24m34s GMT with PRB having snatched back the lead of the Vendée Globe fleet, tracked by Jean Pierre Dick on Virbac Paprec and Jean Le Cam on Bonduelle. Now past this mark, the fleet are bound for Cape Finisterre at the north-west tip of Spain, nearly 400 miles away.
Seeing the twenty multi-national skippers on their way in a religious silence in the pitch black at 0600 GMT this Sunday morning, hundreds of spectators filled the streets of Les Sables d´Olonne on France´s Atlantic coast, all filing towards the channel along which the competitors in the fifth edition of the Vendee Globe were to pass out into the open sea; roads already blocked for miles around. By 0730 GMT the silence had transformed into cheering as Anne Liardet (Roxy) was the first to leave the pontoons, followed every 5-7 minutes by the rest of the fleet ending at precisely 1000 GMT with Roland Jourdain (Sill et Véolia) as planned. 300 000 spectators took in the scene, including 98 authorised spectator boats out on the water with a throng of launches reserved for the various media, and what proved to be a countless number of craft of every variety. The skies contained no less than 13 helicopters.
Taking in the atmosphere of the emotional farewell on the pontoons this morning, Brit Ellen MacArthur, second in the last edition of the Vendée Globe, said of the line-up: "It's great that a quarter of the fleet aren't French and that certainly changes how the race is covered outside of France now. It's good to see that people can design boats outside, particularly as previously these boats were only French. All that's great for the fleet, even if we don't always get it right, everyone's having a go and it's great to see the diversity of boats here."
Full position reports and photos from the start are available on the event website at the address below.