Heavy hail showers left Le Havre's Paul Vatine dock under a temporary white blanket as the co-skippers and their shore-teams completed their final checks and preparations before Sunday's Transat Jacques Vabre race start.
But, while some may have taken a brief respite to throw a few friendly snow or slush balls at each otheracross the dock, today's almost wintery weather was not so much on their minds as what lies ahead over the first week of this ninth edition of the race.
Both the Multi 50's and the IMOCA Open 60 monohulls start tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon. The multihulls will be set off at 1400hrs localtime with the Open 60's half an hour later. France's minister of state for sports Madame Rama Yade will speak with Michel Desjoyeaux and Marc Thiercelin on the pontoon before she heads out to fire the starting gun to set the race on its way.
The weather situation has been complex during the last few days, but many now consider it is becoming a little clearer. The initial difficulties are principally two-fold. One is simply strategic: making early important routing decisions based on what is expected to happen in five or six days time, and the other is more philosophical: prudence and safety or sail a shorter distance by staying north and encountering potentially boat-breaking weather in the North Atlantic.
Given that no fewer than nine of the 14 IMOCA Open 60 monohulls have been substantially repaired or refitted since the Vendée Globe then the conventional wisdom would be that prudence will prevail.
"The problem with taking the more northerly route is that it wins out in theory on the models. There are two problems: one you never really sail to your full potential, and you might break your boat, and secondly the north in the second part of the race is not always a great place to be because you have to work your way down to the next high pressure which would be centred on Bermuda, say." Warns Nat Ives (GBR), who has been preparing preliminary weather advice for Mike Golding Yacht Racing.
The IMOCA Open 60 class do not allow weather routing advice after the start in this race, whereas the Multi 50 Class is more open. The critical question is how far south the low pressure systems will track. Presently the Azores high pressure system is settled quite far north, almost blocking the route. If the first big low pressure tracks a little further to the south then it will help compress the high south. If not, then the options may be more extreme.
The IMOCA Open 60 Class in this classic biennial race has yet to be won by a team hailing from outwith France. In fact this time the level of boats and teams is exceptionally high. With four British boats and two Spanish IMOCA Open 60's, the host nation are coming under increasing pressure. Dee Caffari, who sails with Brian Thompson on the final race for her Owen Clarke Open 60 in the colours of Aviva, firmly believes that the British or the Spanish can make an impact on the top positions:
"Brian and I both very keen to be seen to be very competitive in this fleet." Says Aviva's Caffari, "We were both almost there, but not quite in the Vendée, and we are quite confident this is a good, fun race to do. It's short, sharp and intense. There is no reason why we can't be competitive among the British fleet and in among the others."
"I think the British and Spanish really do want to infiltrate the French dominance. That is going to happen at some time."
And as the Spanish FNOB crews held a relaxed meet-the-press session this afternoon with their pair of immaculately prepared Farr designed 1876 (Yves Parlier and Pachi Revero) and W Hotels (Pepe Ribes and Alex Pella), Ribes commented:
"We have done close to 7,000 miles with the boat though I have to say we are still only at 25% of our potential at the moment, so what we do from now for the next 16 months is important. But for us, this is a race which is for preparation. We are just looking to be in the group when we arrive in the Caribbean. There is a long way to go after that. There is a front coming after which we have to tack, then light airs, another front. So there are a lot of options to be taken in the first 48 hours."
"It is very exciting to be part of this Foundation team with the aim of promoting sailing. I am very lucky to be chosen at the first go.
Until now it has been difficult to show the Spanish people what we do. Now that the Spanish fleet of IMOCA boats is growing then that is easier. There are more opportunities for other teams and I think we will see five or six Spanish boats in the Barcelona World Race. So it is great to be showing now what Spanish sailing can do."