At the end of 20 minutes of upwind sailing on the race course, a group of six Open 60s opted for one reef in the mainsail and staysail combination, and took about 500 metres out of those who preferred to keep the Solent up. In this leading group, tightly packed together, the race favourites emerged in this order around the Metzinger marker buoy: Mike GOLDING (GBR) and Dominique WAVRE (SUI) on Ecover, Roland JOURDAIN (FRA) and Ellen MACARTHUR (GBR) on Sill et Veolia, Jean-Pierre DICK (FRA) and Loïck PEYRON (FRA) on Virbac-Paprec, LE CAM and DE PAVANT on Bonduelle. Behind them followed Brian THOMPSON (GBR) and Will OXLEY (GBR) on Skandia, as well as Marc THIERCELIN (FRA) and Eric DROUGLAZET (FRA) on Pro-Form. Sailing upwind, boat speed for the Open 60's was around twelve knots, quite impressive considering the uncomfortable seas. Under a steel grey sky, these colourful wings cut a contrasting picture against the dramatic cliffs off Le Havre.
In the Open 50 class, Kip STONE (USA) and Merf OWEN (GBR) on Artforms came through to lead the fray but were pipped at the Metzinger marker buoy by rivals Joe HARRIS (USA) and Josh HALL (GBR) on Gryphon Solo.
Earlier in the day, Race Director, Jean MAUREL, admitted to being a little nervous in these situations, 'We'd have preferred that the first 24 to 48 hours was calmer to get the sailors settled into the race. So right from the off, they're not going to get much sleep for the next four to five days, the strongest conditions are forecast for Tuesday with gale force winds and a big sea... These are heavy conditions to start off in, the skippers should all be preserving their boats during this time because it is truly boat-breaking weather. All the boats are extremely well prepared, and this kind of weather in November is not unexpected.'
At 1644 GMT last night the top three in the IMOCA Monohull Open 60 fleet were Sill et Veolia, Bonduelle and Virbac-Paprec. With Ecover in fourth, there is only 0.9 nm separating these leading boats just under three hours after the start. All heading west northwest the two Lombard boats have eeked out nearly half a knot more in boat speed as these top four boats pound upwind on port tack at over 14 knots. The next pack are all averaging around 13 knots boat speed, lead by Skandia a mile behind Ecover, tailed closely by Pro-Form and Roxy.
In the Open 50 class, Gryphon Solo is pushing 12.8 knots upwind on a par with the 60's up in the lead of their fleet, but Artforms of course is only 0.5 miles behind in their wake. Third Open 50 Vedettes de Bréhat is a knot slower but only 2.5 miles behind so far.
Saturday afternoon: 15-20 knots from the southwest on the start line. This wind from the southwest is likely to shift towards the south southwest at the end of the day, and build to 20-25 knots then 30 knots off the Contentin headland. The sea state will get rougher around the coastline.
During the first night Saturday/Sunday: the wind will rotate to the south southwest at 20 20-30 knots. This will be quite an irregular breeze. The swell will build continuously as the fleet approaches the mouth of the English Channel.
Sunday: For the monohulls the wind will stay from the south southwest with a very choppy sea state, 4-5 metre waves, the swell from the southwest, as the fleet exit the English Channel.
For the multihulls the start will be rougher than for the monohulls. South southwest wind on the start line from 20-25 knots gusting to 30 knots. The sea nearer to the coast will be manageable. However offshore the sea state will be very rough.
During the night Sunday/Monday the wind is likely to rotate again to the south 15-25 knots, then to the west at the end of the night when the first front passes. The shift to the west will be gradual. The sea will be particularly difficult with the strong southwest swell.
Monday: New rotation to the south southwest West with the winds building from 20-30 knots, then 35- 40 knots at the end of the day. Big swell from the south west.
Tuesday: Passage of a more active front than the first with a violent rotation of the wind to the north west, between 30- 40 knots at the end of the day. A strong southwest swell with breaking wave tops, creating a difficult sea at the passing of the front.
Bernard STAMM (Cheminées Poujoulat): 'We're ready to face the blow which will take us into the English Channel and down to Ushant. The bigger issue is the sea-state, otherwise it is a fairly classic weather forecast for this time of year, which doesn't really afford any great tactical opportunities. We just have to push through and preserve the boat before getting into the Trade winds, which are looking very well established and high up in latitude.'
Mike GOLDING (Ecover): 'We are pretty happy about going upwind in strong conditions, because it is exactly in this kind of weather that the boat excels. This will be our opportunity.'
Jean LE CAM (Bonduelle): 'Of course we'd all prefer to have 15 knots of following breeze than 40 knots on the nose. We have to manage the situation so that we stay up in the lead pack but don't break anything on the boat, and look after ourselves until we get to Cape Finisterre....and then all the way to Bahia ! On days like these, I'm glad I'm not on a multi... !'
Loïck PEYRON (Virbac-Paprec): 'We're going to see some beautiful big seas, that's going to shake us all up for sure, but it's no stress. With Jean-Pierre, we already encountered similar conditions in our qualifier and we can still perform well. The weather forecast is a real eye-opener, with two fronts passing in succession and not necessarily at the same speed. There'll be some tricky navigating ahead.'