Despite the heavy grey clouds over the Breton coast, the port of Saint-Malo has now been transformed into a mighty sight.
The 2002 Route du Rhum participants have been assembled since the deadline last Thursday at midnight. This means 17 of the 18 participating 60-foot Orma trimarans, 17 60-foot Imoca monohulls, and more than 20 mono- and multihulls in class 2 and 3 are moored in the Dugay-Trouvin and the Vauban basin.
The 59 participating boats will go through final scrutineering and measurement during the week, the competitors will make their final preparations and check their opposition and hopefully have time to enjoy the great atmosphere in the race village of Saint-Malo. The docks are already full of enthusiasts and curious visitors admiring the tremendous racing machines mingling with smaller amateur yachts. The race organisers are expecting more than one million people to visit the race village and stroll along the docks during the coming week, before the starts on Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 November.
Michel Desjoyeaux discovered some delamination problems after his qualification run last week and is repairing his 60-foot trimaran, Géant, in Port La Foret. The repair work is expected to take a few days and Desjoyeaux will arrive in Saint-Malo early next week.
Canadian Mike Birch has completed his 1000 mile qualification run and arrived in Saint-Malo today, right on time for his seventy first birthday. Young Swiss Nicolas Peitrequin and his 60-foot monohull, Un autre regard is on its way and will arrive later on today.
The Michel Etevenon Prize
The founder of the Route du Rhum, Michel Etevenon, applied every ounce of his creativity and passion creating an event becoming one of the most adventurous and mythical yacht races, the highest dream for many sailors. This year's edition is the first edition Michel Etevon will be absent from, passing away two years ago. His spirit will always be present and a special "Michel Etevenon" prize will be distributed to the skipper who has best represented the spirit of how Michel Etevenon created the Route du Rhum. To whom the prize of 10 000 Euros will be distributed will be decided on 12 December in Paris by a jury of eight members, Jean-Louis Fabry, Pascal Herold, Pierre Jacquet, Pierre-Louis Castelli, Gilles Pernet, Georges Pernoud, Laurent Guechot, Philippe Facque.
The majority of the participants are French as expected, but there are a dozen foreign competitors from the UK, Australia, Canada, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium adding spice to the competition. From the UK, the force of four strong skippers will all give the French armada a tough run for their money;
Ellen MacArthur does not really need further presentation. In 1998, at the age of 22, she won the Route du Rhum in her class (50-foot monohull) and was fifth overall. In 2000/2001 she was second in the Vendée Globe, solo race round the world and she won the Europe 1 New Man Star 2000. She was voted Yachtsman of the year 1998. The list goes on. In this year's Route du Rhum Ellen will race on her successful 60-footer Kingfisher, which will be the last time she races on this boat.
Mike Golding is one of Ellen's toughest rivals in the 60-foot IMOCA monohull class. This Brit has already sailed four times around the world, one of which he was 7th in the last Vendée Globe. He will sail his powerful Ecover, which he competed with in the Vendée Globe and came second with in the Transat Jacques Vabre 2001.
Miranda Merron is one of the Route du Rhum's four participating women. She is also skippering a 60-foot IMOCA monohull, Un Univers des Services. Miranda has a long track record of sailing and racing, but this will be her first solo race.
Conrad Humphreys is the youngest skipper to have ever won the BT Challenge, a circumnavigation in a westerly direction, against the prevailing winds and currents (2001). He has a great amount of sailing experience, but the Route du Rhum will be his first single-handed crossing. His ultimate goal is to race the next Vendée Globe 2004. Conrad will compete on a 40-foot monohull, Syllogic, one of the most high tech boats in class 3.
Almost considered a Brit, but originally from Australia, Nick Moloney is, like Ellen MacArthur, part of the Offshore Challenges team. This 34 year old Australian has a long track record with two America's Cups, one Whitbread, record breaking speeds on PlayStation, and now most recently the only non-French crewman onboard Orange setting a new record for the Jules Verne Trophy. With a clear goal to do the Vendée Globe 2004, the Route du Rhum is a first and a great training occasion. Nick Moloney and his boat Offshore Challenges 1 are strong favourites in the 50-foot monohull class.
In the Anglophone group there is also Mike Birch, legendary for this race. This 71 year old Canadian is the only skipper to have entered every edition of the Route du Rhum since the start 1978. The first edition he won on his tiny trimaran Olympus Photo. Mike Birch will be competing in the 60-foot IMOCA monohull class with ex-UUNET, the boat which Philippe Monnet beat the record around the world the "wrong way" 2001.
Amongst the non-French participants, but French speaking, there are: Yvan Bourgnon on Rexona Men, Stève Ravussin on Techno Marine, Dominique Wavre on Temenos, and Nicolas Pietrequin on Un Autre Regard, all four from Switzerland. From Belgium Patrick de Radigues on Garnier is competing in the 60-foot IMOCA class.