Once more the magic of the Route du Rhum will fill the air, mixing professionals and amateurs on boats that are everything from brand new high tech racing machines to just simply a production model.
"Everything will be permitted in the Route du Rhum,"
envisaged the founder Michel Etevenon, and this is still respected. On the start line some of the greatest names in ocean racing are present, like Ellen MacArthur, Loïck Peyron, Alain Gautier, Roland Jourdain or Mike Golding, but there are also names lesser known who participate to experience the great adventure of solo racing.
The greatest focus will in many cases be on the fast and spectacular 60-foot multi- and monohull classes, but the competition will be just as exciting within all classes. On Saturday 9 November, 41 of the 59 competitors will leave the docks to head out to the start line, 24 of them belonging to other classes than the Open 60-foot IMOCA class.
In the class 2, 50-foot monohulls, there are 9 competitors with a lot of potential. Some boats faithful reproductions of their "big brothers" of the IMOCA measurements, will obviously have a hard time beating the latter when running with the trade winds towards Guadeloupe. Amongst the 50-foot skippers there are two competitors to keep a close eye on. Australian Nick Moloney on Offshore Challenge 1 is, next to Ellen MacArthur, the second "star" of the Offshore Challenge Team. He has an impressive track record, with only a solo crossing missing. His boat has just as impressive a CV, winner of its class in the Around Alone 1998-99 and the Atlantic Alone the same year.
But Moloney will meet tough competition in the young Frenchman Yannick Bestaven on République Dominicaine. Bestaven won the Mini Transat 2001, first over the finish line in both legs. Two transatlantic deliveries, one Round Europe Race and one Fastnet Race, onboard Aquitaine Innovations with Yves Parlier, have added a lot of experience to this young skipper, who was one of the last to sign up for the Route du Rhum.
The two favourites will have to watch out for the two experienced amateurs Luc Coquelin on Florys, who will complete his 13th Atlantic crossing including one previous Route du Rhum, and Bob Escoffier who will be taking part in his third Route du Rhum.
Class 3, 40-45 foot monohulls, are the smallest boats in the fleet. Among the five competitors, look out for Conrad Humphreys and his great looking Syllogic, resembling a small Open 60', with a canting rig and a gybing keel. This technical 40-footer has recently won the Round Britain and Ireland Race, and could overtake some of the bigger boats. Humphreys is the youngest skipper to have ever won the BT global challenge, he has sailed the Whitbread, but has only sailed 8 days solo before this race! Regis Guillemot on Storageteck with his five foot longer boat will be the fiercest opponent. Storageteck is the ex Biotonic on which Jean-Marie Arthaud won the Europe 1 New Man Star 2000.
The class 2, 45-50 foot multihulls, are smaller but almost as impressive as the 60-foot trimarans. In this class there are six trimarans and two catamarans. Frank-Yves Escoffier on Crêpes Whaou and Hervé Cleris on Vaincre la Mucoviscidose are close rivals. Escoffier won his class in the Route du Rhum 1998 and Cleris was second. The latter will cast off on his fourth Route du Rhum. Both will have to look out for the only woman in the class, Anne Caseneuve on yachting-casino.com, with 19 Atlantic crossings to her credit, and the local boy Pascal Quentin with his brand new high tech home-made trimaran E-Sat Tri Sélectif.
Five days before the first start the predictions so far are indicating a fast and wet start in close hauled conditions. Winds are predicted from the West South-West with around 25 knots of speed. The exit out of the English Channel could be pretty rough and bumpy for the 59 solo racers. However the weather is always subject to change and there is a possibility of a window with calmer conditions.
Michel Desjoyeaux left Port La Forêt (Morbihan), at around 11 a.m. on Sunday morning, after carrying out some delamination repairs on his 60-foot trimaran Géant. As well as his qualification run the delivery was taken on in stiff conditions with 25-35 knots of wind in close hauled conditions. The well known French sailor was happy to arrive, "My qualification and the delivery were both done in hard conditions, but at least I know my boat holds!"
He arrived in Saint-Malo in the early hours of Monday morning, at 08.00 the lock gate opened and Desjoyeaux could join his fellow competitors in the Vaubin Basin. With the winner of the last Vendée Globe safe and sound in Saint-Malo, the fleet of 59 is now complete.