It was a fantastic start - the kind one would expect to find in a textbook! The gentle breeze certainly did not prevent the 13 skippers to put up a fight on the line, and in pure Figaro one-design fashion, bows were aligned and sails perfectly trimmed at the right moment. Sébastien JOSSE's BT took the best start, but French rivals Michel DESJOYEAUX (Foncia), Yann ELIES (Generali), Vincent RIOU (PRB), Armel LE CLÉAC'H (Brit Air) and Marc GUILLEMOT (Safran) were only half a boatlength behind. Handling powerful 60-footers on their own within hearing distance of each other, the sailors displayed great timing and fantastic manoeuvring skills, despite the lack of space at the crowded western end of the line. PEYRON, at first locked behind the first row, managed his way to windward and caught some fresh air before benefiting from a slight shift to the west allowing him to take over the lead from BT, and to eventually cross the the Eddystone Omega race gate in first position! LE CLÉAC'H aboard Brit Air tacked very early and found himself in third place at Eddystone, just 23 seconds behind GUILLEMOT's Safran, proving very fast in the light conditions.
The very choppy sea state generated by the fleet of spectator boats penalised the boats at the back, such as Aviva (Dee CAFFARI), Akena Verandas (Arnaud BOISSIERES) and Roxy (Samantha DAVIES), who seemed to have suffered head sails problems right after the start. Until Land's End, the fleet may have to cope with light patches, and as ELIES predicted two days ago, the first night will be a sleepless one - in fluky conditions, every single puff is crucial and the Open 60s require a lot of fine tuning to make the most of the weak breeze.
The weather situation is somewhat unusual on the North Atlantic at this time of year, and is due to a low pressure system over Spain, gradually filling up, while an "anticyclonic belt" stretches from Madeira to Scotland. Two lows are positioned in the middle of the Atlantic. Sailing downwind for the first days at sea, the 13-boat fleet will have to cope with capricious winds, alternating steady breezes and areas of light airs. A big part of the Atlantic crossing in itself (from Land's End to Newfoundland) should be sailed under spinnaker in moderate winds, and the boats could reach Newfoundland as early as next Monday! But for the last 900 miles, things will be a bit different, with a series of disturbances forming over New York and their associated fronts generating sudden shifts. Skippers can also expect strong rain, variations of temperature, local gusts (sometimes exceeding 30 knots) and temporary light patches. All this, of course, in the middle of a zone where fishing boats traffic is important, where growlers and thick fog can be encountered! According to the routing gurus, a close-fought finale can be expected in Boston...
Speaking from Safran, GUILLEMOT commented, "The advantage is that it will be fast, and not too wet at least in the first days of the race. We'll probably be under spinnaker until the longitude of the Azores. The drawback is that we'll have to helm a lot, because in that type of conditions the skipper is more efficient than the autopilot. After a shift on Monday, the weather situation becomes a bit more tricky. Two to three days after the start, we'll have to deal with a rather complicated zone of light airs, which might force us to go a bit further South than what the direct route would suggest."
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