Every vantage point along the canal from the haven of Les Sables d'Olonne port to the sea was jammed deep with tens of thousands of well wishers as the sixth edition of the singlehanded, round the world Vendée Globe race began.
There were tears on the dockside as lines were slipped, dozens and dozens of messages along the long stretch of sea walls that funnel the record sized fleet to sea - some simple direct and personal to the generic 'Yes We Can. It was everything that makes the Vendée Globe a truly unique experience. More than 300,000 people bid the 30 skippers on their way.
The record sized fleet of 30 boats answered the start gun at 13:02 local time (12:02 UTC) under grey, threatening skies with an awkward swell and 13-18 knots of breeze, with the knowledge that winds of up to 45 knots await them.
Mike GOLDING (GBR) on Ecover crossed the start line too early for the opening of his third Vendée Globe and the British skipper had to restart and found himself playing catch up. Looking ahead to the start, GOLDING said he still felt the same nervous tension despite this being his third time competing in the race, "You can't help but feeling like a condemned man walking down the dock as everyone's being so nice to you. But it's an extraordinary feeling here in Les Sables d'Olonne. I was up quite early and looking out over the beach the cars were already parking up to watch the start, it's just an extraordinary atmosphere. I think it is amazing, it's amazing to see sailing with such a high profile with such a lot of strong support from the public."
Michel DESJOYEAUX (FRA) on Foncia, considered one of the favourites, was also slow off the start line. Both were no doubt equally frustrated, but while the magnitude of the fleet and the early pace, is that of an inshore regatta, they have more than 26,000 miles and some three months to catch up.
Dee CAFFARI (GBR), setting out on her first solo round the world race, made a solid, simple well timed start on Aviva and was up with the leading group through the first hour of the race, while Seb JOSSE (FRA) on BT was calculated as the early leader on the first of hundreds of official race standings, pegged level with Marc GUILLEMOT (FRA) on Safran.
The two Swiss skippers Dominic WAVRE on Temenos and VELUX 5 OCEANS race winner Bernard STAMM on Cheminées Poujoulat were alongside each other until WAVRE had to take the tough decision to inform the race office just two hours after the start that he was returning to Les Sables d'Olonne with a problem with his electrical charging system.
Steve WHITE (GBR), skipper of Toe in the Water, worked late into his last night and was still frantically stowing equipment as CAFFARI lead off the dock a two hour long Open 60 dock out procession. "I didn't get to bed until 2am because we were still fiddling around down here,"
WHITE explained. "I had to sort out all my spares and bits of pieces, but I slept like a log! It was quite bizarre to be waved through the streets by a policeman, through all the roadblocks. I'm probably exhausted so for the first few hours I need to just point the boat wherever it's pointing at, and get a couple of hours kip I think, and then I'll be good to go!"
On the early showings Alex THOMSON (GBR) had put his three weeks of stress and problems behind him on Hugo Boss and was up in seventh place, while Brian THOMPSON (GBR) on Bahrain Team Pindar lay 12th with CAFFARI 13th.
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