At 1500hrs GMT (1200hrs local time) on Sunday 30 November 2003, ten Open 60's began the Défi Atlantique transatlantic race in a Northerly 17 knot breeze, which gusted over the Bay of All Saints.
In a regatta style breathtaking start, Virbac (Dick), Wel.Network (Lequin) and AT Racing (Thomson) were lined up perfectly, but just at the gun, VMI (Josse) and PRB (Riou) surged through to leeward in style. All the boats had 1 reef in their mainsails and Solent up for the first reaching leg to the Liverpool cardinal buoy, except for Virbac, flying full mainsail. Places kept changing as the skippers worked hard in the cockpit changing down to staysail and trying to keep boat speed up in the patchy breeze.
It was PRB (Riou) who rounded the first mark in the lead, followed by Virbac (Dick). Then AT Racing (Thomson) and Team Cowes (Moloney) rounded up to the cardinal mark together, Moloney squeezed through first, and then Thomsonfollowed, powering through to leeward and still flying his Solent as they headed up wind to the next mark. A great performance meanwhile from Wel.Network as the young French skipper Benoit Lequin stayed in the front pack and jostled with Ecover (Golding) going round the cardinal.
Ecover (Golding) began to steal a march on the back of the pack having started conservatively, and after a fouled tack by Moloney, which put Team Cowes into irons, Golding showed a superior sailing angle upwind although sailing flatter. The British solo sailing veteran sailed over four boats on this leg, and then got on the tail of AT Racing just 10 boat lengths ahead.
The final inshore mark before the fleet disappeared into the horizon was a 'gateway' 150m off Barra Lighthouse. As they sailed past the Salvador skyscrapers, Virbac (Dick) powered past PRB (Riou) and exactly 57 minutes after the start, the Transat Jacques Vabre winner passed through this final gate to the sound of fireworks from the lighthouse with a 45 second advantage.
After PRB, AT Racing (Thomson) sailed past the Barra Lighthouse 1 minute 42 seconds behind the leading Open 60 Virbac, and 1 minute 23 seconds ahead of Ecover (Golding). Within just the first hour of racing, the positions all through the fleet kept swapping, and at the gateway, the first to last boats were already separated by over 15 minutes.
Ahead of the ten skippers is 4,100m of open ocean as they race non-stop with no outside assistance or routing to La Rochelle, France. The Défi Atlantique course takes the fleet through the unpredictable Doldrums, up the South and North East Trades rounding the Azores High, and then across to the Western coast of France with the North Atlantic low pressure systems and choppy cross seas of the Bay of Biscay. It should take between 18 - 20 days to complete the race - rendez-vous in La Rochelle around the 18 - 20th December for the arrivals…
The first position reports will be on the Défi Atlantique website at 1900hrs GMT, with updates daily at 0700, 1400 and 1900hrs GMT from then on.