Vendee Globe - StartThe Vendee Globe finally got underway on the 9th November but in the lightest of conditions, with the powerful Open 60s running gently away from Les Sables d'Olonne as they and their skippers headed out to their date with destiny in the Southern Ocean.
After the widely-applauded decisions to delay the race, first from Sunday until Tuesday and then again from Tuesday until Thursday at 4.11 pm local time- because of wild weather in the Biscay - the skippers were more than happy to finally get going. The race village, or what was left of it, had had a distinctly anti-climactic feel for much of this week, after the main tents were removed on schedule last Sunday.
The light north-westerly went to the east just before the gun, turning the first two-and-a-half mile passage to an offshore turning mark into a slow dead run, requiring multiple gybes in a heavy leftover swell. The situation was not made easier by the fact that, in addition to the race boats themselves, around 350 spectator craft were roaming freely.
At the gun, one of the first to show was Yves Parlier at the helm of Aquitaine Innovations, who was 15 seconds ahead of the rest of the fleet. Other hot starters were Catherine Chabaud in Whirlpool who finished sixth in the last Vendee, and became the first woman to complete a non-stop round-the-world race. Just behind her in the very same boat that she sailed four years ago, the old yawl-rigged Nord pas du Calais, came Joe Seeton, then Eric Dumont in Euroka and Thomas Coville in Sodebo.
But at the mark, guess who was there first. Yes, the widely-tipped race favourite, 'le professeur' himself, Michel Desjoyeaux in PRB. Two minutes behind him came another potential winner of this 22,000-mile classic, Roland Jourdain in Sill. Britain's Josh Hall in EBP/Gartmore was third at that stage, six minutes behind Jourdain, while Mike Golding in Team Group 4 was making headway through the fleet after slipping into the middle rankings shortly after the start.
For Ellen MacArthur in Kingfisher there was to be no repeat of the dream start she pulled off at the beginning of the single-handed transat, as she got buried behind a group of boats and got away slowly. At the mark she was 12th. But there is a very, very long way to go in this four-yearly marathon and with the breeze forecast to come in from the west and southwest overnight, conditions might favour Kingfisher in the early stages as the skippers head towards Cape Finisterre.
The quality of the boats and the sailors should make this Vendee one of the greatest solo round-the-world races ever. In past races the first three weeks down to the Southern Ocean have proved crucial. This time the skippers have got to pass through a 'media box' off the Canaries on their way south, but the sprint down there should be as thrilling to 'watch' as it will be exhausting to sail. Let's hope no-one gets so far ahead that the race is effectively over by the handbrake turn to the left, off the bottom of South Africa.