Breezy Tour de Belle-Ile
The Tour de Belle-Ile, France's equivalent of the UK's Round the Island Race, was won on the water by Alain Gautier and his ORMA 60 trimaran Sensation Ocean in a time of 2 hours 9 minutes and 9 seconds, while monohull line honours went to Armel Tripon and his new IMOCA 60 Imagine (ex-Groupe Bel).
517 boats were registered to take part in this year's seventh edition of the Tour de Belle-Ile, but given the forecast the organisers decided that the smaller boats should remain in port and only permitted 435 to set sail and on a shorter course of 39 miles instead of 42.
The start was postponed for an hour as a squall passed through and after a delay of a little over an hour the gun went at 11:18 with a WSwerly wind of 25 knots, the monohull fleet setting sail to port of the race committee boat, the multihulls to starboard of it.
On starboard tack, with one reef in the mainsail, Alain Gautier's Sensation Ocean quickly took the lead, followed by Yves Le Blévec's Multi50 trimaran Actual, and soon after the start grey clouds gave away to the first rays of sunshine, providing some welcome warmth for the competitors.
Sensation Ocean continues to extend her lead, reaching les Poulains in just over an hour before reaching along the back of Belle Ile at 30-35 knots towards les Galères and heading back towards Teignouse where she crosses the monohull fleet still heading upwind in the opposite direction.
"It was the most amazing Tour de Belle-Ile," commenting Alain Gautier afterwards, with a big smile. "We literally threaded our way through the monohull fleet, at 25-30 knots trying to find a place among them as they came towards us at 8 knots. The crew will remember that for a long time!"
It is finally at 13:27:09 after a 2 hours 9 minutes and 9 seconds express passage, Sensation Ocean reached the finish to take line honours, having completed the course at an average speed of 18.14 knots, 9 minutes and 15 seconds ahead of Actual.
On the day of her baptism, it was Imagine, the new IMOCA 60 of former Mini Transat winner and Figaro sailor Armel Tripon, that was first monohull home in a time of 3 hours 53 minutes and 18 seconds, to the delight of her skipper. Imagine was followed by Nicolas Groleau's Mach 45 Alternative Sailing and Sébastien Rogues' Mach 40 GDF Suez, both crews enjoying the big conditions.
Alain Gautier commented: "I would like to extend a big congratulations to the race committee and the organisation, because it was not easy to start the race with roughly 500 crews in these kind of conditions. In the world in which we live, with more and more restrictions and rules, they had the courage to take this decision and I congratulate them! The race was a great pleasure, especially for those on board. People do not think too much about what these conditions are like on such a boat- it was tense! These machines in these conditions, it is not easy, not even for us pros, as we know trimarans can capsize - I know all about that! So I'm happy with the win, but especially with given the conditions we encountered, not having broken the boat and to be back with the crew safe and sound. I am happy to finish. If we are also first - it's perfect!"
Yves Le Blévec added: "It was great that when we left, the sky completely cleared and we ended up having beautiful light throughout the race. Otherwise, as expected, we had strong wind, 25 knots for us and it was really fast. The tiny regret is that we couldn't overtake our friend Alain Gautier who was ahead of us, but 60 feet against 50, we could not do anything. I think we performed well, we attacked without take risks, so I'm really happy. I will return next year with great pleasure as since I first did it in 2009 I've always loved the Tour de Belle-Ile."
Armel Tripon: "A first race and a first win for Imagine. We wanted to see how the boat performed in rough conditions... We had a light start and then gradually built our lead - we had a great time. The boat performs very well, it is very easy on the helm, a real pleasure. In the end, between christening of the boat and the race, it's been an emotional weekend for me. I am pleased to have experienced it all here at La Trinité on the Tour de Belle-Ile."