Introducing the Route du Rhum

James Boyd gives the insiders guide to this top ocean racing event
59 boats will be taking the start line here in St Malo this weekend as part of the seventh Route du Rhum, singlehanded transatlantic race to Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean. The 60ft trimarans are scheduled to set off on Sunday at 1345 local time with the rest of the fleet on staggered starts from 1335 on Saturday (tomorrow). Here in France the Route du Rhum, the original French ocean race, may have been eclipsed in the public popularity stakes by the more ambitious Vendee Globe, but it is still a massive crowd puller and for a class which has yet to feature a round the world race, it is the pinnacle of the 60ft trimaran circuit's four yearly calendar. At present the scene here in grey, overcast St Malo is awe-inspiring. The old town of St Malo with its high city walls, reminiscent of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, lies to seaward of the Vauban and Duguay Trouin Basins. These are neatly divided in two by the main road leading into the old town and has the class two multihulls and the large monohull fleet in the inner basin and the unprecedented line-up of 60ft trimarans in the outer one. Along the harbour wall and the makeshift marina, there are barriers up from behind which the public can survey the scene and on the rare occasions when one of the better known skippers sticks his or her head above the parapet there are cheers and a clamouring for autographs. Ellen MacArthur carries a marker pen in her back pocket for just such occasions while the UUDS team are buying permawear Oakley sunglasses and Timberland boots for shore crew Alex Sizer so that she can do personal appearances in lieu of skipper Miranda Merron. In fact since we have been here the