The fleet of the 40 Mumm 30s left the docks at 06:30 this morning and started the longest race in the history of the Tour de France à la Voile: 240 miles from Paimpol to St-Nazaire. A long trip around Brittany.
The gun fired at 08:30 and the fleet got off to a clear start. The Swiss boat Ville de Genève Carrefour Prévention, skippered by Etienne David and with guest-star Stève Ravussin on board was the first boat to round the windward mark. Dimitri Deruelle's Marseille was second ahead of student boat Force EDC skippered Australia's Simon Sutherland.
Half an hour later, Marseille had to abandon the race after breaking the port shroud. At the show mark, the Swiss were still in the lead. The student team comprising Australians, British and Dutch were still in second position and Rob Greenhalgh's Panther Team GBR had climbed up to third position.
A few hours later, as the fleet was sailing off Morlaix, beating towards Brittany's head in a light southwesterly breeze and against the current, it was difficult to know the positions. The fleet had split up. Some boats had chosen the rhumb line while other have sailed further offshore.
"We had a very good start and everything is fine on board, but it is only the beginning of the race. As we're sailing upwind with a bad visibility, it will be difficult for us too cover the rest of the fleet", commented Swiss skipper Etienne David during the radio chat. "Stève brings serenity on board but he thinks we're a bit slow!" he added.
A lot of the teams have brought on board offshore specialists for this length race around Brittany in tricky waters where good navigation is paramount.
Sill Plein Fruit no.2 Gaël Le Cléac'h, winner of the double-handed Transat Jacques Vabre with Roland Jourdain, is skippered for this leg, on the student boat Jacques Vabre ESC Le Havre. Former around-the world singlehander Isabelle Autissier is back on board Jimmy Pahun's Région Ile de France. Figaro winner Pascal Bidégorry has stepped off for this race but is replaced by another Figaro specialist Jérémie Beyou.
Australia's Nick Moloney is sailing his last race on board Cassis Maugio Carnon. "We had a huge change in the structure of the crew. As I will leave in
St-Nazaire, I really want to finish on a good note. So we have a lot of pressure," said the Aussie sailor.
According to most of the navigators, this race should be long and tricky. Mike Broughton, Panther Team GBR's navigator commented, this morning on the docks: "It will be a tricky night sailing through the Chenal du Four. It will be a vital tactical part of the race. Sailing across Belle-Ile will be tricky as well. The last few miles near St-Nazaire could be very light and therefore allowing a lot of over taking places. It will be a hard, full-on race with little time to rest".
Vendee Globe skipper Marc Thiercelin, on Kenzo, has decided to swap around at the helm for people to get some rest. So will the Royal Thames team: "We'll try to swap around and keep the boat sailing fast", said her young skipper Owen Modral.
Australian student skipper Simon Sutherland was hoping to confirm their good overall results so far: "It is a new experience for us. The team is motivated to sail hard. We'll have to concentrate on the boat speed as we'll have a lot of upwind sailing".
The boats are expected to arrive in St-Nazaire late Tuesday night/ early Wednesday morning.
More photos on page 2...