After more than 48 hours of postponement, the first offshore race of the Tour de France à la Voile 2002 has started on Wednesday afternoon.
The boats left the docks at 15:00. The gun fired at 17:00 only to see a general recall.
The second start at 17:15, under flag Z, was a good start and no boat had a premature start. It was Vendee Globe skipper Marc Thiercelin on board Kenzo who perhaps understandably got off to the best start in still strong westerly breeze of 25-30 knots and humid conditions as it was pouring with rain.
This first offshore race is going to be a long and tough one: 187-mile race in upwind conditions. It is also a critical one as it is a co-efficient 3,5 leg.
After a long wait on shore, most of the crews were relieved to find out during the skippers briefing at noon, that the weather conditions had improved and that the race committee had decided to start a race to Cherbourg at 17:00.
Though it was a short notice as they only had a couple of hours to get ready, their motivation was high.
"We're really excited. A 3.5 coefficient is nearly the equivalent of 4 inshore races," commented Duncan MacDonald of Panther Team GBR. "So we're ready to get back in a better position as we've been really disappointed with our results so far",
"This new course is not much different to the one to Dieppe - it is just a bit longer," added his skipper Rob Greenhalgh. "Some bit will be very tactical."
"The first part to Cape Gris-Nez will be very important and then again from Boulogne to Antifer, there will be enough room for the race to be tactical with the wind direction", explained British Sam Stephens, navigator on board student boat Force EDC.
A lot of the professional teams have on board many experienced offshore sailors. Région Ile de France's Jimmy Pahun have several singlehanded Figaro specialists such as Pascal Bidégorry, who won in the effective world championship of singlehanded offshore racing in 2000 as well as Erwan Tabarly and Nicolas Troussel.
Marc Thiercelin has asked Eric Drouglazet, winner of the Solitaire du Figaro 2001, to do the navigation, while Bernard Mallaret, skipper of Cassis-Mauguio Carnon, welcomed onboard Aussie Nick Moloney who hasn¹t stopped sailing since he got back from the Jules Verne with Bruno Peyron on board Orange. "I'm very excited as it's my first time on the Tour de France à la Voile and first time in a Mumm 30. It's quite interesting, as I don't know anybody on board. But it looks like it's a great team. These guys have a lot of experience", said Nick Moloney.
"The race itself is the greatest one-design race that exists. There is more and more interest in Australia. Volvo Ocean Race and America's Cup teams are looking at this event as a good way for team building and testing logistics. Everybody throughout the world wants to be a part of it", added the Australian sailor who plans to take part in the next Vendee Globe and is already entered in November's Route du Rhum in an Open 50.
The next few days will tough for the competitors of this 25th Tour de France à la Voile. The boats are expected to arrive in Cherbourg early Friday morning and will leave again Friday night at 20:30 to continue on to Paimpol.
More of Jean-Marie Liot's photos on page 2...