Vendee Globe sailors over eager
The 2012-3 Vendee Globe set sail on time at 1302 local (to coincide with going live on national TV in France), the lumpy conditions, chilly November wind of 12 knots with occasional gusts of 20 and a dramatic skyline providing a small taste of what lies in store for the 20 singlehanded competitors over the next three months as they battle their way non-stop around the world.
The start was not without its difficulties. The most dramatic occurred 20 minutes before the gun when Bertrand de Broc's Votre Nom autour du Monde avec EDM Projets (the former BritAir, that finished second in the 2008 Vendee Globe) was holed forward on the port side by the team's RIB, forcing de Broc to return to Port Olona deep within Les Sables d'Olonne harbour to effect repairwork.
"My returning is due to a collision with our team's RIB, although I am slightly responsible for this too," admitted de Broc. "I asked them to come a little closer to the boat to help us manoeuvre. But then a wave came that was a little bigger than the others that propelled the RIB into our side, causing the hole - around 2m back from the bow, a small tear around 30cm long. Stan, the composite expert in my team, had a looked and felt that it was better to return as soon as possible to repair it and leave as soon as possible, the worst case scenario being 24 hours."
According to de Broc Safran's skipper Marc Guillemot sent him a message saying that a day's delay was not much in the scheme of a 90 day long race. "I also received a lot of support and help from friends and other teams. It's obviously a disappointment for the whole team. But, it is relative, it is just a small hole in the boat. It is a small impact, not the end of the world for us. Looking at the weather in 48 hours at Cape Finisterre - I'm not sure that these conditions penalise me much."
At the gun five boats including four race favourites - Banque Populaire, PRB, MACIF, Groupe Bel and Energa were OCS and were forced to return and re-cross, PRB coming out the worst of the five. There was a mix of sail configurations at the start with all three Brits boat - Gamesa, Hugo Boss and Saveol under full mains and staysail (many other boats had a reef in) with Mike Golding leading the trio.
Nosing into the lead 30 minutes into the race was Marc Guillemot's Safran, just ahead of Louis Burton’s Bureau Vallée and Bernard Stamm’s Cheminées Poujoulat.
Just before leaving Guillemot looked forward to the conditions ahead: “We shall be setting off on the starboard tack and we should be able to stay on a long tack like that all the way to Cape Finisterre. After that, it is possible that our route will see us diving south immediately… but I’ll have time to work on that between now and tomorrow evening, when we should be rounding Cape Finisterre. Let’s just say that the first part of the race should see us clocking up some decent speeds.”
This theory of being able to sail on one tack to Cape Finisterre is likely to be confirmed in the next few hours. Backing westerly, the wind forecast to be around 14 to 20 knots should allow them to open up the sails slightly in this first part of the race across the Bay of Biscay. What is important is not getting left behind, as those at the front are likely not to suffer as much in the ridge of high pressure as those further back, with an area of light winds developing off Portugal… which may even lead to the first gaps opening up. “We shall see,” said Marc Guillemot before leaving les Sables d’Olonne, perfectly aware that there will be more than a few weather transitions like this one to deal with in the 80 to 90 days that lie ahead.
However by the time of the first sched at 1600 French time (1400 UTC) it was Bertrand Stamm's Juan K-designed Cheminées Poujoulat that had powered through with Jean-Pierre Dick's Virbac Paprec 3 up to second, ahead of Safran.
Mike Golding and Gamesa were fifth with Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss holding eighth and Sam Davies taking a conservative start on Savéol, in 16th 2.5 miles off the lead.
Speaking just before he left the pontoon, Golding commented: "It looks like pretty good conditions, a little breezy now with threatening skies, but the forecast looks fairly reasonable for the first 24 hours. There is a little depression that comes to us mid week and it looks quite fruity, which might be a bit of a sorting hat for the fleet, but otherwise we should have a good get away. There's a great atmosphere here and I'm now just focusing on the off and getting out of here."
Golding was waved off the dock by a large band of British supporters, which included his wife, Andrea, and nine year old son, Soren. "Does it get any easier to leave my family behind? No, it is such a long trip: you know you are away for three months. It is tough for the family as the whole build up is so intense. We have been here for three weeks, the visitors have been coming in in their hundreds of thousands, it's an amazing sight and it is hard not to get caught up in that emotion.
"The reality now is that all the teams have to turn their attention to the race course, which happens as soon as we are out of the channel. There is always a bit of nerves at the start line, we are very conscious that we are all sailing solo, in a restricted area and we don't want any catastrophies. But after a couple of hours, once I am over the start line, I will start to settle down, have my first drink, first meal and get my head round the mission ahead."
From Hugo Boss photographer Christophe Launay/www.sealaunay.com