Route du Rhum preview - Les Ultimes and IMOCA 60s

Thierry Martinez / Sea & Co
We look at developments within and the competing boats racing France's most historic solo oceanic race
This year’s Route du Rhum Destination Guadeloupe is set to be one of the greatest ocean races. The quadrennial singlehanded transat departs St Malo in northern France on Sunday at 1400 local time heading across the north Atlantic bound for Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe 3542 miles away. This year’s race, the 10th since it was first held in 1978, features a diverse fleet of boats from unfeasibly large trimarans such as Banque Populaire and Spindrift 2 in the ‘Ultime’ class, to the nine IMOCA 60s, eleven Multi50s, forty three Class40s and a fascinating assortment of ‘others’ racing the Rhum class, including historic ocean racing yachts or simply others that don’t fit into the other classes. Popular in the Rhum class this time is the re-enactment of the 1978 race when Mike Birch's 35ft (10.7m) trimaran Olympus photo famously shot past Michel Malinowski's 68ft (21m) monohull to claim honours within sight of the line. This time the two metre longer Kriter VIII (which Malinowski raced in the 1982 Route du Rhum), is racing, campaigned by Wilfred Clerton, and will face two Olympus photo yellow trimaran sisterships in Charlie Capelle's A Capella and Jean-Paul Froc's Bilfor-Groupe Berto (a third was to join them in Loick Peyron's Happy). Starting in the height of the European autumn, the Route du Rhum offers the potential for severe weather. In terms of heinous conditions, few past Route du Rhums compare to the 2002 event when only three of the entire 18-strong ORMA contingent made it through, and only one – Marc Guillemot’s Biscuits la Trinitaine – without stopping at least once; the rest either capsizing, dismasting or sustaining structural damage (or all three), marking the most significant nail in the coffin of