The tenth edition of the ‘mythical’ French Transatlantic solo race, the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe is well underway, and it hasn’t been without its dramas so far.
Within the first 24 hours, there had been 25 incidents and 11 abandonments after gusting winds of 40 knots and big seas, with the worst incident being a collision between Thomas Coville’s Ultime trimaran Sodebo and a cargo ship. Other incidents leading to abandonments included the rescue of a sailor whose boat capsized after losing its keel, a dismasting and a skipper airlifted off his yacht after it was struck by lightning.
Of the 91 skippers who started, just 11 came from countries other than France (there are no US entrants). France’s reputation for having the best solo sailors appears stronger than ever, and its week-long pre-race village in Saint-Malo, attracted more than 2 million passionate visitors.
Thousands of stands captured the essence of the magic of this race, with everything from rum tasting stalls, nautical fashion boutiques, steel bands, interactive areas and skipper meet and greet opportunities.
Run during the school holidays, people of all ages – and from every background, not just sailing, soaked up the buzzy atmosphere.
The attention France gives to its rock-star skippers was equally as impressive, with hundreds of media present and big crowds asking for skipper autographs and pictures.
French Sailing stars including two-time winner Lionel Lemonchois, Loick Peyron, Sidney Gavignet, Yann Guichard, Francois Joyon and Francois Gabart are all competing, and their racing machines were on show for the duration of the week in the race village.
America’s Cup Artemis team helmsman Loick Peyron took over as the skipper of 130ft trimaran Maxi Banque Populaire Solo VII in September after intended helm Armel Le Cleac’h injured his hand. Le Cleac’h is acting as weather router from his computer at home.
The trimaran can reach cruising speeds of 30 knots plus and Peyron has a bike attached to the deck that is connected to the winches to harness the power of his legs instead of his arms.
Five-time world champion Peyron expressed his worries before the race start. “It is 12 years since I have been on a multi sailing solo. I had to think seriously about it before saying yes. It is a massive challenge but I can overcome it.”
The 54-year-old sailor reported a ‘Dantesque’ first night but has been leading the Ultime class ever since. As of Thursday evening UK time, he was 168.3 miles ahead of second-placed Yann Guichard on Spindrift 2. On Wednesday, Peyron reported eating his first hot meal in two and a half days – a French cassoulet stew consumed on the ‘moonlit terrace’ of his trimaran.
While the race has ample sexy, sleek boat porn to ogle during the dash to Caribbean island Guadeloupe, there were plenty of nice things to look at in the race village too.
727 Sailbags, French vendors of bags, clothes and accessories made out of recycled sails, had a very successful week.
Commercial director Julie Tinseau said: “We are very proud to have been at the Route du Rhum race village. The boats were right next to us and there has been a great atmosphere. We have had tens of thousands of customers visit us and discover what we do. People love our designs and the quality and the fact that it is made in France.
“Things are starting to go well in the US for us and we are developing more products like shoes, chairs and things for the home as well as progressing our limited edition ranges.”
The exclusive US importer for 727 Sailbags is San Francisco-based North37 Design.
And all over the attractive old walled city of Saint-Malo, restaurants proudly displayed posters of yachts and skippers alongside themed menus, bars served up rum punch specials and Route du Rhum flags flew while teams soaked up the atmosphere.
And shops had beautiful nautical-themed window displays.
Paul raised more than 20,000 Euros through crowdfunding and now photos of all his ‘co-skippers’ are displayed on the boom – a nice touch.
Hignard, who comes from a boating family, said: “My objective is to have fun, be safe and not have fear. I also want to share my adventure with others, through the pictures on my boat and all the media I will send back.
“I have always been passionate about the sea and navigation and I’ve learnt a lot in a small time. I have progressed and proven I can take on this Transatlantic crossing.”
The record to beat is 7 days, 17 hours 19 minutes and 6 seconds, set by Lionel Lemonchois on the 2006 edition.
Race director Gilles Chiorri said: “This is the biggest event ever in terms of the most amount of visitors and the most amount of skippers.
“It is not looking likely the race record will be broken now, but in terms of the race’s following it is record breaking in terms of the amount of press, social media and visitors to Saint-Malo. It is one of the top five races in the world that pro sailors want to win. And it is the one that really capture’s the public imagination, particularly with all the dramas that occur. That is why it is known as the ‘mythical’ and ‘mysterious’ race in France.”
Follow all the action of the Route du Rhum here. #RDR2014.
Marina is press officer for the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and enjoys living out of a suitcase while traveling as much as possible. She also works as a freelance journalist and is a news addict, London and Sydney lover, trance music aficionado and sports and adventure nut. Her website: https://www.www.marinathomas.com/