With just over 50 days to go until the start of The Artemis Transat on Sunday, 11th May from Sutton Harbour, Plymouth to Boston, 25 solo skippers are currently confirmed for the race. 16 of the world's leading IMOCA 60 sailors, including two previous Vendée Globe winners Michel Desjoyeaux and Vincent Riou, and 9 Class 40 sailors representing four different nationalities.
IMOCA 60 class yacht
Roland Jourdain, skipper of IMOCA 60 Veolia Environnement, unfortunately announced last week that he will no longer be able to compete in The Artemis Transat 2008. Following his dismasting during the double-handed Barcelona World Race and subsequent delays in shipping the boat back to Europe, his boat will not be race ready in time.
There are currently nine boats on the Class 40 entry list. Jean Philippe Saliou will be at the start onboard Akilaria 40, under the colour of Leclerc Ville La Grande. Both Miranda Merron and Patrice Carpentier are pre-registered but are still trying to secure sponsorship funding in order to participate.
The North Atlantic - a perilous place to be. Infamous for its fierce winter storms, the North Atlantic remains a perilous ocean even as summer draws near. Skippers who will race in The Artemis Transat will race headlong into storms that sweep across the Atlantic from the US as Sir Francis Chichester claimed victory in the first race stated: 'It was like trying to reach a doorway with a man in it aiming a hose at you...' The skippers in the 2008 edition of the race can expect two major weather scenarios: the zonal flow and the blocking flow.
The zonal flow, the most likely scenario, is characterised by virulent high pressures coming straight ahead from West Atlantic. This kind of weather obviously makes for very heavy seas and generates winds temporarily gusting to Force 8 to 9 [ADD KM/MPH] on the Beaufort scale. That's exactly what happened in 2004, when the sailors had to face more than 30 knots wind in the English Channel. In the second scenario, the blocking flow consists of a ridge, emanating from the Azores High and making its way north towards Iceland or the British Isles. Depressions and disturbances are then blocked and Atlantic is protected but for the solo skippers periods of calm are just as tiring as it requires 100% dedication to keep the boat moving along in the right direction, searching out the slightest wisp of wind.
The final stage of the race, the arrival on the North America coast, is also shaped by potential race-ending obstacles. The skippers enter the zone where icebergs are frequently spotted. They can be encountered starting from 40° W, and go - in extreme cases - as far south as 38° N (latitude of Lisbon, Portugal) with a maximum concentration in the area located ESE of Newfoundland. Then heavy fog, which appears principally from May to September and caused by the air warmed by the Gulf Stream ending up over the cold waters of Newfoundland, doesn't make the single-hander's life any easier. As the solo skipper races along at speed with zero visibility and the threat of ice all around competing in an involuntary game of Russian roulette.
Having the fastest boat will not be enough to claim victory - the solo sailor must also be navigator and weather expert, scrupulously analysing the weather data in order to choose the most direct route without taking too many inconsiderable risks.
IMOCA 60 Start List
Akena Veranda/ Arnaud Boissieres (FRA)
Artemis/ Jonny Malbon (UK)
Aviva/ Dee Caffari (UK)
Brit Air/ Armel Le Cleac'h (FRA)
BT/ Sébastien Josse (FRA)
Ecover/ Mike Golding (UK)
Foncia / Michel Desjoyeaux (FRA)
Pakea Bizkaia 2009/ Unai Basurko (BASQ)
Pindar/ Brian Thompson (UK)
PRB/ Vincent Riou (FRA)
Roxy/ Samantha Davies (UK)
Generali/ Yann Elies (FRA)
Cervin EnR/ Yannick Bestaven (FRA)
Gitana Eighty/ Loick Peyron (FRA)
Groupe Bel/ Kito de Pavant (FRA)
Safran/ Marc Guillemot (FRA)
Class 40 Start List
Appart'City/ Yvan Noblet (FRA)
Custo Pol/ Halvard Mabire (FRA)
Fujifilm/ Alex Bennett (UK)
Groupe Partouche/ Christophe Coatnoan (FRA)
Leclerc Ville la Grande/ Jean-Philippe Saliou (FRA)
Louis Duc (FRA)
Mistral Loisirs-Elior/ Thierry Bouchard (FRA)
Prevoir VIE/ Benoit Parnaudeau (FRA)
Telecom Italia/ Giovani Soldini (ITA)
The oldest solo race in history provides an incredibly rich history - here is a potted history of the two first races in 1960 and 1964
Gipsy Moth IV
The start of it all - 1960.
Fifty declarations of intent were received by the organisers but in the end only five boats crossed the start line off Plymouth, and remarkably all five reached New York on the other side. These sailors were the pioneers of the solo sailing scene and their vessels and tools were basic. Self-steering gear was in its most basic homemade form, roller-reefing sails were just a dream and there were no satellite navigation systems just hand-held compasses and sextants.
These five yachtsmen took very different options, with Blondie Hasler (Jester 25ft) opting for an extreme Northern route, Francis Chichester (Gipsy Moth III 40ft) and David Lewis (Cardinal Vertue 25ft) on the Great Circle route and Val Howells (Eira 25ft) and Jean Lacombe (Cap Horn 21.5ft) on the Azores route.
Little was heard from the competitors during the race and fears grew for their safety but, finally, Chichester arrived 40 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes after leaving Plymouth. 'Every time I tried to point Gypsy Moth at New York the wind blew dead on the nose,' said Chichester. 'It was like trying to reach a doorway with a man in it aiming a hose at you. It was much tougher than I thought.'
Hasler reached New York in 48 days but second place was no disappointment. He had proved that his self-steering system was more than efficient to handle the 25ft Jester with a single Chinese lugsail on an unstayed mast, and claimed he had only had to take the tiller for one hour of the entire journey. Jean Lacombe was the final skipper to arrive after 74 days!
A legend is born - 1964.
Eric Tabarly won the Observer Transatlantic Race (OSTAR)in 1964 on Pen Duick II, crossing in 27 days.
The second OSTAR in 1964 was the launch pad for one the most influential figures in the history of single-handed sailing, the development of sailing as a sport in France and in offshore race boat design. In 1960 Francis Chichester had managed the crossing in 40 days, then 32 year-old French naval lieutenant Eric Tabarly won the 1964 race taking just 27 days aboard his 44ft ketch Pen Duick II.
Publicity from the first OSTAR turned the second race into a media circus with a number of the 15 competitors signed up by national newspapers. Tabarly, the only Frenchman in the race, was the sailor's favourite for the race with the advantage of sailing the largest boat and the only one purpose-built for the event. He had also carried out an in depth study of the weather and physically was very fit.
Arriving in Newport, Rhode Island he had no prior knowledge of his win - he had not used his radio during the race - and almost as a passing comment let slip that his self-steering system had only worked for the first 8 days of the 27 days it took him to complete the course. At a depressed time in France, Tabarly became an overnight hero and for his endeavour was presented with his country's highest honour, the Legion d'Honneur by President de Gaulle. France's love affair with solo offshore racing had just begun.