Artemis Transat underway from Plymouth

Fleet at the start - The Artemis Transat 2008
Sébastien Josse's BT took the best start of The Artemis Transat with French rivals Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia), Yann Elies (Generali), Vincent Riou (PRB), Armel Le Cléac'h (Brit Air) and Marc Guillemot (Safran) were only half a boat length behind. But, at the Eddystone Omega race gate Loick Peyron (Gitana Eighty) took over the lead.

The start of The Artemis Transat on Sunday was watched by 1,000 spectator boats. Heading off towards Eddystone - first race gate of the course - at nine knots of boats speed, the skippers fought a close battle as soon as the gun went off... Peyron was the first skipper at the Eddystone Omega race gate, and will be presented with an Omega Seamaster timepiece. But for now, there is an ocean to cross, and the first night at sea might prove tricky.

It was a fantastic start - the kind one would expect to find in a textbook! The gentle breeze certainly did not prevent the 13 skippers putting up a fight on the line, and in pure Figaro one-design fashion, bows were aligned and sails perfectly trimmed at the right moment.

Handling powerful 60-footers on their own within hearing distance of each other, the sailors displayed great timing and fantastic maoeuvring skills, despite the lack of space at the crowded western end of the line. Peyron, at first locked behind the first row, managed his way to windward and caught some fresh air before benefiting from a slight shift to the west allowing him to take over the lead from BT, and to eventually cross the the Eddystone Omega race gate in first position!

Armel Le Cléac'h aboard Brit Air tacked very early and found himself in third place at Eddystone, just 23 seconds behind Marc Guillemot's Safran, proving very fast in the light conditions. The very choppy sea state generated by the fleet of spectator boats penalised the boats at the back, such as Aviva (Dee Caffari), Akena Verandas (Arnaud Boissieres) and Roxy (Samantha Davies), who seemed to have suffered head sails problems right after the start.

Until Land's End, the fleet may have to cope with light patches, and as Yann Elies predicted two days ago, the first night will be a sleepless one - in fluky conditions, every single puff is crucial and the Open 60s require a lot of fine tuning to make the most of the weak breeze.

Eddystone Omega race gate ranking
1- Gitana Eighty at 15:16:17
2- Safran at 15:19:23
3- Brit Air at 15:19:46
4- BT at 15:21:01
5- Foncia at 15:21:44
6- Generali at 15:26:58
7- PRB at 15:28:59
8- Roxy at 15:51:21
9- Cervin EnR at 15:51:21
10- Aviva at 16:09:58

Five of the 14 IMOCA 60 boats at the start - The Artemis Transat 2008
The weather situation is somewhat unusual on the North Atlantic at this time of year, and is due to a low pressure system over Spain, gradually filling up, while an 'anticyclonic belt' stretches from Madeira to Scotland. Two lows are positioned in the middle of the Atlantic. Sailing downwind for the first days at sea, the 13-boat fleet will have to cope with capricious winds, alternating steady breezes and areas of light airs.

A big part of the Atlantic crossing in itself (from Land's End to Newfoundland) should be sailed under spinnaker in moderate winds, and the boats could reach Newfoundland as early as Monday week! But for the last 900 miles, things will be a bit different, with a series of disturbances forming over New York and their associated fronts generating sudden shifts.

Skippers can also expect strong rain, variations of temperature, local gusts (sometimes exceeding 30 knots) and temporary light patches. All this, of course, in the middle of a zone where fishing boats traffic is important, where growlers and thick fog can be encountered! According to the routing gurus, a close-fought finale can be expected in Boston.

Weather forecast by MeteoStrategy

Monday 12 May- 12:00 GMT
ESE 7 to 12 knots decreasing and shifting slowly North 2 to 7 knots.

Wind is picking up N 10/15kt in the evening. For the following night, the wind is expected to decrease once more and to shift ENE 7 to 12 knots tomorrow morning. Monday, wind will be from sector East to North-East around 10kt.

Outlook for next 24 hours: Moderate easterly conditions

IMOCA 60 and Class 40 fleets at the start, with some of the 1000 spectator boats that accompanied the fleet - The Artemis Transat 2008

IMOCA 60 fleet at the start - The Artemis Transat 2008