The Vendee Globe is now underway with 19 of the 20 skippers entered for the seventh edition of the solo 24, 048 mile, three month circumnavigation race around the world taking to the start line at 1302hrs local time off Les Sables d’Olonne, France today.
A small collision with his support team’s rigid inflatable boat required Bertrand de Broc to return to port even before the start to make a repair to a small puncture in the hull of his IMOCA Open 60 Votre Nom Autour du Monde avec EDM Projets.
Starting in 12-14kts of westerly wind under grey skies with rain threatening there was no quarter given on the start line. With the prospect of a direct, straight line 300 miles course to Finisterre and no real tactical options every early metre gained might be critical. Pushing hard to the line proved to be an expensive early mistake for five skippers who jumped the start gun and had to return and start again. Along with Poland’s Zbigniew Gutkowski on Energa were four French favourites PRB (Vincent Riou), Macif (François Gabart) Groupe Bel (Kito de Pavant) and Armel le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire), all had to turn back and recross the line, the first time that so many boats have been over the start line in a Vendée Globe start.
In fact it was Marc Guillemot on Safran, the peoples’ hero of the last 2008-9 race, who opened the course, forging ahead early in the close reaching conditions. Spain’s Javier ‘Bubi’ Sanso on Acciona 100% Eco Powered, and the youngest skipper in the race 27 year old Louis Burton on Bureau Vallée and Tanguy de Lamotte on Initatives Couer all had their moments of early glory, forming the vanguard of this Vendée Globe fleet as they headed out for the open ocean, progressively shaking off the huge spectator fleet of hundreds of craft of all shapes and sizes.
Perhaps ominously it appeared to be Cheminées Poujoulat, the very powerful new Juan Kouyoumdjian design of Bernard Stamm which steadily climbed through to the front of the fleet, up alongside Safran around one hour after the start gun. British skippers Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss and Mike Golding on Gamesa made safe, solid openings.
When the time comes to consider releasing the dock lines, emotions around the Port Olona pontoons are hard to suppress, even for the hardened skippers who are have been through this farewells process many times before. Leaving his four months old baby son, also named Javier, was visibly a wrench for Spanish skipper Javier ‘Bubi’ Sanso. Samantha Davies was pleased to finally find sanctuary from the intensity of the media and public interest when she skipped lightly aboard Saveol. British skipper Alex Thomson had his Hugo Boss sunglasses on throughout the dock out despite the overcast conditions, hiding his feelings for the final departure.
If these are the challenging personal moments made public, minutes later there is the massive euphoria of the legendary passage down the channel where hundreds of thousands line the walls to bid adieu to the skippers. Among the heartfelt messages painted on bedsheets held up by the crowd that advertise the public spirit of the Vendée Globe this time: ‘You Make Us Dream’ and ‘Who's turn this time?’
Compared with previous races the Vendée Globe skippers this time are looking at a relatively straightforward first 24-36 hours. A fast course to Finisterre will test reaching speed primarily, but with the prospect of some brisk downwind sailing on the Portuguese coast with many manoeuvres, quite a lot of changing sail sizes and intense trimming for speed, skippers will have to carefully manage their own sleep and energy regime as they settle into race mode. By Wednesday there is the prospect of a low pressure system bringing some upwind conditions.
A fast passage to the equator appears to be possible, an essential component of any challenge to break the race course record of 84 days 03 hours 09 minutes set in 2009 by Michel Desjoyeaux.
Bertrand de Broc, FRA, Votre Nom Autor du Monde avec EDM Projets: 'I asked a RIB to help us, so maybe it’s my fault in a way. We asked that RIB to help us turn, the bow, but it caught a wave and then bang! That was 25 minutes before the start. I think it will only take a few hours to fix and if we can, we’ll go back at sea with tonight's tide (editor’s note: 3AM) or in 24 hours. We’ll go as soon as everything has dried out. It’s not that bad, but it will cost us a day… I received a text message from Marc Guillemot, saying: ‘‘One day out of 90 is no big deal. Stay positive!'. I thought that was really nice of him.'
Jean-Piere Dick, FRA, Virbac-Paprec 3: 'You want to think about yourself and to protect yourself throughout the race because you really want to come back and see all these faces again. I’m going to do my best to avoid dangerous situations. But on the other hand, I’ll do my best to do really well in this race. It’s an amazing race and I’m so proud to represent my two sponsors, who are also my friends. I don’t feel pressure to reach particular goals. I’m just happy to be here today. It's all good!
Zbigniew Gutkowski POL, Energia: 'I am a little stressed, but I slept all night. The weather is looking good for everyone, reaching to Cape Finisterre, for me too. For the first 24 hours I just want to be in the fleet. I am not sure if I will have the speed to do that, but I have to check everything in the first hours, just trying to not lose contact with the leaders and after that see what it is going to be like but mostly I just want to be in one piece on the finish line. I did not really have breakfast, just this can of Red Bull at the moment.'
Jérémie Beyou FRA, Maitre Coq: 'I am not going to cry, but it is hard when you have so many friends and family here, sponsors. It is very difficult. I guess the little front will be to the south of us then it might be a bit easier. I want to just to go fast and to make sure we get the best updated forecast for the first night.'
Start of the seventh Vendee Globe. - Vendee Globe
Tanguy de Lamotte, FRA, Initatives Couer: 'I am pretty emotional. It is intense. Today is a big day. I am more confident about the weather and going sailing, that is what I know how to do. But I think there are good conditions for the start, except maybe for the rain, but otherwise it is good. I hope everyone enjoys it. I never felt I would always get here one day, that was all quite quick and I have enjoyed every minute of the project so far since the beginning in January 2012. And now I do what I want to do.
Javier Sanso, ESP, Acciona 100% Eco Powered: 'I just want to get going and to have the stress of racing, not having the stress of before the race. The weather is the same for everybody and it could be a lot worse so I am not complaining. This is a race I have wanted to do since I was a kid, so this is a dream come true.'
Sam Davies, GBR, Saveol: 'I am looking forwards to it, to finally get going. The weather looks good and so we should get a good crossing of Biscay. It is an emotional day but I am so really proud of the whole team and just so pleased to be here.'
Alex Thomson, GBR, Hugo Boss: 'It is always a bit tense when you are leaving. The weather is very simple the wind might be a little left to start but I think most will go straight for the corner, I will just try and do what most other people are doing. It will be a fetch and just get broader as we go. When we get to Finisterre there is a very slim option to go west, but very slim. Then we go from a reach to a run down the coast, a gybe out across a ridge quickly getting into some southerly wind. It could be quite quick to the equator. Simple is good. I think it will be really tough for us, the number of sail changes we are looking and around Finisterre we go inside the traffic separation zone then we have the ships going up and down, it will be very hard work in terms of sleep-wise for all the skippers, so managing that and no getting over-tired. I will just be trying to stay safe and do everything well. I think that in this case if you push too hard in the first day or so you are just going to go slower. So, managing sleep will be important.
I slept well last night and then you wake up this morning and there are people everywhere, it is amazing.'
Mike Golding, GBR, Gamesa: '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.
It is tough, tough for the family and the whole build up is so intense. We have been here for three weeks, the visitors have been coming here in their hundreds of thousands, it's an amazing build up and it is hard not to get caught up in that. The reality is that all the teams now have to turn our 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, we don't want any catastrophes But after a couple of hours, once you are over the start line, you start settling down. You have your first drink, first food and you get your head round the mission ahead.
I got good sleep last night, in my mode. Waking every 20-30 minutes, walking around the room and back to bed. I had a simple breakfast - Cornflakes and fruit, that's it. Just nice light breakfast, you don't want anything too much to start the Vendée.
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4:20 PM Sat 10 Nov 2012GMT
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