by Soazig Guého
They’re off! The journey that is the seventh Vendée Globe could not have got off to a better start for Safran: at 13h32, after the first half hour of racing, Marc Guillemot was leading the way. A twelve-knot south-westerly wind, choppy seas, with showers passing over in grey skies, mist and with hundreds of accompanying boats… that was the scene at the start of this seventh Vendée Globe, which took place on Saturday 10th November at 1302hrs CET (1202hrs GMT) off les Sables d’Olonne.
Start of the seventh Vendee Globe.
A lively start, not because of the weather conditions, but because the skippers were clearly impatient to get away. No fewer than five boats (Banque Populaire, PRB, Macif, Groupe Bel and Energa) crossed the line too soon. They were called back by the Race Committee and had to set off again, leaving them a few lengths behind.
Marc Guillemot took things rather more cautiously and got underway at just the right moment. After thirty minutes of racing, Safran was clearly in front, ahead of Louis Burton’s Bureau Vallée and Bernard Stamm’s Cheminées Poujoulat. There were in fact only 19 boats competing in these first few moments of the race, as unfortunately some damage had already been sustained by Bertrand de Broc (the hull was holed when the boat was hit by a RIB 20 minutes before the start). Votre nom autour du monde was therefore forced to return to the port of les Sables d’Olonne, the only stop that is allowed in this round the world race, to carry out repairs.
A few hours earlier this morning, there was the farewell to the team and close friends and family on the pontoon, a tradition that Marc Guillemot respected to the letter. The skipper of Safran said that he was 'at the same time feeling tense, focused, happy and serene.' With a big smile on his face, and happy to joke with journalists and the other skippers that came to say hello, Marc Guillemot cast off in a warm, friendly atmosphere, before making his way out of the famous harbour entrance channel, which was lined by tens of thousands of spectators.
Just before leaving the pontoon, Marc told us, 'We shall be setting off on the starboard tack, in other words with the wind coming from the right, and we should be able to stay on a long tack like that all the way to Cape Finisterre. After that, it is possible that our route will see us diving south immediately… but I’ll have time to work on that between now and tomorrow evening, when we should be rounding Cape Finisterre. Let’s just say that the first part of the race should see us clocking up some decent speeds.'
This theory of being able to sail on one tack to Cape Finisterre is likely to be confirmed in the next few hours. Backing westerly, the wind forecast to be around 14 to 20 knots should allow them to open up the sails slightly in this first part of the race across the Bay of Biscay. What is important is not getting left behind, as those at the front are likely not to suffer as much in the ridge of high pressure as those further back, with an area of light winds developing off Portugal… which may even lead to the first gaps opening up. 'We shall see,' said Marc Guillemot before leaving les Sables d’Olonne, perfectly aware that there will be more than a few weather transitions like this one to deal with in the 80 to 90 days that lie ahead.
After 45 minutes of racing, Marc decided to take in a reef in the mainsail on Safran, indicating that the wind had freshened a little for the frontrunners. Already the number of accompanying boats had started to drop off and the horizon was clear in front of their bows. In brightening conditions, Safran was leading the fleet, doing battle with Bernard Stamm.
Vendee Globe website