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The Rhum Line

by Mark Jardine 31 Oct 2022 12:30 PDT
Route du Rhum 2018 race start © Jean-Marie Liot / Alea

Rhum. The French word for rum, the traditional sailors' drink, and the name of the route for the second most famous solo offshore race held every four years in-between each edition of the Vendée Globe.

Though this is not a rhumb line, which is the path with constant bearing as measured relative to true north. My, do we like to have confusing terminology in sailing...

The massive transatlantic single-handed yacht race takes place between Saint Malo, Brittany, France and Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, with a multitude of competitors in a vast array of craft. This is the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.

From its inception in 1978 it was popular and provided excitement. 38 yachts took part and the finish saw Canadian Michael Birch win by just 98 seconds over Frenchman Michel Malinovsky in a true David versus Goliath battle.

Mike Birch passed away peacefully on the night of the 25th October at the age of 90 at his home in North West France, and all those preparing for this year's Route du Rhum observed a minute's silence for the legendary sailor. The offshore racing community recognise his achievements and how these shaped the future of the race.

There are just five days to the start of the 2022 edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe on 6th November, and yet again this will be a record-breaking edition. 138 solo sailors, fourteen nations represented, seven of the leviathan Ultim trimarans, 37 IMOCAs with many building up their campaigns to the Vendée Globe 2024-25, eight OCEAN 50 trimarans, an incredible 53 Class 40 monohulls, and then an assortment of 'Rhum' monohulls and multihulls make up the rest of the fleet.

The start of this race is extraordinary as the entire fleet, regardless of size or type, set off at the same time. It's an extraordinary sight, and thousands of fans and well-wishers gather at Cap Fréhel to see the sailors off.

In the week building up to the start the sailors have to balance final preparations with media obligations, interviews, and book signings; even getting to their yacht can be hard as the docks are packed with race fans.

IMOCA sailor Romain Attanasio, the skipper of Fortinet-Best Western, sums it up well, "The day just before the start is the worst moment because there is a lot of stress and your soul is already in the race, but you are still here doing lots of different things.

"For me, the best moment is just after the start when you've crossed the line and you can say to yourself: 'so OK, I am a sailor and I will do my best, just sailing and head to Guadeloupe.'"

The Race Village is huge, and the sailors are treated like rock stars, presented on stage to the watching world. In France this is headline news, and the top sailors, such as François Gabart, Armel Le Cléac'h, Thomas Coville, Charles Caudrelier, Charlie Dalin, Yannick Bestaven and Jérémie Beyou (to name but a few) are amongst the biggest sports stars in the country.

At 3,542 nautical miles this is a true offshore test. If conditions are favourable, we could see the latest generation of foiling Ultim trimarans demolish the course in previously unheard-of times. To beat the record, they're going to have to average more than 500 miles a day, but that's not even cruising speed nowadays. Don't forget Banque Populaire V still holds the outright 24-hour record at 907.9 nautical miles, set in 2009, and François Gabart on Macif holds the singlehanded 24-hour record at 850.68 miles, set in 2017. These machines fly... literally, now that they're foiling.

The current Route du Rhum record is held by Francis Joyon at 7 days, 14 hours, 21 minutes and 47 seconds in the last edition of the race held in 2018, after yet another classic. The 62-year-old Joyon on his Ultim IDEC Sport glided across the finish line on a clammy Caribbean night to pip the poster boy of French sailing, François Gabart on MACIF, by just 7 minutes and 8 seconds.

At the finish, Joyon, who was competing in his eighth Route du Rhum, said: "The rum of Guadeloupe is symbolic of the Route du Rhum - what a taste! After so many attempts the taste is all the better for it.

"It was only one-and-a-half minutes before the finish that I realised I could win. Before the last gybe François was faster than me with his Code Zero (sail) and practically all the way to the finish line I had a vision of him steaming in and passing me again because he was going two or three knots quicker."

I am particularly looking forward to the battle in the IMOCA class. There are some superb and outlandish new designs, as I wrote about in IMOCA extremes, which are as close to full-foiling as the class rules lets them be. There are a range of differing approaches taken, so seeing them go head-to-head will be revealing. Will Charal 2's radically angled rudders lift the boat fully out of the water? Will Charlie Dalin's Apivia continue to rule the roost, despite being launched in 2019 and now of a 'previous generation'? I can't wait to find out.

Here in the UK with the nights drawing in, especially now the clocks have gone back an hour, following the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe will be a highlight. Wherever you are in the world, you can follow all the news from the race, in the build-up, during the start on November 6th, and during the race itself, right on and

Let's hope this edition provides the excitement that this race is known for, and that all the sailors, amateur and professional alike, have a safe Atlantic passage.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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