Today I think back to 4 years ago when I was on the start line of the Route du Rhum. After the buzz of the race village, emotions of kissing loved one’s goodbye and the start delay, I am sure skippers of each boat are raring to go on and focused on crossing that line safely and heading to the open ocean and the Atlantic.
One aspect of the Route du Rhum that adds to its legend is the variable conditions felt as the skippers traverse the Atlantic Ocean. Starting from St Malo, in the Channel at the start of November, the first days of the race are almost always dominated by brutal low-pressure systems bringing fierce winds, rough seas and more rain than an English summer.
The start today looks to have around 15-20 knots of wind from the west, meaning the boats will be sailing upwind initially. There will be some residual swell left over from the front that delayed Sunday’s start, but the conditions are much more favourable than they were two days ago!
As the sailors approach the western tip of Brittany the sea state will worsen, making life more difficult onboard. Thursday will bring the first big tactical decision – north or south of the Traffic Separation Scheme (An excluded area the skippers can’t enter) off Ouesant, north-western France. Head north and commit yourself to the more western route and you’ll quickly be met by a front sat between the Azores and Ireland. This will bring more strong wind and waves, but once the boats navigate through, the wind direction will be much more favourable for heading south fast.
Choose the southern route and protect yourself and your boat from the worst of the conditions, but in order to make the move south towards the trade winds, the skippers will have to deal with upwind conditions for longer meaning more manoeuvres – something that isn’t easy to do alone.
Essentially, the closer the boats get to the front, the worse the conditions will be. The skippers will have to weigh up a number of things here like their ability and the knowledge of their boat, and how much they believe their boat can deal with. We may see some of the newer boats taking a more cautious route here – they’re better off finishing the race and getting more miles under them than they are pushing early on and having to retire.
It’s still early days, and the picture is developing fast. Currently, there’s no one obvious route to get south to the trades, and early on the skippers will have to make a call that could make or break their race.
The delay from Sunday will have affected each skipper in a different way. The race village closed on Sunday and so the teams have not had to contend with visitors and sponsors, giving them some freedom to take things a little easier and clear their minds ready for the start. The ability to adapt and change is essential in this sport, and each of these skippers will have dealt with similar setbacks in the past. Come start time today, they will all the raring and ready to go.
The race starts at 1415 local time (1315 UK time) and there will be coverage on the Route du Rhum social channels, with a live stream from 1325 local time (1225 UK time). The start is particularly interesting to watch because all 138 boats across the 6 fleets share the same line, which is an incredible spectacle.