A sea mist shrouding the start zone off Les Sables d’Olonne held up the start of the ninth edition of the Vendée Globe, the solo non-stop round the world race, for nearly one hour and 20 minutes.
But for their patience the record-sized 33 boat fleet was rewarded by late autumn sunshine, a near perfect 10-12 knots south easterly breezes and flat seas when the start gun finally sounded at 1420hrs French time, sending the lone 27 men and 6 women skippers off on their 24,296 nautical miles round the world challenge.
For the nervous first timers the added delay ratcheted up the tension on top of a morning of bubbling emotions. In contrast, the super-experienced solo racers grabbed a welcome quiet cat-nap after enduring what almost all reported to be a sleepless final night on land.
When the gun sounded at 1420hrs (French time) Louis Burton on Bureau Vallée 2 broke the start line first. But the third-time Vendée Globe skipper, racing the boat which won in 2016-17 and holds the race record, was notably seconds ahead of the gun.
He is penalised according to the strict race rules, required to halt his race for five hours – stopping racing and resuming from the same point – before 38°40,000N, so just north of Lisbon.
With two to three months of racing ahead, safe prudent starts were otherwise the order of the day. But as the fleet accelerated away from the line, the fast, foiling IMOCAs started to build speed on the flat seas.
It was the newest, least proven boat of the eight new 2020 generation builds to line up in this race – the Juan Kouyoumdjian designed Corum L’Épargne sailed by first-timer Nico Troussel, who set the early pace, at the vanguard of an armada heading due west into a complex first week at sea. Pre-race favourite Jérémie Beyou lay second and Britain’s Sam Davies was fourth on Initiatives Coeur.
As the afternoon wore on and the pace lifted, on the heels of a strengthening breeze, Beyou’s Charal held the lead making 26kts ahead of Charlie Dalin on Apivia in second with Briton Alex Thomson gradually winding up the potent HUGO BOSS after his promised safe, steady start, to lie third at 1600hrs local time.
PONTOON EMOTIONS BLOWN AWAY
Without exception, from rockstar favourites to hard bitten adventurers, the solo racers will be content to be in their preferred element this evening. They are facing a difficult first night at sea with winds over 30kts after midnight tonight when a first front hits. But they are finally unleashed after a week of Covid confinement, the building breeze now requires full focus race mode, and blows away memories of this morning’s emotional dockout from the famous Les Sables d’Olonne pontoon.
With spectators banned from the famous Channel, the pierheads, the docks and the beaches with a vigilant, active police presence, it was a particular, curiously quiet departure on to the ocean.
From – first down the dock – the zen like Armel Tripon who had missed his usual morning meditation and had the longest walk to his jet black scow bowed L’Occitaine.
His purposeful march was followed by simple direct answers. He chose not to have his close friends and family on the pontoon but was loudly applauded by the appreciative technical teams on each boat as he passed.