Unknown Pleasures : The Vendée-Arctic-Les Sables d'Olonne Starts Today

Kojiro Shiraishi (DMG Mori) Vendée - Arctique - Les Sables d'Olonne
© François Van Malleghem / Imoca

The buzz, the building atmosphere as the solo racers leave the dock - this time bound for northern latitudes - is all the more heightened in this post-lockdown period. Behind the cheery smiles, confident waves the competitive spirit lurks as does the nervous anticipation. The IMOCA skippers are finally re-discovering the pre-race routine.

The course
What’s the programme ? The theoretical course of 3,556 miles (6,585 km) starts off Les Sables d'Olonne at 1530hrs local time (1330hrsTU). The fleet head northwards  for the COI-Unesco1 buoy, located between the south of Iceland and the southern tip of Greenland, in the Irminger Sea. Then, they will charge south to the mark offshore of the Azores where they will have to pass the Institut Pasteur buoy. Then they climb north-eastwards to the finish line off Les Sables-d'Olonne. In essences this big triangle in the North Atlantic should take about ten days.

To limit the dangers racing close to the different coasts is prohibited thanks to the careful use of coastal marks and traffic separation schemes traffic schemes which the solo sailors will leave to starboard on the way out and to port on their return. Ice is clearly visible and tracked in the  the western Arctic region and so Race Direction has delineated a ‘no-go’ ice zone which prohibits the Labrador Sea and the Denmark Strait.

Jacques Caraës, race director: “We know, by choosing course n ° 1, that the fastest boats will get  more wind but they will also have the possibility of setting their routing so they don’t get into the strongest winds. The slower will be spared the harshest conditions. But anyway, I think the conditions are likely to be quite manageable for boats and sailors who are preparing for the Vendée Globe. If we had just gone to the Azores we would not have had the challenges of the north, a unknown area to solo skippers. "

In terms of weather conditions, vigilance is required. At the start the fleet will see 12 to 17 knots of west-southwest wind at the start. But from Sunday, it will get tougher for the race leader with gusts over 25knots and heavy seas (up to 4 meters in the south-west of Ireland). A new depression is then expected in the north and an anticyclone will form in the Azores, care must be taken not to be trapped by the high pressure ridge. Jacques Caraës, race director, nevertheless wants to be reassuring: "The conditions are largely manageable for a course which is designed as preparation for the Vendée Globe".

Not a normal start
After weeks working on weather prep and the reliability of their monohulls, and of course the stress and worry of having had two key transatlantic races cancelled, and indeed concerns that racing might not happen at all this season, these are the moments that skippers have dreamed of during their eight weeks of confinement.Skippers and teams were all tested at the start of the week and locked down with their team bubbles. The IMOCAs left their home dock with no more than four sailors on board and many sat on anchor off Les Sables d’Olonne or in the nearby islands last night.

And from a sporting perspective there is plenty to play for. The three standout favorites are Jérémie Beyou (Charal), Charlie Dalin (Apivia) and Thomas Ruyant (LindkedOut). And then there are those who must cross the finish line to qualify for the Vendée Globe: Isabelle Joschke (MACSF), Kojiro Shiraishi (DMG Mori Global One) and Armel Tripon (L'Occitane en Provence).

Five months before the most famous tour around the world, we couldn't have hoped for a better dress rehearsal!

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