The first major ocean race of the COVID era is now less than 24 hours away, and if you’re like us, you’re absolutely frothing to watch boat shaped icons race around on your computer screen. The Vendée – Arctique – Les Sables d’Olonne race – likely to be a one off affair that is never repeated – will begin on 4 July at 15:15 local time in France. For those wishing to follow along back on the west coast of the USA, fire up your computers and tune in live at 6:15 AM on Saturday morning. Live streaming is slated to be broadcast at www.imoca.org, and also live on Youtube as well as live on Facebook. The official race website can be found here and has a nice tracker positioned front and center where it belongs, which will be updating every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day throughout the race.
There’s been a bit of attrition since the fleet was first announced -from 22 down to 20 – as well as an incredible come back story just to get a boat to the starting line. One of the most highly anticipated boats in the fleet – Armel Tripon’s newly launched L’Occitane – hit an unidentified floating object at speed just ten days before race day, leaving a massive hole in the starboard bow.
The first IMOCA designed by Class 40 and Mini sailor and designer Sam Manuard, this new low-foiling, elegant boat was in a race against the clock to reach the starting line. From newly holed to fully repaired and sitting in the water sporting a rather humorous new paint job in just a week, Armel will be on the starting line come tomorrow. An incredible effort by the L’Occitane team and the boat’s builder, Black Pepper Yachts. With foils that almost fully retract for light air and very heavy air benefit and a sexy rounded bow that pushes the class limits and was designed for efficiency in VMG running conditions, L’Occitane could be a real wild card among the fleet.
One of the sailors who bailed on the race at the very last minute is the young Swiss sailor Alan Roura. Expecting the birth of his first child right around the time the leaders are expected to sail back into port, the La Fabrique skipper has opted to stay on shore for this one.
The 20 skippers who are expected to start will be sailing course #1, which takes them from Les Sables d’Olonne up to the mark off of Iceland first; a decision that was reached just a few days before the start once the weather forecast was confirmed. Likely sailing upwind off the start before some very heavy beating and close reaching conditions west of Ireland, the fleet should face it’s biggest test during the first couple of days.
Negotiating a classic North Atlantic low in the first days of the race, it remains to be seen how many skippers opt for boat-preservation mode and how many say ‘fuck it’ and keep their foot firmly in it in an effort to test speed against their rivals and go for the win. After the low passes, there is likely to be quite a bit of light air and there is already talk of a revised course that could even see a virtual way point instituted instead of the final turning mark off the Azores.
The first major race of the COVID era is upon us and many yachts from the fleet will be sailing towards the starting line off Les Sables d’Olonne as you read this. – Ronnie Simpson.