Thursday 30th November at midday local time (0800hrs UTC) more than 30 solo skippers on their IMOCA 60s will start the 3,500nautical miles inaugural Rétour à La Base race from Martinique in the French Antilles across the Atlantic toLorient in Brittany.
The only solo IMOCA race of this 2023 season, the gruelling contest is an important qualifier for next year’s Vendée Globe and comes very hard on the heels of the outward, two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre race to Fort-de France.
And whilst qualification is a key goal for all the racers,it also represents a valuable chance to build solo miles in a tough, racing environment amidst a field which will very much represent that which will take on solo ocean racing’s pinnacle round the world race in just less than oneyear’s time.
As well as the quest for outright victory there will be many ‘races within the race’ between solo skippers with similar generations and designs of IMOCA.
Among them the honours of being first ‘non foiling’ IMOCA will be very hotly contested.
Meantime for the skippers who finished the Transat Jacques Vabre a number of days ago there has been time to recover in the pleasant heat of the Caribbean where the mercury registers a daily 30 deg C.
The local sporting, leisure and visitor attractions of the island are the perfect antidote to the rigours of the outward race. But with the clock ticking down and the next start line beckoning, time management must be optimised. On this idyllic island it would be all too easy to switch off for too long! But for body and mind, rest and recovery are absolutely vital.
A highly anticipated race
And so in just four days the majority of the skippers willset out again, heading towards Lorient. To date, there are 34 competitors setto take part.
Skippers like Charlie Dalin (Macif), Éric Bellion (Stand as One), Paul Meilhat (Biotherm), Yannick Bestaven (Maitre Coq) and Oliver Hee r(Oliver Heer Ocean Racing) who had to abandon the outbound race for different reasons will not be on the starting line. After damage to the bowsprit of his brand new boat the team of Brit Phil Sharp (Oceans Lab) confirmed last week that he will not compete.
Vendée Globe qualification is conditional on participation in a solo transatlantic race and the Rétour à La Base counts towards significantly towards the mile race (which might determine the 40 sailors if the race is oversubscribed). That is the reason that two skippers who did not do the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre race have brough their boats to Martinique to race back, ever popular veteran Jean Le Cam who has a recently launched new boat, Tout commence en Finistère – Armor Lux, and NicolasLunven who has taken over as solo skipper of Holcim – PRB.
All the ingredients are in place
The race for overall honours promises to be fiercely contested. Thomas Ruyant (For People) is out to win a fourth consecutive transatlantic race. Jérémie Beyou (Charal) is looking to improve on a modest race out and is seeking another win. Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa) and Sam Goodchild (For thePlanet) second and third on the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre both now set off on their first solo races with their respective boats, while the wily, highly experienced Sam Davies (Initiatives Cœur) or Germany’s Boris Herrmann (Malizia-Seaexplorer) represent very strong, solid podium contenders.
The race promises to be spectacular. A beautiful start Thursday off the coast of Martinique, a crossing of the Atlantic into the wind and big Atlantic depressions to seek out…or avoid! And there is the unwelcome transition from the Caribbean heat to the winter chill of Northen Europe.
It promises to be a highly engaging contest, not least as it races back into the usually hostile December North Atlantic. Race Direction have set three gates which can be used to neutralise the course and define finishing positions.
While waiting for the big start, all the teams from the boats that have already arrived are busy. Job lists are being followed as quickly but efficiently as possible. Repairs and “little bits and pieces” are ticked off. The sailmakers have been working round the clock. And skippers come to lend a hand or at least check on the work in progress.
But for the skippers the big challenge is the ability to manage fatigue and recover. Between long, restful nights, some have been out kitesurfing, winging, hiking or taking quiet time with family. All are important means to restore the batteries and be as ready as possible for this week’s start.