IMOCA sailors from The Ocean Race 2022-23 set off from St. Malo on 12th Route du Rhum transatlantic race
Four out of the five IMOCAs entered for The Ocean Race 2022-23 are participating in Route du Rhum singlehanded transatlantic race which started from St. Malo France today bound for Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe.
Originally scheduled for Sunday, the race start had to be postponed until Wednesday because of stormy conditions in the English Channel, adding to the pressure on the 138 solo skippers spread across six classes – including 38 in the IMOCA division.
Among that number are the skippers of four of the five teams signed up for The Ocean Race. Three of them are French: Kevin Escoffier on Holcim – PRB; Paul Meilhat of Biotherm Racing; Benjamin Dutreux from GUYOT environnement -Team Europe; and one German, Team Malizia’s Boris Herrmann.
Although Charlie Enright’s 11th Hour Racing Team will not be taking part in the Route du Rhum, the American syndicate does have representation in the form of crewmember Justine Mettraux (SUI) who is racing aboard her own IMOCA, TeamWork.
The four skippers of The Ocean Race boats will be conscious of the need to balance their desire for a good result with the need to avoid sustaining major damage with just two months to go until the start of the fully-crewed around-the-world race.
Biotherm Racing’s skipper Paul Meilhat, who will start his first edition of The Ocean Race this coming January in Alicante, Spain and launched his brand new state-of-the-art IMOCA just two months ago, was supportive of the postponement, given the extreme conditions.
“My boat is new and hasn’t yet been fully fine-tuned. Of course, I was rather apprehensive at the thought of facing such tricky conditions. We could have tacked upwind to Ushant, but the Chenal de Fours in 30 knots of wind at night would have been complicated, before hoping to shelter a bit in the Bay of Biscay.”
Meilhat won the IMOCA class in the last edition of the Route du Rhum in 2018 but said his goal was never to defend his title this time across the Atlantic but rather to gauge the potential of his new boat.
“This Route du Rhum will be my first solo race for four years and the 2018 race. My main goal is of course to finish, but I want to do battle with the others to see what potential Biotherm might have. In spite of not having much preparation, I still want to be up there in the contest. Anything is possible in ocean racing and you can never predict what lies ahead.”
Meanwhile Kevin Escoffier – a two-time competitor in The Ocean Race and part of the winning Dongfeng Race Team in the 2017-18 edition – said he was hoping for a strong performance in the Route du Rhum to kickstart his new Holcim – PRB project which includes challenging fully-crewed for The Ocean Race 2022-23 and racing singlehanded in the 2024 edition of the Vendée Globe.
“I may not be the favourite, like some of the other skippers on new boats, but I want to have a great Route du Rhum and develop a fantastic project over the long term. So I need to finish and push hard whenever possible. If I don’t get in the top five it would be disappointing. I’m not setting off just to watch the others sail away. I am determined to get the best result possible.”
Contrastingly Team Malizia skipper Boris Herrmann – also a first timer in The Ocean Race – said he was not expecting to be competitive in the Route du Rhum – which is the first time he has raced his new Malizia – Seaexplorer IMOCA solo since it was launched in mid-July this year.
“People ask me what my expectations are and I explain that I want to compete as best as possible – but I am not going to be competitive because I don’t know the boat well enough, so I am not really in race mode.
“The goal in the Route du Rhum is to do our best, to give it our all and go all the way. This is an important step forward before heading for Alicante and competing in The Ocean Race. It’s important for the boat to finish in good condition.”
GUYOT environnement – Team Europe’s Benjamin Dutreux said he had experienced mixed feelings about the delay to the start of the race, having been “fully ready and extremely eager to start”.
Having used the extra time since Sunday to pore over the weather files and hone his strategy for the race, Dutreux said he had never felt so well prepared for the start of a race before – a scenario he maintained was due to fantastic hard work from the entire team – and that he was leaving St Malo full of confidence.
“I feel good on my boat, both technically and mentally and on the sports side as well. This delayed start has only made my motivation all the greater”
Meanwhile, 11th Hour Racing Team sailor Justine Mettraux received this message of support from her skipper in The Ocean Race, Charlie Enright and the entire American team.
“Before it gets too crazy over there we just want to say best of luck JuJu. Have a great race and we will see you on the other side. We’ll be pulling for you.”
Weather analysis suggests that, after a potentially tricky opening period of the race when the solo sailors will need to find a fast route through a weather front, conditions for the rest of the course look good for a fast run to Guadeloupe with the IMOCA leaders predicted to finish within 11 days.