Gitana X qualifying passage ...
At 13h30 French time (11h30Gmt) Tuesday 17th September 2002, Gitana X left her home port of Trinité-sur-Mer (Atlantic) and, for the first time, with just one person aboard, her skipper Lionel Lemonchois. This is the qualifying passage for La Route du Rhum.

A single-handed race like the Rhum, requires the skippers to be perfectly in sync with their boats. Irrespective of the experience they may have, they have to prove that they are capable of handling the boat with which they are to race in all sorts of weather and on all points of sail. And that they can do so within the limits of the safety regulations.
So, taking into account the weather and the period of year selected, the organisers of La Route du Rhum indicate specific points which the skipper absolutely must respect in order to validate his 1000 mile long minimum qualifying passage (1852 km).

Compulsory course

For Lionel, the first point to reach lies some 420 miles (814 km) to the western tip of Brittany. North-west winds of 20/25 knots (37/46 km/h) generated by an area of high pressure are forecast and Gitana X will be sailing her first leg downwind with the wind blowing from the right. "These are good conditions for my first ocean sail. And the way it's shaping up now, there's a strong chance that I will sail the whole course with winds ¾ astern. That's just what I need to see how she weighs up" , pointed out Lionel this morning before casting off.
Ashore, his weather assistant Richard Silvani confirmed: "When he gets to the first point, he'll probably keep going a little longer to the west before putting some south in the heading. That's to stay away form a low which is heading up north from Portugal. So Gitana X will have what are pretty much perfect conditions throughout".
After the checkpoint off the coast of Brittany, Lionel will head south for around 250 miles (463 km) to find himself west of Cap Finisterre (Spain) before heading back north bound for La Trinité-sur-Mer. At the end of this passage, he will have sailed a loop in the Atlantic in an anti-clockwise direction.
Navigation is monitored ashore by the race organisers who receive a permanent automatic report of the boat's position thanks to a onboard communication system (Standard C).

The Gitana Team "solo"

Since Gitana X was put back into the water at the beginning of September, she has been out sailing every day but always crewed. Firstly to learn how she handles, but also to make sure that all of the equipment and onboard systems for sailing single-handed do in fact work as they should. Yann Marilley, Team Manager: "This week, together with Olivier Wrocynski, Olivier Staub, Patrick Julien and Jean-Yves Le Govic (Napo), we've done a fair number of automatic helm tests, which are imperative sailing solo if Lionel is to manœuvre, sleep, eat, navigate, and so on. Then we set a small jib (staysail) onto its furler. This small jib is specifically for single-handed sailing as it handles easily when the wind picks up. Then we tried out the big balloon jib (gennaker) which Gitana X raises when the wind is ¾ astern. And it worked well ! Lionel will be needing it on his qualifying sail".
There was no doubting the genuine pleasure for Lionel in setting out to sea after so many rounds of the Bay. "We've all worked really hard together over the past 10 days. I'm really pleased with the boat. Her deck layout is really brilliant. I'm starting to get the feel of her".
ETA in La Trinité-sur -Mer in the evening of Friday 20th September or Saturday 21st the following day.

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