From reflection to action
Things are now taking shape with a little more than 24 hours until the start of the ninth Route du Rhum. For Yann Guichard, who is preparing to compete in his first solo transatlantic race, the final hours on land are being split between media obligations and consultation of the grib files with Sylvain Mondon, in order to draw up the strategy and define the course to be adopted to make Guadeloupe. This afternoon, at 1500 hours on the dot, following a weather briefing for all competitors, the trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild will bid farewell to the Bassin Vauban in the city of Saint Malo, to make for her one night mooring just a stone’s throw from nearby Dinard.
All paths lead to Pointe-à-Pitre, but which of them will be the quickest? Such is the question in everyone’s minds around twenty-four hours from the race start. The Route du Rhum is a unique transatlantic race as there are a vast number of options for making Pointe-à-Pitre from Saint Malo. As such, for this ninth edition, the weather situation over the North Atlantic is fluctuating a great deal and the models swing one way or the other, with no set route for this Rhum.
In fact, the weather conditions over the North Atlantic are essentially governed by the position and range of the Azores High: at the centre of this column of air (high pressure), there is no wind; to the North there is a disturbed W’ly air flow and to the South the E’ly tradewinds. As such the navigator can either round or traverse this ‘weather wall’. “The problem is that this zone of high pressure is constantly changing in terms of intensity, as well as being mobile: it may fold in on itself or shift across towards Europe or the Caribbean. This is where the difficulty of the Route du Rhum lies: how do you join up with the tradewinds and which is the best passage point? The fact the ‘ultimate’ category in this edition is open to boats with a different potential according to the direction and strength of the wind, means that three scenarios are possible!” indicates Sylvain Mondon. However, the key factor in relation to all the routing projection is that the sailor is alone aboard his boat: “He sails at 100%, or at 80% or even at 60% of the boat’s potential: as such, in the proposed trajectory, you have to take into account the solo sailor’s ability to follow the rhythm set, while showing consideration for the recovery phases. On an identical boat with the same weather scenario, crewed routing won’t have the same format as a solo routing and it’s the same for the large trimarans who won’t be able to adopt the same course as the large monohulls… Together with the skipper you have to control the amount of effort required at a given point” explains the weather router for the Gitana Team.
A crossroads at Ushant
Though the forecasts for the race start at 1302 hours on Sunday are not yet set in stone, the competitors now know that the first few hours of racing, and notably Sunday night, promise to be demanding. The moderate SE’ly wind is set to die away as the fleet approaches the Granit Rose coastline of northern Brittany, before building again a few hours later to pump out around 25 knots of predominantly NW’ly wind. As a result there will be lot of manoeuvres required over the first few miles, so as to adapt Gitana 11’s sail area as much as possible! Furthermore, on passing Ushant, the air flow coming down from Ireland will call for the first course decision to be made. The dilemma will involve either diving southwards by traversing the Bay of Biscay or continuing on a W’ly tack to favour a N’ly course closer to the great circle route (direct course). To date the two paths virtually arrive at the same point at the same time, as each skipper-boat tandem has its own best course! “The skipper who has the advantage on passing Ushant will be the one who manages react most quickly to the variable winds between Cap Fréhel and the NW tip of Brittany… Following that, the commitment to a particular route will lead them on until at least the midway mark. The uncertainty involves the likely collapse of the zone of high pressure and finding out what will replace it on Friday” concludes Sylvain Mondon. It is possible that the nine solo sailors in the Ultimate Class will follow very different routes once they exit the English Channel, and that on Monday morning, we’ll discover a fleet scattered across the horizon as we see the first position reports of the day.
Yesterday, Yann Guichard and the members of his shore crew went over Gitana 11 one last time, paying particular attention to the safety equipment the skipper will have to hand during the race. Friday was also dedicated to loading the supplies, thanks to the arrival of some dishes specially prepared by the Chalet du Mont d’Arbois. Everything is in position and all that remains for the trimaran in the colours of the Edmond de Rothschild Group is to cast off. This will be a done deal at 1500 hours this Saturday!
La Route du Rhum – La Banque Postale 2010…
- Start on Sunday 31st October 2010 at 1302 hours
- 7 registered yachts, 9 of which are in the Ultimate Category
- 3,540 miles to cover between Saint Malo and Pointe-à-Pitre