For over a week in November, the heart of France was in St. Malo, where over one million visitors invaded the beautiful walled city to celebrate the start of the 9th Route du Rhum – La Banque Postale, a 3542 mile transatlantic sprint from Brittany, France, to Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe. Indeed, this singlehanded transatlantic race is France's second most popular sporting event following only the World Cup!
Every four years, la crème de la crème of solo, ocean racers gather in the Corsair City, and 2010 saw a record 85 boats line up for the start. Every day, an enthusiastic crowd lined the quays to admire the impressive fleet that is divided into five classes, ranging in size from the Class 40 monohulls to the Ultime, marking the return of the giant multihulls.
The show inside the race village and along the old town streets featured Guadeloupian marching bands, colorful dancers, rum tasting; live interviews of famous skippers, fireworks, and flashy videos on giant screens. Energy ran high during the presentation of each skipper to enthusiastic fans and a myriad of TV crews and photographers. Michel Desjoyeaux, Franck Cammas, Francis Joyon – all the rock star sailors were there interacting with the public and journalists in the most graceful and (apparently) relaxed way.
The spotlight was also on the three female competitors: local favorite Servane Escoffier on multihull St Malo 2015, veteran Anne Caseneuve, and Guadeloupian Christine Monlouis, the three women rekindling memories of 1990 winner Florence Arthaud.
Caribbean skippers were also 'a l'honneur', with Guadeloupians Philippe Fiston and Willy Bissainte, and Martiniquais resident Regis Guillemot.
The day before the race, excited supporters assembled through the night to cheer on the boats as they passed through the locks from the inner harbor to the open sea. Party-goers danced the night away to the sounds of Zouk music until the fleet departed, in fair conditions, in front of a huge number of spectator boats and aficionados lining the piers and surrounding cliffs to bid farewell to their heroes.
With the race underway, eyes were on Franck Cammas and the massive green and white trimaran Groupama 3. As expected, Cammas wasted no time in taking control of the race. Working closely with his weather planners ashore, he made all the right decisions, passing Cape Fréhel ahead of the fleet and opting for a more radical southerly course towards the Caribbean.
With Groupama streaking ahead, commentators were quick to suggest that the performance of the other multihulls was reflected by their position in the race and age of the boat.
One multihull and skipper that didn't suffer from age was Frances Joyon and Idec. They finished second in 9 days, 13 hours, 50 minutes and 48 seconds, just ten hours behind Cammas.
The IMOCA 60's put on quite a show, with Roland Jourdain's Veolia Environnement finishing in 13 days, 17 hours, 10 minutes and 56 seconds, having crossed the Atlantic at the average speed of 10.75 knots. This put the first monohull two days ahead of Lionel Lemonchois' Prince de Bretagne, the first of the Multi 50 Class to finish.
Much has been written about the development of Class 40 race boats and the Route de Rhum seems to have benefited from their meteoric rise. Forty-four Class 40s made the start and of those 40 went on to finish. Another endorsement for Class 40 was the presence of Britain's Pete Goss. He was taking part in his first single-handed race for 13 years. Goss finished in 20 days, 4 hours, 56 minutes and 10 seconds, at the average speed of 7.30 knots, enough to secure fourteenth place.
The Rhum Category for boats from 39 to 59 feet went to Andre Mura and Vento de Sardegna, the Italian sailmaker finishing in 19 days, 9 hours, 40 minutes and 30 seconds.
For full results visit: routedurhum-labanquepostale.com
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He hosts the radio show YachtBlast on Island 92, St. Maarten, and is the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information visit: garyebrown.net. Anne Vandromme-Hood spent ten years as a professional yacht crew and several years as a yacht concierge in Martinique. Recently, Anne created large portions of yacht service guides for the Mediterranean, French Caribbean and New England.