In pouring rain and a south-westerly 20-22kts of breeze, a flare was fired from Royal Navy's HMS Tyne, signalling the race start of The Transat

At 1400 this afternoon, Omega ambassador and tennis star, Anna Kournikova, officially started The Transat. In pouring rain and a south-westerly 20-22kts of breeze, a flare was fired from Royal Navy’s HMS Tyne, signalling the start of the 2,800-mile north Atlantic challenge. The 37 competitors, monohulls and multihulls (from separate ends of the long line) shot away into the murky haze off Plymouth Sound towards the Eddystone Lighthouse.

Meanwhile, Yves Parlier and his brand-new radical catamaran had returned to shore with autopilot problems. Fortunately for him his shore team managed to fix the glitch to the electronic system and he was able to cross the startline just 20 minutes behind the rest of the fleet. Alain Gautier’s trimaran Foncia also had to return to shore before the start to repair steering gear. She eventually crossed the line two hours behind.

Back on the racecourse Australian sailor Mike Sanderson aboard his Open 60 Pindar set the pace off the startline. With one reef and the Solent up she powered her way up the first leg with Mike Golding’s Ecover and Conrad Humphrey’s Hellomoto holding their own to leeward out on the right-hand side of the course. As the race progressed these three closed up with Golding on Ecover snatching the lead at the Eddystone Lighthouse. Humphreys however, together with Vincent Riou (PRB) Skandia (Nick Moloney), UUDS (Herve Laurent) and Pro-Form (Marc Thiercelin), was deemed to be over the line at the start and all had to take a 20 minute penalty (to remain stationary for penalty time in ‘box’ off the Eddystone Lighthouse) before heading across the Atlantic. For rounding the lighthouse first in fleet, Golding will be presented with an Omega Seamaster.

Fred le Peutrec’s trimaran Gitana XI in the ORMA 60 fleet was also a bit too keen for his own good and had to join the monhulls at Eddystone Lighthouse. But for 40 minutes in total – a result of being the wrong side of the line after four-minute gun had been fired. Speed however, didn’t seem to be a problem for Gitana XI as she zipped into the leading pack soon after the start. But in this fleet it was Michel Desjoyeaux aboard the trimaran Geant, who took control at the lighthouse. Desjoyeaux, who won the last ‘demolition derby’ Route du Rhum is always at the head of the fleet and will be definitely one to watch over the next few days. For reaching the Eddystone Lighthouse first in fleet, Desjoyeaux also wins an Omega Seamaster watch.

Tonight, as the 100s of spectator boats head back to shore, the skippers of the 37-boat Transat fleet will be settling into life alone on the Atlantic. The forecast is for winds to remain from the south-west, making it a fairly uncomfortable upwind. However, overnight the wind will slowly veer round to the west-north-west and drop to 14-20kts by early tomorrow morning.

The latest news (at 1745) is that two competitors in the 50ft Multihull fleet have encountered problems. Rich Wilson sailing the trimaran Great American II (two and a half miles offshore), and Mike Birch (seven miles out) are both on their way back to Plymouth. There is currently no news about the extent of their problems but presumably if and when repairs are made, they’ll be heading off again as soon as possible.