Vincent Riou leads the pack as the Vendée Globe gets off to a slow-motion start

Four years ago it was, as they say, blowing dogs off chains when the Vendée Globe start day arrived and the skippers voted to postpone their departure. With winds barely strong enough wind to fill a genoa today, there was scant danger of early breakages or incidents, but perversely it cheated skippers and spectators alike of a spectacle that typifies this toughest of races.

First across the line in a straggling pack was Vincent Riou on PRB, followed a short distance to leeward by the sole American skipper, Bruce Schwab, on Ocean Planet. The leader of the ‘Britpack’ was Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss, with Mike Golding on Ecover staying well back for a clean start and crossing in 13th place.

The course took boats inshore to round two marks before heading out to sea. By the first of these, Jean-Pierre Dick had edged in front, only to slip back to 2nd on the next beat. As the wind at last began to fill in as forecast from the north-east at eight knots, those with clear air at the front of the fleet had an opportunity to pull away, and Riou on PRB was able to capitalise on his leading position.

The first few days of the race are crucial bedding-in days for the skippers, who must quickly establish a steady physical and mental rhythm, and put the emotions and stress of the last few weeks entirely out of their minds. Initial positions aren’t hugely important, but in the next 24 hours it will be vital not to fall behind the leading pack. There are strong north-easterlies ahead off Cape Finisterre and the boats that reach these bigger winds first could stretch away.

This area of strong breeze, currently 30 knots or more, extends west and skippers will have to decide how far west to go before gybing. In the next couple of days we will see how they fare in the first tactical decision of the race.