One of the most competitive IMOCA 60 fleets ever assembled are slugging it out for a result to impress sponsors old and new

The two-handed teams taking part in the Transat Jacques Vabre race set off from Le Havre today for Costa Rica with little promise of brochure tradewind sailing.

The 5,000-mile race, which used to cross the Doldrums, is this year a North Atlantic experience – but just how far north that may be is prospect everyone is dreading. If the forecast stays as it is, those balmy tradewind conditions could be a long way off.

The race is a crossroads for many of the 14 IMOCA 60 teams taking part. Some are at the end of the sponsorship cycle that funded their Vendée Globe campaigns. This is Dee Caffari’s last race with Aviva, for example.

Mike Golding has no sponsor other than his long-time backer and business partner Jorgen-Philip Sorsensen and is sailing with Spaniard Javier Sanso in the hope of attracting Spanish funding. (Word has it he is quite close and if you believe the rumour mill it’s a bank.)

Similarly, Sam Davies, who is racing Artemis 2 with French Volvo sailor Sidney Gavignet on a sort of blind date arrangement, awaits news along with sponsorship managers OC Group about whether or not the contract will be renewed.

Alex Thomson, on the other hand, is off on another four years with fresh Hugo Boss backing and is racing with his experienced boat captain Ross Daniels.

It’s a similar story among the French teams: a few have renewed sponsorship while for the rest it’s partly a swansong, partly a last attempt to steal the limelight and attract a new deal.

This, then, is the strategic and commercial background and it makes the event one in which every team desperately wants to be seen to excel.

Who will do well, though, is hard to call. There are 14 IMOCA 60s and all are top notch yachts with good, experienced sailors. Any one could be on the podium. Normally, you can point to two or three that have no hope.

Not this time.

So who are the favourites? Clearly Michel Desjoyeaux and co-skipper Jeremie Beyou have to be at the top of the list, but plenty of others could do well.

Seb Josse and Jean François Cuzon in BT look good, Armel Le Cleac’h and Nicholas Troussel in BritAir also, Mike Golding and Javier Sanso have a chance, and Roland Jourdain can never be ignored.

Then there are the dark horses Sam Davies and Sidney Gavignet. Their progress in a powerful and much-modified boat will be very interesting.

The thing that might shake up the theoretical form is the forecast weather. The weather as the fleet sets out is proving to be very dynamic – for which read unpredictable.

It looks very likely, however, that the quickest route will be north of the Azores High and possibly a lot north of that. I’ve looked at this in more detail in my blog – click here.

Such a long reaching route could put the boats under stress, particularly given the intensity of the competition.

And although most of these are yachts that have taken part in the Vendée Globe, including almost all who finished it, that’s no guarantee of reliability.

In fact, given that all these IMOCA 60s are extremely well tried and tested, I think this could actually be the race that tells us how and if the new designs are intrinsically less durable than older generations.