A fleet of 39 monohulls and multihulls got off to a good start in the Route du Rhum yesterday in 20-25 knots of wind off St Malo

A fleet of 39 monohulls and multihulls got off to a good start in the Route du Rhum yesterday in 20-25 knots of wind off St Malo.

Ellen MacArthur on Kingfisher took the monohull start, but was soon overtaken by her rival, Roland Jourdain on Sill. Sill was leading the monohull pack to the Cap Fréhel mark, some 10 miles after the start line. VMI, skippered by Sebastien Josse, dismasted soon after passing the mark at Cap Fréhel.

Two of the competitors did not make it to the start line due to material problems.

The start line was laid one mile offshore, off Pointe de Grouin. The smaller multihulls in the race, class 2, 50ft, started at 13.35 (12.35 GMT) and the monohulls of all classes at 13.45 (12.45 GMT).

At the start gun at 13.35 (13.45), fired by the French Sports Minister Jean-François Lamour, Crêpes Whaou skippered by race veteran Frank-Yves Escoffier was the first multihull to shoot off against the wind in the choppy sea followed by amateur Didier Le Villain on his catamaran Chaleur Fioul Elan, and Hervé Cleris on Vaincre la Mucoviscidose. The five other multihulls had a slow start, trailing the starting line.

Ten minutes later at 13.45 (12.45 GMT), Ellen MacArthur’s Kingfisher was the first to hit the start line of the monohulls, in close competition with Roland Jordain on Sill. Already at the start line the battle between the two favourites was on full action. As Sill was closest to windward he overtook the British top sailor within two minutes after the start.

In the 50ft monohull class, Australian Nick Moloney on Ashfield Healthcare had a great start, first in his class and close to the top three 60-footers over the start line.

The 50ft monohull Defi Vendéen (Jean Francois Durand) got stuck with his keel on line of the starting buoy, and could not set off over the start line until later. Dinan Pays d’Entreprises (60-foot IMOCA monohull, skippered by Frédéric Lescot) ripped its genoa before the start line and was delayed for the start.

With the strong breeze most boats were on maximum reefs, yet at times close to broaching in the close hauled conditions. The leading boat, Roland Jordain’s Sill, widened the gap early after the start, using more sail area than the rest of the fleet. Kingfisher, with two reefs in the mainsail, was using a heavy air jib (ORC), whilst Sill had a bigger stay sail. Almost all the other monohulls had maximum reefs, meaning more than 50 percent lesser sail area.

Close-hauled the fleet cleared the start on starboard tack charging up the track in around 8-9 knots of speed, tacking towards Cap Fréhel, some 10 miles west of the start line. Cap Fréhel is the sole mark to round before Guadeloupe. The 50-foot trimaran Région Archipel Guadeloupe was the first boat to round the mark, at 15.56 (14.56 GMT). Sill, was the first monohull to pass the mark at 16.01 (15.01 GMT), followed closely by the 50-foot trimaran Crêpes Whaou at 16.02 (15.02 GMT). Ecover rounded 11 minutes later than Sill at 16.11 (15.11 GMT), with Kingfisher and Virbac in hot pursuit.

Sebastien Josse on 60ft IMOCA monohull, VMI, was eighth to round the Cap Fréhel buoy at 16.25 (15.25 GMT) (fifth of the IMOCA monohulls), but five minutes later he broke his mast in the heavy conditions.

The fleet has 150 miles to charge against the wind to the most westerly point of Brittany, with strong current, busy shipping lanes and treacherous fishing pots to negotiate before hitting the rough seas of the North Atlantic sometime tomorrow morning.

Already in the first day, decisions have to be made on the tactics once outside the Channel. Will it be a north, south or median course towards the French West-Indies? An option of two courses in the Channel will decide the course for the four days to come. Either staying close to the French coast on a short tack or on longer tacks close to the English coast on Saturday and Sunday night.

Young Swiss Nicolas Pietrequin on Un Autre Regard Ensemble Pour l’UNHCR never left the dock this morning, having problems with his forestay. He will have to replace the forestay with a new one and will leave Saint-Malo for Guadeloupe on Wednesday.

Nick Moloney’s (Australia) closest rival in the monohull 50ft class, Yannick Bestaven on République Dominicaine, tore his brand-new main sail one hour before the start and had to head back to the dock. He is searching for a sail to borrow in order to head towards Guadeloupe as soon as possible.

The giant trimarans of the ORMA class will start at 13.45 (12.45 GMT) today (Sunday).

Rankings at Cap Fréhel Mark at 16.30 (Saturday)

Monohull IMOCA

Roland Jourdain SILL 15h 00min

Mike Golding Ecover 15h 11min 05sec

Ellen MacArthur Kingfisher 15h 16min 15sec

Jean Pierre Dick Virbac 15h 21min 10sec

Sebastien Josse VMI 15h 25min 20sec DISMASTED 15h30

Joé Seeten Arcelor-Dunkerque 15h 29min 30sec

Dominique Wavre Temenos 15h 32min 15sec

Patrick de Radigues Garnier Belgium 15h 32min 15 sec

Miranda Merron UUDS 15h 35min 20 sec

Antoine Koch L’héatonitimoroumenos 15h 35min 50sec

Ellie Canivenc Leasecom 15h 39min 45 sec

Patrick Favre Millimages-Gédéon 15h 57min 20sec

Monohull Class 250-foot

Luc Coquelin Florys 15h 44min 20sec

Régis Guillemot Storageteck 15h 49min 10 sec

Bob Escoffier Adecco Etoile Horizon 15h 51min 00sec

Nick Moloney Ashfield Healthcare 16h 09min 40sec

Multihull Class 2

Claude Thelier Région Archipel Guadeloupe nr 8 14h 56min

Frank-Yves Escoffier Crepes Whaou nr 2 15h 02min 10sec

Hervé Cleris Vaincre la Mucoviscidose 15h 23min 40sec

Anne Cazeneuve Yachting Casino.com 15h 39min 25sec

Pierre Yves Guennec Lehning Lapeyre Lpp Blanchet Gourbet 15h 49min 20sec

Didier Le Villain Chaleur Fioul Elan 15h 59min 30sec