First blooding for the solo round the race will claim some early victims says Mike Golding

They’ve prepared for this race for the last three or four years; now the Vendée Globe skippers are focussing on how to make it safely through the first 48 hours of the solo round the world race.

Gale force winds and rough head seas will severely test the 30 Vendée Globe solo skippers this Sunday as they head out into the Bay of Biscay. The forecast is for winds of 25-30 knots at the start, rapidly building to 40 knots and a punishing sea state that is likely to claim early victims.

“It will be an upwind start, with south-westerly winds increasing on Sunday afternoon to reach average wind speeds of 35 or 40 knots in Biscay and a mean wave height of 4-6m. The worst time will be on Monday night,” says Sylvain Mondon of Météo France, official forecasters for the fleet.

The pressing question for each of the skippers is how hard to race in these first critical days. The first to reach the cold front forecast next Tuesday will benefit from a pronounced veer to north-westerlies to to free off and gain speed towards Cape Finisterre. But getting ahead by that point involves some risk, and there will potentially be a split between the more conservative – and experienced – round the world racers and the hungry newcomers.

In the former camp (not surprising given his history of dismasting the night after the start in 2000) is Mike Golding: “The first to the shift will get an advantage but after that there are light and shift winds off the Portuguese coast where we’ll have to cross a ridge of high pressure so that could compress the fleet later. You could work very hard for not a lot of gain, and I don’t want to break the boat.”

Golding feels sure that some boats will get wounded in the first blooding. “I’d be amazed if there weren’t breakages – there’s bound to be someone if only because of the size of the fleet,” he says. “The start is one of the high risk points; that and the first 24 hours.”