Alain Gautier and Ellen MacArthur aboard Fonica crossed the line ahead of the fleet during the start of the TJV Multihull 60 start this morning

The Transat Jacques Vabre Multihull 60s started from Le Havre at 1000 (French time) in a 20-25kts of south-westerly breeze this morning. Alain Gautier and Ellen MacArthur aboard Fonica had the best start followed across the line by Groupama (Franck Cammas and Franck Proffit) and Bayer (Fred Le Peutrec and Julien Cressant).

Meanwhile further those in the Monohull fleet are battling once again with a strong low pressure system that arrived overnight. Winds of 40-50kts from the south-south-west has brought all the boats hard on to the wind fully reefed and with minimum sail area up. “There is only the storm jib left to put up,” exhorted French skipper Bilou (Jourdain) on the sat phone this morning at 0430hrs. Racing has been temporarily put to one side again, as the most important priority is to get the boat through this weather.

At 0800hrs French time, Ecover was still in the lead of the Open 60s with Virbac hard on her heels just seven miles behind. Sill is 3rd but now dropped to 60 miles behind the leader. The top ten boats out of the 14 racing are on port tack and are simply having to bear this beating by the wind as they wait for the shift to the West to come. It is worth noting that Ecover has kept up some impressive average boat speeds – in 38 knots of wind, they were still making 13.9 knots average speed over one hour of racing! Early this morning, Ecover had crossed west to 200 miles off the Spanish-Portuguese coastline. Virbac is still a handful of miles in their wake, and Sill 212 miles to the west of Cape Finisterre. Their progression is slow with headwinds from the SSW on the nose but their average boat speeds remain good, from around 8.4 knots (VMI) to an impressive 14.4 knots (Ecover).

“There is a huge blow outside and it’s still building,” Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac) shouted over the sat phone this morning, barely audible with the noise of the waves bashing the hull. “We’re going to get the third reef in the mainsail, there’s 40 knots right now but we expect 50 knots soon. It’s infernal outside, we can hear the wind screaming almost. Right now we’re just existing on board rather than racing, we have to look after the boat. What have we done to deserve these conditions I dread to think!”

Brian Thompson on Ecover echoed the same: “We’ve got 32 knots of wind from the south, we’re reaching. We’re doing about 14 knots of boat speed. The seas are quite rough, but not so rough as in the Bay of Biscay because the wind has just increased, and we think the wind will be strong for another 6-7 hours and then we get to a front and the wind will shift to the west. We think by the afternoon winds could be quite light. It’s really, really close racing! I have to say Virbac did catch us in the Bay of Biscay but then when we got together we started sailing a little bit faster. We’re quite pleased to be to a little bit faster than they are, but now conditions are very rough, so we’re not pushing the boat too hard and just making sure we don’t break anything.” At 0800hrs French time position update, it was PRB (Riou/Beyou) who had recorded the best VMG (Velocity Made Good in relation to the direct route), with an average speed of 9.7 knots.

As for the weather to come the low pressure system should move towards the north and in the afternoon the leaders will be leaving this system behind, bringing a westerly wind shift in its place and then lighter headwinds from the south.