A record number of yachts have entered the Route du Rhum 2002 which starts this weekend from Saint-Malo

A record number of yachts have entered the Route du Rhum 2002 which starts this weekend from Saint-Malo in Brittany, France. A total of 59 boats including 17 Imoca 60ft monohulls and 18 Orma 60ft trimarans will line up on the start line, making it one of the most impressive fleets ever assembled at this event.

There are five different classes including three monohull classes – the 60ft Imoca (18,28 metres), the 50ft monohulls of Class 2 (15,24 metres), and the 40-45-footers in Class 3 (around13 metres). The multihulls are divided in two classes, the 60ft Orma and the 50-footers of Class 2 (15,24 metres). The Imoca 60-foot monohull class will face some tough opposition with the likes of Ellen MacArthur, Roland Jourdain, Mike Golding, Joe Seeten and Dominique Wavre in the fray.

Jourdain has won every race he has entered since the Vendee Globe 2000/2001 (third), and is keen to win this one as well while MacArthur is racing her 60-ft Kingfisher for the last time and will, as always, be determined to give the successful boat a grand send off.

Golding has a vast experience of ocean and solo racing with many podium finishes. “This will be the first solo since the Vendée Globe and it will be an interesting rematch for all of us. In addition there are some new names not reckoned to be favourites but they are really good. Sebastian Josse [on VMI] and Jean Pierre Dick [on Virbac] are worth looking out for. They are really good sailors and very well prepared,” said the British ocean race specialist, who finished in a respectable seventh place in the last Vendée Globe, despite dismasting the first night.

Race veteran Mike Birch, who’s just signed up a sponsorship deal with Tir Groupé – Montres Yema, will race this year’s edition on a boat in the Imoca class with almost as an impressive history as its skipper. The boat, to be know as Tir Groupé – Montres Yéma, is the ex UUNET, on loan from Philippe Monnet, and has many thousand miles on its track record. She has raced around the world several times, including breaking the record the “wrong way around”.

Canadian Birch has moved back to his home country and has not been sailing much during the last two years, but he is reasonably relaxed about the prospects of the race. “I am in good shape and naturally I do not need much sleep. The first week will not be fun, but it will be good for the health,” said the 71 year-old enthusiast.

With 18 entries, the Orma 60-foot mulithull class including the likes of. Loick Peyron on Fujifilm and Franck Cammas on Groupama competition is guaranteed to be red hot. Other likely contenders include, Alain Gautier on Foncia, Jean Luc Nélias on Belgacom Jean le Cam on Bonduelle, Lalou Roucayrol on Banque Populaire and Marc Guillemot on Biscuit la Trinitaine – Team Ethypharm are five more strong names in this group.

Yvan Bourgnon skippering Rexona Men (former Primagaz 1994), on which his brother Laurent won the two previous Route du Rhums, knows her inside out. Steve Ravussin on Technomarine, Italian Giovanni Soldini on Tim, Bernard le Broc on Banque Covefi, and Francis Joyon on Eure et Loir-Lorénove all have slightly less high performance trimarans than the latest generation, but are comfortable with their boats.

Michel Desjoyeaux on Géant is probably the best known skipper of those with brand-new boats. His Géant dismasted almost as soon as it was put in the water, and the former Vendée Globe winner has not had a lot of time to sail his new machine. It will be the first solo Transatlantic on a 60ft trimaran for Désjoyeaux, as well as for Lionel Lemonchois on Gitana X, Thomas Coville on Sodebo, Philippe Monnet on Sopra Group, and Frédéric Le Peutrec on Bayer CropScience, all on brand-new boats.

Last but not least there is one woman in this class, 30-year-old Karine Fauconnier, from La Rochelle in France, on Sergio Tacchini. Karine has a vast experience of ocean sailing and has clocked up many miles with her boat since its launch last year, both crewed and singlehanded, with one main objective – the Route du Rhum.

Starting schedule

Saturday 9 November at 1335: Class 2 and 3 multihulls

Saturday 9 November at 1345: Monohull Imoca 60 footer and the monohulls in Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3

Sunday 10 November at 1345: Multihull Orma 60 footers