Eleven teams prepare for the opening event of IMOCA season -1,850-mile Round Britain and Ireland dash 31/5/07

The first event of the IMOCA season kicks off this weekend with the 1,850-mile Calais Round Britain Race.

Eleven Open 60 teams including three British are currently in the Bassin Ouest in the port of Calais making final preparations to their boats before race start at 1430 on Sunday 3 June. Before then teams will compete in a two-day prologue regatta which starts with the first coastal race today. The second prologue race will take place on Saturday.

With the likes of Vincent Riou (winner of the 2005 Vendee Globe), Bernard Stamm and Jean Le Camm on the startline, and a host of world class sailors making up the five-strong crew on each boat (most using the race as an important warm-up for the Transat Jaque Vabre later this year) this, the third edition of the event, promises extremely hot competition. Dee Caffari will also be making her Open 60 race debut aboard Aviva Ocean Racing so it will be interesting to see how she fares against the cream of the Open 60 world. For this race, Caffari will be joined by Nigel King, Laurent Mahy, Simon Clarke and Liz Wardley.

Other British entries include Samantha Davies on Roxy with Alexia Barrier, Sharon Feris, Jeanne Grégoire and Miranda Merron as crew. Jonny Malbon – fresh from his sprint across the Atlantic see news story here – will be joined by his Artemis Ocean Racing Team comprising Graham Tourell (Gringo), Gareth Rowley, Fraser Brown and Paul Larsen.

British singlehanded sailor Conrad Humphreys will be joining Bernard Stamm as crewman aboard the new Cheminées Poujoulat II together with Jacques Caraes, Xavier Briault and Bruno Jourdren. Humphreys says although he’s already raced round the UK three times this is his first Calais Round Britain Race, commenting: “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great race, to see how the new Cheminées Poujoulat II competes against the new Farr designs. I can’t wait.”

Chris Tibbs, British weather expert is joining, Arnaud Boissiéres and his French team aboard Akena Verandas and, not surprisingly, will be in charge of weather and nav. Chatting toyachtingworld.comfrom Calais this morning about the conditions competitors are likely to expect in the early stages of the race, Tibbs commented: “Like always with weather it’s a million dollar question. The problem is because it’s been so variable over the last few days even when you project the routines forward two or three days, the routing was saying we’d do it in six and a half days, yesterday it was saying 10 days. Right now it’s a very changeable situation. However, it looks like we’ll get a light wind start with the high pressure currently situated over Scandinavia and the Irish Sea. We’re going to be inbetween, in the trough between the two.”

The course, which starts off the coast of Calais, will take the fleet across the Channel into the Irish Sea and then in a clockwise direction leaving Ireland, the Hebrides and the Shetland Islands to starboard. Once round the tip of the UK the fleet will head down the North Sea, across the Channel once again, and finish in Calais. There will, however, be a mark laid off Dover for attempts at the Dover Calais record. The current record set in 2003 by Charles Hedrich on Objectif 3 stands at 3h, 1h, 18m, 50secs, at an average speed of 14.62kts.

Apparently, according to Tibbs there is a provision in the sailing instructions, depending on the weather, to sail the Round Britain and Ireland course the other way round. Tibbs added: “I actually think it would be great if they gave competitors the choice. It would be a tremendous race.”

Runners and riders

Jérémie Beyou (FRA)
Sidney Gavignet
Pascal Bidégorry
Fanch Guiffant
Yvan Ravussin?

Arnaud Boissières (FRA)
Jean-Philippe Chomette (co-skipper)
Chris Tibbs
Samy Villeneuve
Gérald Véniard

Dee Caffari (GBR)
Nigel King
Laurent Mahy
Simon Clarke
Liz Wardley

Samantha Davies (GBR)
Alexia Barrier
Sharon Ferris
Jeanne Grégoire
Miranda Merron

Yann Eliès (FRA)
Sébastien Audigane
Philippe Laot
Pierre Emmanuel Hérissé
Philippe Legros

Jean Le Cam (FRA)
Yann Régniau
Pascal Dourden
Frédéric Berra
Florent Vilboux

Jonny Malbon (GBR)
Graham Tourell
Gareth Rowley
Fraser Brown
Paul Larsen

Vincent Riou (FRA)
Sébastien Josse
Hugues Destremau
Eric Carret
Jean Marc Failler

Bernard Stamm (SUI)
Jacques Caraës
Xavier Briault
Bruno Jourdren
Conrad Humphreys

Alexandre Toulorge (FRA)
Joé Seeten
Gwénael Riou
Nicolas Lecarpentier
Vincent Vachette?

Dominique Wavre (SUI)
Michèle Paret
Denis Girardet
César Dohy
Pim Nieuwenhuis