The Open 60 fleet has been 'slicing through thick fog at 17/18 knots' in the Channel

Setting out into the Channel at the Dover Strait in thick fog is a hair-raising prospect but organisers of the Calais Round Britain Race got the fleet of 11 Open 60s away this afternoon despite a real pea-souper. Sensibly, they dispensed with inshore legs, which would have been utterly invisible from shore anyway, and sent the crews straight down-Channel on a run.

Vincent Riou led from the start. His new Farr designed PRB was launched last year and dismasted on day two of the Route du Rhum last November; this is Riou’s first race since the boat was re-rigged. The new PRB looked meticulously prepared and fast, and if Riou has used the seven months since the Route du Rhum wisely, as he surely has, he could be unbeatable. Pure speed plainly isn’t a problem and Riou is renowned for his tactical and weather expertise.

All the British skippers are in older generation boats and could be expected to suffer a little in light winds, particularly upwind. The pertinent question is how well Dee Caffari (Aviva), Jonny Malbon (Artemis) and Sam Davies (Roxy) can hold on to the newer and more powerful boats up front. This race won’t be quick – the organisers are expecting the 1,800-mile route to take seven or eight days – so there could be marked separations and compressions.

As to the thick fog, there were times today when one could barely see a yacht 300m away. It was rarely possible to see more than a couple of yachts at once as they vanished in the murk. With the boats gybing downwind on deep angles, it made working out who was where difficult and disorientating.

A cruising crew would be crazy to set out in such conditions. So where does that leave the professional racers? That’s quite a tricky question. Reports later in the evening told of yachts ‘slicing through the fog at 16/17 knots’. The wisdom of this is certainly debatable, though all these boats have the latest technology on board for collision avoidance, such as AIS and active echo transponders.

Thanks to Mark Lloyd for the atmospheric photo above.