This year’s French coast-hopping contest, starting 29 June, has drawn a massive French contingent littered with well-known sailors from every discipline, intent on fending off the All Black challenge

At the end of this month, the Tour Voile begins again. This four-week non-stop inshore/offshore examination in one designs has been an excellent event for crews and spectators since its inception in 1978, and recent events have attracted international attention.

The Tour starts on 29 June from Le Havre and finishes in Mandelieu La Napoule on 31 July. In that time, 38 teams will contest 34 inshore and offshore races on Mumm 30s, and visit 12 stopover ports around the coast of France.

In the late 1990s, Team New Zealand used the intensive nature of this event to sharpen up a wide range of sail racing skills, winning and impressing the hell out of other people at the same time. They are back this year under the command of Hamish Pepper once again and are certain to be there or thereabouts.

After last year’s impressive win by Adrian Stead’s Barlo Plastics crew, the French have gone all out to make sure that the trophy doesn’t leave the country. Among the list of those taking part are last year’s runners-up, Alain Fédensieu and Jimmy Pahun. Also joining the fray, from the Figaro crowd, are Eric Drouglazet and Pascal Bidégorry, and from the Olympics, Marc Audineau, Gildas Philippe and others.

Match racers François Brénac and Thierry Peponnet will also be there pitching for France but they will be up against the might of Bertrand Pacé, sailing here for Team New Zealand. To round off the French attack, Mich Desjoyeaux, Christophe Augin, Isabelle Autissier and Marc Thiercelin will all be there. Thiercelin will be racing with a boatful of top racers including Groupama skipper Franck Cammas.

The British challenge this year comes from Southampton in the shape of BUSA, the British Universities Sailing Association. Student world match racing champion Simon Shaw, from Southampton University, will skipper the boat and while the crew is mostly collegiate, a couple of pros including Mike Broughton, will be drafted in to make sure everyone gets to bed on time.

The Tour Voile, when well-contested as this one should be, is a thriller. Top class sailors racing one designs non-stop for four weeks, strengths and weaknesses exposed, the weighted points system making some races hugely important, and all taking place under the watchful eye of up to half a million spectators.

After last year’s consummate display by Stead et al, it’s unfortunate that a high profile British challenge hasn’t been made, by GBR Challenge perhaps, or Team GBR. Simon Shaw is a very good sailor and an excellent prospect, and by 31 July, he and his crew will be even better. For that alone, BUSA’s participation is worthwhile.