Big winds face Transat Jacque Vabre monohull fleet during first night. Even stronger winds expected for today's multihull start

The 19-strong monohull Transat Jacques Vabre fleet set of from Le Havre yesterday in a south-westerly 20 knot breeze, under relatively clear skies but in fairly rough seas. Last night’s rough conditions is a taster of things to come with forecast gale force winds for the next three to five day.

Bernard Stamm and Yann Elies on Cheminées Poujoulat took the best start ahead of UUDS, skippered by Hervé Laurent and Laurent Massot. All the race favourites weren?t far behind though, starting with Bonduelle, skippered by Jean Le Cam and Kito de Pavant in third. In the Open 50 class, Défi Vendéen, raced by Jean-François Durand & Karen Leibovici crossed the line first at the same time as Bonduelle.

At the end of 20 minutes of upwind sailing on the racecourse, a group of six Open 60s opted for one reef in the mainsail and staysail combination, and took about 500 metres out of those who preferred to keep the Solent up. In this leading group, tightly packed together, the race favourites emerged in this order around the Metzinger marker buoy: Mike Golding and Dominique Wavre (Ecover), Roland Jourdain and Ellen MacArthur (Sill et Veolia), Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron (Virbac-Paprec), Jean Le Cam and Kito de Pavant (Bonduelle). Brian Thompson and Will Oxley (Skandia), as well as Marc Thiercelin and Eric Drouglazet (Pro-Form). Sailing upwind, boat speed for the Open 60s was around 12 knots, quite impressive considering the uncomfortable seas. Under a steel grey sky, these colourful wings cut a contrasting picture against the dramatic cliffs off Le Havre.

In the Open 50 class, Kip Stone and Merf Owen on Artforms came through to lead the fray but was pipped at the Metzinger marker buoy by rivals Joe Harris and Josh Hall on Gryphon Solo.

Earlier in the day, Race Director, Jean Maurel, admitted to being a little nervous in these situations: “We’d have preferred that the first 24-48 hours was calmer to get the sailors settled into the race. So right from the off, they?re not going to get much sleep for the next four-five days, the strongest conditions are forecast for Tuesday with gale force winds and a big sea… These are heavy conditions to start off in, the skippers should all be preserving their boats during this time because it is truly boat-breaking weather. All the boats are extremely well prepared, and this kind of weather in November is not unexpected.”

The weather forecast from Louis Bodin yesterday showed that the wind will rotate to the south-south-west at 20-30 knots. This will be quite an irregular breeze. The swell will build continuously as the fleet approaches the mouth of the English Channel.

Sunday: For the monohulls the wind will stay from the south-south-west with a very choppy sea state, 4-5 metre waves, the swell from the south-west, as the fleet exit the English Channel.

For the multihulls the start (today) will be rougher than for the monohulls. South-sout-westerly wind on the start line from 20-25 knots gusting to 30 knots. The sea nearer to the coast will be manageable. However offshore the sea state will be very rough.

During the night Sunday-Monday the wind is likely to rotate again to the south-west 15-25 knots, then to the west at the end of the night when the first front passes. The shift to the west will be gradual. The sea will be particularly difficult with the strong south-west swell.

Monday: New rotation to the south-south-west with the winds building from 20-30 knots, then 35-40 knots at the end of the day. Big swell from the south-west.

Tuesday: Passage of a more active front than the first with a violent rotation of the wind to the north-west, between 30-40 knots at the end of the day. A strong south-westerly swell with breaking wave tops, creating a difficult sea at the passing of the front.

Ranking at top marker buoy

Open 60 Fleet

1. Ecover (Golding/Wavre)

2. Sill (Jourdain/MacArthur)

3. Pro-Form (Thiercelin/Drouglazet

Open 50 Fleet

1. Gryphon Solo (Harris/Hall)

2. Artforms (Stone/Owen)

3. Vedettes de Bréhat (De Broc/S. Escoffier)

Official Rankings at 14:46 GMT yesterday

Open 60 class

Pstn / Boat / Lat / Long / Hdg / DTF / DTL

1 Sill et Veolia 49 34.68′ N 0 10.32′ W 12.1 292 4330.3 0.0

2 Ecover 49 34.56′ N 0 10.32′ W 11.9 290 4330.4 0.0

3 Virbac-Paprec 49 34.92′ N 0 10.12′ W 12.1 294 4330.4 0.1

4 Bonduelle 49 35.00′ N 0 10.00′ W 12.3 296 4330.5 0.1

5 Skandia 49 34.88′ N 0 09.56′ W 11.6 296 4330.8 0.5

6 Pro-Form 49 34.44′ N 0 09.92′ W 11.4 289 4331.0 0.7

7 Roxy 49 34.28′ N 0 09.16′ W 11.0 292 4331.2 0.9

Open 50 class

Pstn / Boat / Lat / Long / Hdg / DTF / DTL

1 Gryphon Solo 49 33.92′ N 0 08.08′ W 10.0 294 4332.3 0.0

2 Artforms 49 33.80′ N 0 07.72′ W 9.9 293 4332.6 0.3

3 Vedettes de Bréhat 49 33.80′ N 0 06.96′ W 9.4 297 4333.1 0.7