• Clean start for the 24hr Azimut-IMOCA60 in 8-10 knots of breeze that is set to build over the coming hours as a front rolls through.
• 12 skippers have set sail on this race, the final competition before the start of the Vendée Globe 2016.
• Le Souffle du Nord, Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir and SMA are the first out of the starting blocks.
Tension fills the air and the water in the rocky shallows off the island of Groix that is under attack from the fleet competing in the 6th edition of the Défi Azimut and is this year taking on the vibe of a Vendée Globe prologue.
A mixture of excitement and trepidation
The impressions gleaned on the pontoons of Lorient La Base just hours before the start of the 24hr Azimut-IMOCA 60 are coloured by a mixture of excitement and trepidation. For the competitors, there’s no question of this final dress rehearsal in competition mode being taken lightly. Amidst a desire to capitalize on the confidence and take the competition by the horns and an obligation to avoid tempting fate and suffering damage just weeks before the major meeting in Les Sables d’Olonne, the challenges are numerous. The skippers are unanimous: this 24hr Azimut-IMOCA 60 race is indeed a great dress rehearsal, a final trial run and a major race, which will inevitably offer up a great many lessons for all involved.
A clean and fabulous start in the sunshine
At 15:08 GMT, under blue skies and glorious sunshine, 12 boats finally got their teeth into the race in ten knots of southerly breeze, putting on a fantastic display in the process. As the starting gun fired, line honours went to Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord), Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir) and Paul Meilhat (SMA), who were the keenest out of the starting blocks on this large, triangular course spanning some 215 miles, marked out by three virtual Azimut marks to the west-south-west of Groix. Very cautious at the start, Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy), who’s competing in his very first race in contact with his future rivals in the big solo round the world race, is bringing up the rear as they make for the first mark. The front runners are expected to reach it midway through tonight in a wind that is set to build, ultimately reaching 20 knots as the fleet head offshore.
At 16:08pm, one hour after the start, Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) had gained the upper hand at the helm of his foiling boat, already racking up 10 knots of boat speed. He’s a few boat lengths ahead of Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives Cœur), who has posted a great start to the race. Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) and Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ), also competing aboard monohulls equipped with lifting surfaces, are just shy of the leaders and a sleepless night lies ahead for one and all…