One of the fascinating details of the inaugural staging of the solo Retour à la Base, which sets sail from Martinique for Lorient tomorrow, is the inclusion in the starting line-up of Nico Lunven.

The Holcim-PRB skipper is relatively new to the IMOCA Class, having sailed only two solo races before in 2022 (on board Banque Populaire in place of Clarisse Crémer), but the French sailor originally from Vannes is already rated as a potential podium finisher in his first Vendée Globe next year.

For 41-year-old Lunven, the Retour à la Base will be his first solo race on board his Guillaume Verdier-designed foiler, a boat that lit up the early stages of The Ocean Race. And it follows a delivery sail out to Martinique alongside co-skipper Rosalin Kuiper.

© Julien Champolion / polaRYSE

A two-time Solitaire du Figaro champion, with a reputation as a smart racer and meteo expert, the understated Lunven is relishing the chance to get out and compete against the best sailors in the Class. He will be doing so in a race that could see boats come close to 24-hour record breaking pace, as they hook into a powerful depression propelling them eastwards in high winds and big seas.

“With this new boat it is my first race and, of course, it is a very good moment and I am very happy about that, especially because we didn’t do the Transat Jacques Vabre,” Lunven told the Class from Fort-de-France.

“It is good to be back in racing mode, instead of delivery. It was a good delivery, very interesting, and it was good to take some time to discover and to learn the boat. And now, it is time to race a bit against competitors and also to qualify for the Vendée Globe,” he added.

The Retour à la Base will see up to 32 skippers crossing the startline. They will then head north on a fast reach in the tradewinds, before rounding the Bermuda high pressure system and then pick up strong westerly winds that will take the boats towards Ireland and the final challenging miles to the finish off Lorient.

“Probably the goal will be to find the best balance between having the right true wind speed and the right sea state,”explained Lunven. “Because, if you are a bit too far north, you will be a bit too close to the low pressure, with bad sea state and strong winds. It will probably be my goal not to be in too much wind and maybe more south, to have a safer route.”

© Julien Champolion | polaRYSE | Holcim-PRB

While there is talk of record breaking – the current solo IMOCA 24-hour distance record is held by Alex Thomson who covered 536.81 nautical miles on Hugo Boss in 2017 – Lunven is not focused on that aspect of this contest.

“I haven’t looked at the weather in that way,” he said. “But yeah, maybe it could be possible, but I just looked at the big picture. To be honest, I am not focused on breaking a record, but more on completing the race with the best result I can and not really breaking a record – it’s not my priority.”

© Julien Champolion / polaRYSE

The Holcim-PRB skipper is ready for a tough finishing stretch as the boats close on the Bay of Biscay and notes the intention of the race director to shorten the course should it be necessary. “After southern Ireland, probably the weather forecast will not be very welcoming I would say for us, because the north Atlantic and Bay of Biscay in the middle of winter is not the most friendly place on earth. But we will see. There are some gates – one in the Azores and the other one just before Cape Finisterre so, if at that stage, the weather forecast is too bad, race management has the ability to shorten the course and in that way each competitor can manage by themselves a safe way to get home,” he said.

So where does Lunven see himself fitting in, in the upper reaches of this fleet? “It’s a bit hard to understand. I think there are many people with much more experience than me – people like Thomas (Ruyant), like Jérémie (Beyou), people who have already done a few Vendée Globes and transatlantic races and many other solo races on their boats,” he said.

“They have huge experience and I don’t have this, so I think that’s why it is going to be interesting to see during the race where I am compared to those guys. But, for me, I have much less experience compared to them.”

Ed Gorman