The sun shone, the wind blew and 79 boats got off the start line at Le Havre bound for Martinique. The four classes headed, first of all, to a turning mark before heading through the English channel.
There was an emotional send off for the crews as they left the Le Havre docks, with family and fans shouting them on. The weather conditions were ideal. The boats were able to hit a north-westerly wind between 15 and 20 knots on a choppy sea lit by beautiful sunshine - a perfect backdrop for TV viewers across France and around the world.
The 5 Ultimes, 7 Ocean Fifty, 22 Imoca and 45 Class40s pointed their bows towards Etretat to round the first course mark before setting course towards the Atlantic. A long journey lies ahead; 7,500 miles for the largest and fastest class, the Ultimes. The IMOCA and Ocean Fiftys will sail around 6,000 miles with the smallest and slowest Class 40s completing around 4,500 miles.
The fleet set-off on port tack heading to a turning mark off the village of Etrat, where hundreds of fans lined the white cliffs for a perfect view of the boats screaming in towards them. Then they turned to head west along the busy English channel where they face a tricky night of strong currents and lightening breeze. Decision taken in these ealry hours of the race amy prove crucial to the outcome.
What they said...
Paul Meilhat and Charlie Dalin winner in 2019. IMOCA (Apivia)
"We know that we will have a lot of work to do on the weather after we leave the dock because the situation is not easy. These are conditions where the weather choices will be more important than the boat performance. It will be interesting, even if it will be very tricky. It's more like a Figaro than an Imoca at the start of the race."
Ian Lipinski, race winner in 2019 on board Class 40 (Crédit Mutuel)
"We are in a great state of mind. We are happy to get going. The atmosphere during the ten days in the village in Le Havre was great but we are also looking forward to leaving.
We are going to be careful on the water as there will be a lot of boats at the start. Once we get past Etretat we'll breathe easier! It's going to be interesting from a strategic point of view, we're going to have to stay focused and lucid."
Erwan Le Roux. Ocean Fifty (Koesio)
"We are focused. It's important to enjoy the last moments with your family, partners and team! It's the moment when the team leaves us the boat after having had it for weeks and weeks. Now it's our turn. It's an emotional exchange."
Armel Le Cléac'h on ULTIME (Banque Populaire XI)
"The start will be a bit stressful, but we'll get into the race quickly. We're not going to try to do things differently on board. We have to keep our usual focus. The number one goal is to get to Martinique and then enjoy ourselves. We'll take it one step at a time. "
A round up of overnight despatches sent to race HQ directly from the boats
From Simon Fisher (GBR) - Alaka'i 11th Hour Racing
All good onboard Alaka’i, its good to have the start and the first marks behind us, we are now able to settle into our offshore sailing mode. However any sleep looks unlikely in the near future as we work our way round the Cherbourg peninsula.
The current is now hard against us and the wind is puffy and gusty which means the boat requires our full attention to get the best out of it. The wind is gradually easing but the gusts make it difficult to contemplate a bigger sail.
The truth is the next two days ahead are probably going to be some of the hardest in the race but due to light winds, not extreme conditions. It will take all we’ve got to connect up to wind which will deliver some decent downwind conditions and we don’t want to get left behind. We are clinging on tightly to the coat tails of the newer generation boats currently.
Hopefully once we are round the corner and sailing down past the Channel Islands we might get some conditions where we can pull a bit back on them.
Charlie Enright (USA) - Malama 11TH Hour Racing Team
Hectic start for us, plenty of gremlins aboard. Wild times with the tide at Cherbourg…only have SOG and we’re touching 25 knots in plenty of adverse tide. Neck and neck with LinkedOut and Charal. Apivia is surgical.
Melodie Schaffer (CAN) – Stormtech
Heading out for the race in the parade of boats, we were truly honoured to have several people call out 'Go Canada'. We are a small team here so hearing the public cheers for us was very heart-warming.
We were conservative at the start. With wind speeds of 20knots, we had a reefed main and the staysail up. The winds dropped so we quickly switched from the staysail to the larger Solent. We then shook out the reef of the mainsail, which gave us more speed and we began to claw our way up. It is 1am now . Ryan and I have each and a short nap...we aren't taking full off watch sleeps as we expect by mid day tomorrow the winds will ease and we can catch up on sleep then. Food today has been simple- granola bar, apple, one freeze dried meal (mine was Beans and sausage), one pack of cookies and a half package of gummies bear. Not the healthiest, but a day with a lot on and we needed some quick energy. 1:15am current location: 49 43.119N, 001 35.264w.