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Set sail in the summer to arrive in the winter. A saying that sums up how the 13 crews were feeling this morning for the second edition of the Défi Atlantique as they set sail on this first original stage between Pointe-à-Pitre and Horta on the island of Faial in the Azores (2,300 miles - 4,260 km). At 11 am local time, namely 5 pm back in mainland France, the 13 Class40s set sail for Basse-Terre and the first compulsory rounding mark. With an easterly trade wind blowing at about twenty knots and a nice swell, each of the crews applied themselves to ensuring a perfect start to their race, paying close attention to changes in the wind, using precise manoeuvres and watching out for possible obstacles in the water, crates, FADs, fishing reserves and the first banks of sargassum. Erwan Le Draoulec aboard Everial proudly led the way following an excellent an excellent port start on the line.

Everial and the Italians set the pace

Much was expected from them and the two Italian crews on Alberto Bona (IBSA) and Ambrogio Beccaria (Allagrande- Pirelli) immediately showed themselves to be up to the task. At more than 17 knots, they took the lead with a dazzling performance by Erwan Le Draoulec (Everial), who made a perfect start with a perfectly adjusted gennaker. There was no observation round and the new-generation Class40s had a field day despite the choppy conditions.

24 hours under strict surveillance

39 sailors, 38 men and one woman, have been on the water since this morning in Guadeloupe, at 11 am local time on their way to Horta, the finish for the first stage of the Défi Atlantique which will then continue to La Rochelle. 39 sailors selected by the skippers and owners to form double handed crews (the Englishmen Brian Thompson and Allister Richardson on Tquila and Marc Lepesqueux and Renaud De Hareng on Curium Life forward), and up to four crew members for Raphael Auffret's Dopamine Sailing Team and Everial, the new Verdier design now skippered by Erwan Le Draoulec who is sailing with the only woman in the race, Marie-Kell de Cannart. 39 sailors with well-devised race plans ensuring the aggression needed at the start to avoid stalling and caution on a choppy stretch of water with nearly 1.5 metre waves, and many obstacles as a result of the countless fishing crates, drifting buoys of the FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices), and the dreaded sargassum. The first 24 hours of the race will be under strict surveillance as the boats pass the compulsory rounding marks of Basse-Terre and Marie-Galante during the day. The first night at sea will definitely require the attention of all the crews as they try to make out obstacles on the water and anticipate the many expected squalls.

Up close, very close

The first three or four days of the race will be spent sailing as close as possible to the path of the wind, with a trade wind expected to ease gradually as the vessels head northwards. For the sailors, it will be all about placement, finding the best angles for their hulls, now all so different in Class40 as a result of various architectural choices. In the first part of the race, we do not expect to see great differences in a fleet that will soon find itself up against an area of high pressure. This will require other placement manoeuvres and route choices while awaiting the arrival of strong westerly lows.

What is FAD?

Used mainly for tuna fishing, a Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) is a raft composed of a collection of floating objects extended underwater by nets or ropes. Fishermen have always known that anything floating in the ocean attracts fish. Therefore, these artificial FADs deployed by the industry serve to attract schools of fish around these rafts.

They said:

Allister Richardson No.159 Tquila

" The idea to go double handed was forced on us. originally we were gonna race with four but two guys could not make it in the last minute, including our sponsor Tquila. Its only Brian and myself, which is not a problem as we’re gonna be doing the TJV at the end of the year. This is the slowest boat I’ve ever sailed and yet, she’s an nice boat with a nice and simple design and because of that the boat goes really well. There ’s a lot of competition in the fleet ands there’s not a lot of offshore races where you can get such an entry of boats. We’ve got a record between Bermuda and Lizard, we did that in 4 days with Mod 70 Argo. Brian and I work quite well on board as he has great experiences offshore and i have a short races experience with the Americas cup and as I get older I enjoy doing offshore, which is more demanding but I enjoy to manage the assets. Brian is great with navigation and tactics, instruments and I’m good with maintaining the boat. We get along fine. We’re good together onboard. We have a brand new mainsail that we’ve just received. It is untested but we’ll learn about this sail during the race. I’ve never been to the Azores. Brian has been to every port and I m looking forward to seeing the Azores. I'm looking forward to setting sail. Everything is ready. When the gun goes off, you think you're going to sit back and relax but that's never the case. You always end up pushing as hard as you can. The start isn’t all that important in such a long race. Sargassum is a problem, but it's the same for everyone. We may have to change sails, but over such short distances it's a difficult choice to make."

Brian Thompson No.159 Tquila “We did the Caribean 600 as our first race on this boat. We ve had 3 days to get the boat ready. We ll go out today to test our main sail and the new spinnaker. Its great to be here. We sailed on trimaran Argo and went back to the UK for a few days. We sailed the Caribbean 600 with 4 people, including Simon Koster, the former skipper. We learned from his experience. We re going Two handed as we were on the Transat Jacques Vabre with former Tquila. She has a bigger bow and when we’re reaching, it is amazing! Great sensations. The course is the traditional cruising route from the caribbean. Weather can be a bit more stormy as it is early in the season. We re expecting upwind sailing, then high pressure, and complicated systems. It will start up wind, light air and then low pressure to the Azores. We’re gonna try to push hard in this amazing fleet. Some great sailors there and great boats. Upwind conditions will favor everyone. Light airs will also favor some boats. Auto pilots are good. I’ve sailed a lot with Allister on Argo. He’s a world class small boat Americas Cup sailor. He’s used to very fast boats but we have complementary skills. He can fix any problems on the boat.”

Pietro Luciani - No.186 IBSA

"The season starts today. I'm lucky to have been contacted by Alberto (Bona) for this race. It's great fun sailing with him and Pablo (Santurde). We have more to lose than to gain on this coastal route, especially with the crates. We have to try to be in front, even if it means running into slack. I don't think things are going to happen at the front in the first part of the race."

Ambrogio Beccaria - No.181 Alla Grande -Pirelli

"The best way to relieve stress is to set sail. We like this starting route. We're going to give it our all even if the race won't be decided today. We're afraid of the sargassum which we will be with us for 3 or 4 days. It's a pain."

Axel Tréhin - No.162 Project Rescue Ocean

"Today will be a warm-up for us. The race is going to be long. We enjoy what we're doing and we’ll try our hardest and take advantage of the wind and the sun. We trained here with the RORC 600 and we're familiar with the problems posed by crates and sargassum. We'll try to keep our heads (laughter). We're setting sail in a relatively stable trade wind so we'll be close-hauling on a starboard tack for quite a long while."

Marc Lepesqueux -No. 187 Curium Life Forward

"We'll get into the rhythm of the race quickly. It's a great course and it’ll be important not to get left behind. It's always best to be in front. We’ll have to choose the right sails in unstable winds. We're going to sail upwind at speed."

Antoine Carpentier No. 158 Crédit Mutuel

"Happy and relieved to be leaving, to be making our way to Europe and home. Today's difficulty is getting a good start, one that is clear and at the front. There's a long way to go. We’ll have to sail cleanly and avoid taking any risks. We may have an hour of downwind sailing in the bay and upwind around Marie-Galante. We'll be negotiating squalls and sargassum the following night. We'll be in the fish aggregating device area tonight without any visibility, so we need to be careful."


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