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The six Ocean Fifty yachts had a stunning start in Toulon harbour

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null ©: Jacques Vapillon / Pro Sailing Tour
null ©: Jacques Vapillon / Pro Sailing Tour

The six Ocean Fifty yachts had a stunning start this Monday, at half past ten in the morning and in perfect weather conditions for the 1600-mile offshore race to Toulon. On a smooth sea, with wind speeds of 15 to 20 knots, the trimarans set off on one hull against a picture-perfect scenery, just outside of the town of Toulon and the buttresses of Mont Faron. They head for Brest on the Final Rush, the offshore race which has its fair share of challenges and which will give the upper hand to the best strategists…

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Laurent Bonnet, deputy to the Mayor of Toulon and Fortuné Pellicano, deputy to the Mayor of Brest together with the Deputy Chairman of Brest Nautical Events, together fired the start gun from on board the French naval patrol vessel BSM Loire. The six Ocean Fifty yachts, initially setting off with a reef in the mainsail, ultimately decided, just several minutes after starting, to hoist the full main. The wind suddenly rose from 12 to 20 knots, providing spectators with a fantastic show.


From one bay to another

At the starting line, Erwan Le Roux (Ciela Village) set the pace from the outset, echoing his early remarks before leaving the pontoon: “This final is for us!”  Sam Goodchild (Leyton), going flat-out, had however overtaken at the offset mark. 

The six Ocean Fifty yachts lead as trio, each one accompanied by an on-board reporter showing us the ‘behind the scenes’ of the final race to be shown in a docu-series coming out next January. Many things will happen on board — as predicted by Sam Goodchild (Leyton), the leader in the overall ranking: “We’ll have all sorts of weather conditions, some complicated and some less so. I think that we’ll be hoisting all the sails during the week! It’s essential to stay on top form at all times as the conditions can change very quickly and you have to make good decisions equally as fast.”


Tactics, speed, and composure 

The level of the crews is extremely high and the accolade will go to the one that can tick all the boxes, as Sébastien Rogues (Primonial) outlines: “There will be tactics, speed, placement and composure at least until they reach Gibraltar. It will be necessary to tack out way down the Mediterranean, make decisions from the outset, we should move downwards to catch a north-easterly wind which will be rather nice. Going into the Alboran Sea will be a complex passage, with having to opt between North Africa and Spain.” 

Time to Tally 

Early routings, authorised only for the start, predict anything between 6 and 8 days from Toulon to Brest. All will depend on when we get through the Straits of Gibraltar, as Erwan Le Roux estimates: “If we are all in the same boat in Cap Saint-Vincent, everything will be fine. But if one of us manages to slip ahead, there will be better conditions in the Atlantic and that could alter the leaderboard. It’s essential to move quickly from the get-go.” 

There’s not much more choice for Quentin Vlamynck (Arkema 4), number two on the leaderboard, who has done his homework: “There is one place to win and four to lose! That only depends on us. We will give it our all. It’s not good enough to beat Leyton, we’ll have to put another boat between us.”

As for Sébastien Rogues, Erwan Le Roux is the man he has down to beat for a third place on the podium. Thibaut Vauchel-Camus (Solidaires En Peloton - ARSEP), feeling in his element in the ocean breeze, is only one point behind Primonial. Armel Tripon and Benoît Marie (The Arch) leave with just three points, despite only being able to join the Pro Sailing Tour from episode 3 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. 

The British skipper aboard Leyton’s yacht concludes that “everyone is capable of winning, so no, our position is not so ‘comfortable’, even if we do have a slight lead. Half of the Pro Sailing Tour is on the line in this final stage!”

Follow the Final Rush 

The beginning of the afternoon, on a long, southerly tack in over 30 knots, the level pegged fleet already reached the latitude of the Bouches de Bonifacio, as the wind started to settle and the strategists find themselves in their element. 

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