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Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe form guide with 48 hours to go

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he atmosphere in the race village in Saint Malo ahead of the race start on Sunday, 4 November
he atmosphere in the race village in Saint Malo ahead of the race start on Sunday, 4 November

The ULTIME class is going to produce a breathtakingly fast race in the 2018 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe from Saint Malo in Brittany to Point-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe and it features the rockstars of French solo ocean racing.

“Probably the fastest boat in the six-strong field in this class is Seb Josse’s Maxi Edmond de Rothschild,” says Andi Robertson ahead of the start of the 3,542-mile solo transatlantic race on Sunday. “But Seb has not won a solo transatlantic race before so he has a point to prove.” 

Josse’s biggest rival is likely to be François Gabart, the golden boy of French single-handed ocean racing who holds the solo round-the-world record in his blue and white trimaran, MACIF. He will be sailing this spectacular boat for the first time with foils but is expected to be slightly slower than Josse’s machine.

“Gabart definitely has the talent and experience to overcome any disadvantage in boat design,” adds Robertson. “The key thing is that he knows how to pace himself – how to manage himself better than anyone and I think that is going to be fundamental in this race. Of the top-sailors in this class he is the one who knows best how to take rest on board without compromising performance.” 

Robertson reckons Armel le Cleac’h in Maxi Solo Banque Populaire IX, another new boat equipped with foils, will be quick but the word is that the sailor known in France as the “Jackal” has been playing catch-up ever since capsizing the boat back in April.

Whatever happens this is going to be fascinating as we see the biggest and fastest multihulls in the world now equipped with foils taking on a depression in the Atlantic for the first time under solo skippers. “The seven-day race record could come down by a day with latest routings showing a very direct and fast trip to Guadeloupe,” says Robertson. 

In the 20-strong IMOCA fleet Robertson says we are likely to see three races within the division, with a top group featuring Jérémie Beyou in the new Charal, Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss, Vincent Riou on PRB and Yann Eliès on Ucar-Saint-Michel.

“In the top group in the IMOCAs I think – and many others do too – that this is going to be Alex Thomson’s time. He is here in a boat he has already raced around the world and he is raring to go on his first Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe,” says Robertson.

“The other contenders in the group are led by Eliès because he knows his boat – he won the Transat Jacques Vabre (TJV) in it – and because he has done most miles with it and he is the hungriest. Yann needs a good result here to go forward to the Vendée Globe with a really top-quality campaign. But Eliès’s current steed is not as fast as Charal or Hugo Boss.”

Robertson says that although Beyou’s Charal should be the fastest in the fleet, it is as yet unproven in big waves and strong winds. “In the design race, if this was a two-day contest I would go for Charal followed by Hugo Boss. But it is the other way round once you factor in the longer distance and heavy weather.”

After the top group the next echelon will be led by the France-based British sailor Sam Davies on Initiatives Coeur. “The people who have watched her programme this season say that if anybody drops out of the top group, Sam will be on the podium because she has optimised the boat well, she has done the miles and I think, as much as anything, she is super-hungry because she did not do the last Vendée,” said Robertson. 

Then comes the first of the non-foilers, a group likely to be led by, Paul Meilhat on SMA who will be looking to do as well as he can as he looks for backing for a Vendée Globe campaign on a new boat.

The Multi50 class, meanwhile, has been experiencing steady growth in France with a developing grand prix circuit which is slowly building a following. This is especially so since one-design foils have been introduced which have turbo-charged the boats while keeping a cap on costs.

“Erwan Le Roux on FenêtréA-MixBuffet is widely expected to win for a second time in row, but his nearest rival is Lalou Roucayrol who will give him a run for his money on Arkema. Newcomer Thibault Vauchel-Camus has a brand new boat in Solidaires en Peloton/Arsep. He has been French national champion in the F18 catamaran dinghy class many times and finished second in Class40s in 2014 in this race, his first major solo ocean test, so he will be in the mix too,” summarised Robertson. 

The huge, 53-strong Class40 fleet will be another one where we are likely to see races within races. For the leaders the key in the early stages will be staying with the peloton and not spearing off alone on a risky tangent. 

“Ameryic Chapellier (Aina Enfance et Avenir) who finished second in the TJV last year and Maxime Sorel (V & B) have proven boats,” said Alex Pella of Spain who won the Class40 division in this race four years ago. “Luis Duc (Caral) did super-well in the TJV and built his boat two years ago and has new sails. Loic Fequet has my old boat Tales, now Tibco and is a great sailor who is strong.

“British sailor Sam Goodchild (Narcos-Mexico) is a great natural sailor,” continued Pella, “who has done a lot of different types of sailing like me and has a good chance. And Phil Sharp (Imerys Clean Energy) has an older generation boat and is super-strong, but I think he is always pushing too hard and has broken everything. Nico Troussel (Corum) has a good boat and Yann Richomme (Veedol-AIC) have great new boats, but I think the boats are too new.” 

You can follow the race and access the tracker online at www.routedurhum.com or via our social channels on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram, and YouTube. You can also download the application at the Apple Store and Google Play.