IMOCA sets record for Route du Rhum

Published on October 10th, 2022

Every four years, the non-stop Vendee Globe race provides the hardest test for solo sailing. Using the 60-foot IMOCA, the escalating efforts to claim this prize could have easily imploded the class organization and the events it supports. Too much expense and effort can do that.

But smart moves by the class has limited the madness and retained a healthy culture, with the result being a record sized IMOCA fleet of 37 boats in the 2022 Route du Rhum to start November 6. Spanning the transatlantic from France to Guadeloupe, this 3543nm course is also every four years and a significant step toward the 2024 Vendee Globe.

There have never been so many IMOCA entries with more contenders for the podium than in any previous 11 editions with strength and depth all the way through the field. For the top skippers, winning this mythical solo race is the obvious goal. It is very much an extended sprint. It is contested at a unique, high level intensity with very little time to rest.

The transition between what is often a tough Bay of Biscay crossing to the foot to the floor, relentless high speeds of the trade winds is often key. The course record for the IMOCAs was set in 2014 by François Gabart, then 31 years old, who completed the race in 12 days, 4 hours and 38 minutes.

The 2018 edition saw a dramatic finish with Paul Meilhat taking the IMOCA title. He returns with a new boat which is one of seven new IMOCAs which have been launched over the last four months.

There are four pairs of sisterships now. Maxime Sorel V and B – Monbana – Mayenne is a Verdier sistership of the current APIVIA. Meilhat’s Biotherm is a Verdier sistership of LinkedOut. Yannick Bestaven’s new Maitre Coq V is a Verdier sistership of 11th Hour Racing-Mâlama and Sam Davies’ new Initiatives Coeur 4 is sistership of the Sam Manuard designed L’Occitane en Provence.

Three boats come from completely new moulds. There is the Verdier Holcim – PRB by Kevin Escoffier, Manuard’s Charal2 by Jérémie Beyou, and the VPLP designed new Malizia – Sea Explorer of Boris Herrmann. All these new boats are expected to be on starting line on November 6 off Saint-Malo.

Like others in the class, Escoffier (Holcim – PRB) believes the “new boats will not be favorites; it is will be the boats of the 2020 generation that are more reliable that will have the advantage.”

Among these boats and skippers are of course the dominant Charlie Dalin (APIVIA) and Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut). Both have new IMOCAs in build and this will be their last race with their current models. Dalin, second in the 2020-24 Vendée Globe remains undefeated this season, but he has never competed in the Route du Rhum whilst Thomas Ruyant, who won the Transat Jacques Vabre last year, is also a contender for the win.

“I feel like I have known this race, the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe since I was very young,” said Dalin. “And this race has always made me dream. However, I have never taken part and now is the time to give it a go.

“The challenge will be to find the right tempo because it’s neither fast like a stage of La Solitaire du Figaro, nor as long as a Vendée Globe. It’s somewhere between the 100 meters and the marathon: you will always have to set your cursor in the right place.”

The weather conditions in November on the Bay of Biscay are frequently an acid test for the new boats, exposing early weaknesses. Proven reliability is often the most important attributes.

There are certain weather scenarios – especially a lot of upwind sailing – which could prove good for the non-foiling straight daggerboard boats, especially early in the race. Among them Conrad Colman (Imagine), Benjamin Ferré (Monnoyeur – Duo for a Job), Guirec Soudée (Freelance.com), and Éric Bellion (Commeunseulhomme powered by Altavia) showed well last June during the Vendée Arctique.

And there will be 13 rookies taking on a major solo race for the first time. Among them in the IMOCA class are the experienced Swiss sailors Justine Mettraux (Teamwork.net) and Oliver Heer (Oliver Heer Ocean Racing), the Chinese Jingkun Xu (China Dream-Haikou), and Britain’s James Harayda (Gentoo) will discover for the first time this mythical transatlantic.

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