Plotting route for Route du Rhum
Published on October 27th, 2022
It is hard to believe that Charlie Dalin (FRA) has never raced in the Route du Rhum, but it is true. The skipper who has completely dominated the 60-foot IMOCA Class in recent races, will be setting sail on the Saint Malo-to-Pointe-à-Pitre classic on November 6th for the first time.
Held every four years, there is a record sized IMOCA fleet of 37 boats for this iconic solo race, but the 38-year-old skipper of APIVIA knows the course well and has a plan on how to conquer the 3543nm route from France to Guadeloupe.
The first issue he believes is knowing how to deal with the pre-start frenzy in the port city of Saint-Malo and then getting away into the English Channel with your head in the right place to sail well.
“I know the race and what goes on – like the atmosphere in Saint-Malo before the start, the crowds and the media,” he said. “There is so much going on – sponsors, press, family, team – everything. That’s the tricky part of the Route du Rhum.”
The next thing is being ready to sail at high intensity in the first few days and having your race plan mapped out before you set sail. “From the moment you find yourself alone on the boat, your battle plan has to be clear,” explained Dalin, who is one of the best in the Class at settling in and moving up through the gears from the start of any race.
“You need to find the time to work on the weather before the start. And then you have to sail at a pretty high pace – if you look at the history of previous winners, you always find they had been pushing hard in the early stages – in any category.”
The location of the start is also important because the big decisions come even earlier than in the Transat Jacques Vabre, for example, which sets sail from Le Havre. “We are starting further west in the Channel than the Transat Jacques Vabre, so on the first evening you potentially have to make a crucial decision that can have a big bearing on whether you win or lose the race,” said Dalin.
The APIVIA skipper also makes a fascinating observation about the final stages of the race, when the course takes the boats around the west coast of Guadeloupe before coming back up to the finish. It was during this phase of the contest in 2018 that the race-leading British sailor, Alex Thomson, ended up crashing onto the rocks when he slept through his alarm.
Dalin points out that this challenging finishing section is a big part of the overall effort, with the rules requiring a counter-clockwise approach around the island. “Sometimes it can be pretty long, up to 20 hours,” he said. “So you are looking at almost 10% of your race time rounding Guadeloupe – once you see Guadeloupe, it doesn’t mean you are finished.”
For Dalin this will be his last race on the boat he now calls APIVIA 1, with a new Guillaume Verdier design, project-managed by CDK and MerConcept, soon to take its place. This boat has brought him immense success, including line honours in the Vendée Globe and an almost perfect performance in the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race.
Will it be an emotional moment when he says goodbye to an IMOCA that will now be handed on to the French skipper Clarisse Crémer? “I really don’t know how I am going to react when I step off the boat in Guadeloupe,” he said. “But I am happy to get my new boat because the aim was to keep the strong points of APIVIA 1 and get rid of the little things we thought we could improve. So I am trading it for something better.”
In the 44 year history of the Route du Rhum, there has never been so many solo skippers planning to start November 6 as in 2022. On this 12th edition, 138 solo racers with compete on the classic race which leaves Saint-Malo, France and heads across the Atlantic to Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe.
Six divisions will compete, beginning with the eight entries in the Ultims and eight in the Ocean Fifty division. Thirty-seven IMOCAs will be there, 55 Class40s as well as 16 in the Rhum Multi (64-feet and less) category and 14 in Rhum Mono (39+ feet) fleets.
Among the competitors, 5% (7) are women across the IMOCA, Class40, and Rhum Mono. Fourteen nationalities will be represented, including Japanese and Chinese skippers. In total, 20% of the participants are from outside France. Half of the French skippers are either residents or natives of Brittany where the race starts from, while there are also 6% Guadeloupeans among the competitors.