With 20 skippers at the start in St Malo on November 4th, of which 10 are sailing boats equipped with foils, this edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe in the IMOCA class promises to be competitive and exciting.
In the space of four years, the IMOCA class has been revolutionsed with foil technology which makes the boats even faster than before and more spectacular. But behind the front line contenders, the old generation boats are certainly not dull. The best performers in this "vintage" match can even hope to compete for podium places in Pointe-à-Pitre.
There were nine IMOCAs in the race in 2014 and there have never been more than 13 in the 40-year history of the “Queen” of solo transatlantic races. The fleet of 20 competitors this year – consisting of 17 men and three women and made up of five nationalities - says a lot about the good health of the class.
In 2014, François Gabart – the winner in this category - took just 12 days, 4 hours and 38 minutes to complete the 3,452-nautical mile course and did so in a faster time than Laurent Bourgnon in 1998 on his trimaran. This time the recent technical development in the class means the record for what many skippers regard as a “long sprint” may well come down to 11 days.
Of the 10 foilers, six boats had these from launch - Valley Office, Charal, Hugo Boss, Malizia II-Monaco Yacht Club, Newrest-Art & Windows, UCAR-Saint Michel. The other four have had foils added as part of a performance upgrade package - Initiatives-Heart, La Fabrique, La Mie Câline-Artipôle, PRB.
The IMOCA monohulls are indeed, alongside the giant multihulls in the Ultime category, the most complex machines of this 11th Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe with foils, ballast tanks, wingmasts, canting keels and lifting rudders.
In St Malo at the start, the spotlight will be on the triple winner of the Solitaire du Figaro, Jérémie Beyou of France who is racing his new IMOCA, Charal. This boat – the very latest from the designers VPLP – represents the new generation in the class with its very large and angular foils. Beyou has posted some spectaculr video on social media of his new flying machine which looks exceptionally fast and a real handful to sail.
An interesting unknown will be the British skipper Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss which he sailed brilliantly to second place in the last Vendee Globe. Although Thomson is expecting a new boat next year, we do not know whether he has made modifications to the current Hugo Boss – it will be fascinating to see how he gets on against Beyou.
One thing is certain: this fleet will be fighting hard from the word go and it is likely to come right down to the wire off Point-à-Pitre. On paper, at least, six skippers are capable of winning including Vincent Riou (PRB) and also Britain’s Samantha Davies (Initiatives-Heart) who has shown in recent months that she is right on top of her foiling flyer.
Apart from SMA skippered by Paul Meilhat, it is difficult to see how the non-foilers will be able to keep pace with their more powerful sisters unless very tough weather in the opening stages plays a decisive hand.
But the battle between the older generation boats will be fascinating. There will be nine 60s originally launched for the 2008 Vendée Globe moored from October 24 in the Duguay-Trouin basin in St Malo. On board will be some very good sailors. Some may compete for the top overall placings, as demonstrated by Yannick Bestaven (Master CoQ) last year when finishing fifth in the Transat Jacques Vabre on his 2008 Farr design. In this group, it will be interesting to measure the performance impact of foils added to hulls this winter for example on La Mie Câline-Artipôle and La Fabrique.
In June 2018 the IMOCA class launched the Globe Series, a three-year solo and double-handed racing programme. The Vendée Globe 2020 is the highlight and these races are part of the selection process for that event. The highest points scorer on all eight events will be crowned World Champion in 2021. After the Monaco Globe Series held in June, the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe is the second race of the year. But the future of the IMOCA class is not just about solo and double-handed racing because the class has also been selected as the boats for the next race fully-crewed round-the-world race (the former-Volvo Ocean Race) in 2021-22.
The 20 competitors of the IMOCA category:
- Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Art & Windows), plan VPLP Verdier 2015
- Romain Attanasio (Pure-Family Mary), 2007 Farr Yacht Design Plan
- Alexia Barrier (4MyPlanet), 1998 Lombard map
- Yannick Bestaven (Master CoQ), plan Farr Yacht Design 2006
- Jérémie Beyou (Charal), plan VPLP 2018
- Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline-Artipôle), 2007 Owen Clarke Plan
- Louis Burton (Valley Office), plan VPLP Verdier 2015
- Manuel Cousin (Setin Group), 2007 Farr Yacht Design Plan
- Samantha Davies (Initiatives-Heart), plan VPLP Verdier 2010
- Yann Eliès (UCAR-Saint-Michel), plan VPLP Verdier 2015
- Boris Herrmann (Malizia II-Monaco Yacht Club), VPLP 2015 plan)
- Ari Huusela (Ariel II), 2007 Owen Clarke map
- Isabelle Joschke (Monin), VPLP Verdier 2007 plan
- Stéphane The Time for Oceans, plan Finot-Conq 2008
- Paul Meilhat (SMA), plan VPLP Verdier 2011
- Erik Nigon (Towards a world without AIDS), plan Farr Yacht Design 2006
- Vincent Riou (PRB), plan VPLP Verdier 2009
- Alan Roura (La Fabrique), plan Finot-Conq 2007
- Damien Seguin (APICIL Group), Finot-Conq plan 2008
- Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss), plan VPLP Verdier 2016