Set off Fast' but not Furious'
Aboard the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild, a calm is gradually taking hold. Sébastien Josse has loaded his bag aboard and each of the members of Gitana Team are checking that everything's in position one last time. In Port Olona, the boat will spend a final night alone before she takes on the round the world adventure with her skipper. Sunday will begin with a series of emotional goodbyes, before launching into the canal out of Les Sables d'Olonne where hundreds of thousands of people will be out in force to wish these much cherished sailors all the best. The forecast promises to be mild for the kick-off at 12:02 GMT. Indeed, a N'ly wind of around fifteen knots will send the twenty-nine competitors on their way. Escorted by their shore crew and numerous spectator boats, the monohulls will likely take off quickly, slipping along downwind on what will still be fairly gentle seas in order to get their sea legs. From the end of the day, the wind is set to build across the Bay of Biscay as far as Cape Finisterre; the first important passage point which the front runners could reach on Monday, before first light. Perfect conditions for making good speed, they certainly won't be simple and the sailors will have to be precise without being overly hasty.
Staying relaxed' is easier said than done. Charging oneself up with positive emotion without letting yourself get overwhelmed. It's a fine line which you're never quite sure how to walk. My mind set involves going about it with equanimity, Sébastien Josse admits. We're setting off on a round the world. My aim in this first part of the race is to be on the pace when I hit the southern hemisphere, with a boat in good condition. You know that along the coast of Brazil, our foiling boat will be in their element and able to open up a lead. My priority is to make it into the Deep South feeling comfortable and right on my game.
A clear, but no less challenging forecast
With a N'ly breeze and hence cold air, the meteorological precision often underestimates the strength of the wind. Added to that, this NNW'ly will likely be shifty with lines of squalls that might well reach 25 knots in the Bay of Biscay, filling to 30 knots at Cape Finisterre, which we could well overtake at around 3:00 or 4:00 GMT on Monday morning, explains the skipper.
Antoine Koch is head of the Gitana Team Design Office. A sailor, he is also a member of the performance cell within the five-arrow stable. He's supporting Sébastien in these final hours on shore so as prepare for the start of the race as best as possible. We're not in a position where we have a violent start with gales in the Bay of Biscay, nor are we in a tactically complex situation, he explains. Nevertheless, the competitors will have to put in a string of manoeuvres in order to adapt the sail area that deals with variations in the wind strength. Next, along the length of Portugal, they'll come level with a small ridge of high pressure. At that point, it'll be necessary to choose between heading along the coast to keep up the speed, or distance oneself from there, prepared to stumble slightly in the zone of light winds, but with some westerly separation that should pay off over the long term. The next section should be quick, straight towards the Doldrums. In the steady tradewinds, the skipper will need to link together a series of gybes, which are always very demanding in solo configuration. As such, if the situation presents itself in classic fashion, it will require a lot of energy from the sailors.