Not since 1978 has the Route du Rhum presented a similar picture, as the weather forecasts with hours to go before the start on Sunday indicate just a single low pressure front to negotiate instead of the usual three or even five! So a highly sustained pace can be expected for just over a week…
“For the start on Sunday 29 October at 13:02, the wind should be west to south-westerly at a gentle ten knots or so, but this forecast is subject to strong fluctuations. It's a complex configuration that will leave great uncertainty on the actual wind direction until a few hours before the cannon sounds. This doubt is likely to persist in the hours following the start and even for the first part of the night…” explained Sylvain Mondon from the French Weather Centre with 48 hours to go before the starting signal.
Consequently, the exit from the Channel risks being slow or even laborious, with the solo sailors probably needing to perform one manoeuvre after another. This configuration could result in added fatigue on entry to the Atlantic. But from midday on Monday, 24 hours after the start, the situation should stabilise with a southerly wind of around fifteen knots, rising on approach to the Atlantic low pressure front: the two Gitana Team skippers should speed up around this point to reach average speeds of over twenty knots!
The Azores: a key point
So until the breeze settles in more firmly, all of the Orma trimaran skippers will opt for the most direct (orthodromic) route, so as not to take risks. This is likely to mean that the trimarans will gain ground towards the west because there is no real gap towards the south, making it necessary to head north of the Atlantic low-pressure front. The skippers will then plot their course around the Azores archipelago...
“Behind this single Atlantic low pressure front, a rare and new phenomenon for a Route du Rhum, the Azores anticyclone traditionally moves towards the East while rising, which stabilises it between the Azores and the Antilles. Vast and powerful, it will generate a stable and sustained north-easterly trade wind after the archipelago. The end of the course remains very open at this forecasting stage, but two thirds of the race should take place with a stern wind.” says Sylvain Mondon.
To sum up then, the sea should remain manageable in the early days but there will be a rough spell to negotiate in passing the Azores, complete with 25 to 30 knot winds … The key point for this Route du Rhum will be located about 20° west, depending on how far north the trimarans are at this longitude, their trajectory will take them more or less close to the centre of the low pressure front. After three days at sea there will be very important tactical choices to make to negotiate the transition between the Atlantic low pressure front (northerly trajectory) and the Azores anticyclone (southerly trajectory): the optimum route thus promises to be a huge curve, with a full west course as far as the Azores, followed by a large descent towards the southwest after the archipelago to catch the northwest trade winds until the finish. Consequently, we should be looking at a course completion time of between eight and a half and ten days, i.e. two to three and a half days better than the record time set by Laurent Bourgnon in 1998 with 12 days 8 hours!
The Gitana Team skippers possess a pair of trimarans particularly well disposed towards such conditions, with primarily stern winds and few headwinds. But while Lionel Lemonchois (Gitana 11) and Thierry Duprey du Vorsent (Gitana 12) are perfectly prepared and suitably supported for this almost dream scenario, they know it will be necessary to maintain a very high but consistent racing rhythm if they are to reach Guadeloupe without dropping off the pace.