The starting line was marked out by two French navy vessels, and most of the multis competing in the first ocean race of the 60 foot Ocean Racing Multihull Championship had their main and jibs hoist high as they raced full speed against the wind. Lined up for inspection as it were, they stayed together for quite some time, flying a float and the central hull when the wind permitted, a magnificent spectacle for the tens of spectator boats.
The boats reaching the first race mark in just over 7 minutes, in the following order : Belgacom, Bayer, Banque Populaire, Géant, Groupama, Sodébo, Sopra, Bonduelle, Gitana, Tacchini, Covefi and Foncia, skippered by Alain Gautier, the event's current title holder.
Although checking in at 9th position on this mark, Gitana has shown her full potential for speed in strong winds, being an equal match for the fleet. On one hull, foils lowered, Benjamin de Rothschild's trimaran, helmed by Lionel Lemonchois, the boat glided across the water with agility. The crew are still familiarising themselves with the boat and work on trimming the sails all the time.
Gusts of wind, rain, showers and a flat sea, not optimum conditions. However, the Gitana Team had smiles on their faces. Each time the central hull lifted out of the water, there was a clear acceleration and her true ability to sail fast was apparent. Olivier Besse, Project Manager : "It's pleasing to see that the boat is capable of keeping up with the best of the fleet, that she is proving how agile she is, ...".
After a less windy passage in the harbour roads, the sheltered waters of Cherbourg, Gitana had retained her 9th place and was shoulder to shoulder with Sergio Tachini, the speedometer oscillating between 23 and 26 knots (44 to 50 km/h), still upwind on a westerly heading.
Over the coming hours and the night ahead, the south-westerly wind should continue, strengthening with electric storms and rain. But these rather fresh conditions do not seem to effect the crew. Yann Marilley, runner : "We don't know the boat that well, but we are out to win. And in ocean racing is not like Grand Prix sailing. There are many more chances to pull your way through."
Challenge Mondial Assistance
Cherbourg (F) Channel / Rimini (It) / Adriatic. 2734 miles (5063 km)
Start 11th May 2003
Finish between 19th and 23rd May 2003
Races in Rimini on 23rd and 24th May