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Burton making the pace as Retour à La Base starts from Martinique

by Retour à La Base 30 Nov 2023 20:13 GMT 30 November 2023
IMOCA competitors are pictured during start of the solo sailing race Retour à La Base, in Fort de France, Martinique, on November 30 © Anne Beaug

After a relatively benign, light winds start out of the Bay of Fort-de-France, Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) was leading the 30 strong Retour à La Base fleet as the inaugural solo race across the Atlantic to Lorient filed south to round the tip of Martinique.

It was as if the Saint Malo skipper, who took third on the last Vendée Globe, was out to atone for his recent Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre starting infringement which cost him a five hours penalty and saw him and co-skipper Davy Beaudart immediately lose touch with the fleet leaders.

But after the gun had sounded at midday (local), this time Burton made a smooth,faultless exit away from the start line and picked his way through the light patches and the rain squalls to lead the fleet down the west side of the island.

Britain's Sam Goodchild, on his first solo outing on his IMOCA For The Planet, was actually first to break the line after the gun and was fourth when they started a short leg directly upwind.

Germany's Boris Herrmann (Malizia Seaexplorer) unveiled a carefully planned strategy, starting offshore of the fleet and so was less affected by the lee of the land and able to maintain good speed. He was right alongside, metres from Yoann Richomme (Paprec-Arkea) when the two solo racers changed from their J Zero headsail to their J2 'in stereo'. Double winner of the Route du Rhum and La Solitaire du Figaro, Richomme - also on his first solo race with his new boat - was lying second, Herrmann third.

Britain's Pip Hare on Medallia had a frustrating pre-start period.Her primary GPS would not function properly meaning she was last to dock out,and then her start countdown failed but the determined Hare was 19th and fastest in the fleet mid afternoon.

Off the southern tip of Martinique is a diamond shaped forbidden zone - an area of restricted fishing - which the fleet have to keep to the south tip around 0300hrs UTC Friday morning as they climb almost due north - or just west of north for the fast foilers -seeking to pass through the western edge of the Azores high pressure to find the first eastbound ride on an Atlantic lowpressure system on Monday.

Will Harris, co-skipper on Malizia Seaexplorer on the outbound Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre and The Ocean Race explains the first few days, "The foilers will be on their J2s upwind through the night - likely minimising tacks - and then as soon as they are past the end of the DCP they will bear off, between 15 to 20 degrees. For them the balance is at 70 degrees TWA they are making 18-20kts and at 50 degrees TWA it is more like 15kts. They will keep an eye on the weather and see how the high is evolving but sailing lower and faster should make it easier and better but you are sailing more miles. Sail too high and the breeze will be lighter and you might have to gybe. Then most, I think, will opt to route on the south side of the low pressure but these systems are evolving all the time."

The 30 sailors are expected to be joined within a few days,by two other entrants in the Retour à La Base. After having to pitstop inLorient to repair for six days after hitting an object on the TJV Tanguy LeTurquais (Lazare) is due into Martinique this evening and Jean Le Cam (Tout Commence en Finistère - Armor Lux) has delivered his brand new boat across the Atlantic to take part in this race as it is an essential qualifier for the Vendée Globe. The line remains open for six days now to facilitate late starters to aid their Vendée Globe qualification.

The first finishers are expected into Lorient any time after 9th December.

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Quotes on the pontoon:

Conrad Colman, NZL, Mail Boxes ETC: "I feel fantastic, this is a good chance to finally get on the glide path for the Vendée Globe. That is cool. After putting the boat together and all the work we did, I kind of feel little by little, incrementally we are getting closer to the Vendée Globe. We did a massive refit. And the double handed race was agreat success, and now here we are turning the page and it is time to focus on solo. From here on out it is all solo, it is all preparation for the Vendée Globe. It is a big change of amplitude.

We could not have asked for a better weather window in terms of easing into the race, in contrast to the Jacques Vabre I don't expect the fleet will blow up and go 1000 different ways on the Atlantic. It will be really interesting to be in a pack and do a speed test against everyone else. That is exciting.

We have done very little testing boat on boat since we changed the boat. And so those miles and that opportunity to compare ourselves will be enormously valuable in terms of building sails for the Vendée Globe. We have to get that right, we need to know our weak points and what we are working to to improve.But there is also some gamesmanship going on, everyone says 'oh I'm just focused on getting there, but as soon as the red mist is down, when there is a start line and a finish line everyone is pushing hard. It is really cool. I think it will be decided by who manages the depression best. The first few days are a speed test, that will be interesting but when the chips are down anddepression number 4 is going past at the Azores, it is about positioning north south then, trying not to be too greedy. I set limits and respect them. More wind is not necessarily more speed, it is an opportunity too for more things to break."

Sam Davies GBR Initiatives Coeur: "I'm super excited!" I'm really looking forward to leaving, to go solo aboard my boat Initiatives Cœur which has evolved a lot this year. But I'm a little stressed too: I feel like it's been a really long time since I've done a real solo race. The boats are powerful, you have to master everything on your own... I learned a lot and gained confidence during the Transat Jacques Vabre. There's nothing better than having a great run before heading out solo. It shows that the boat is capable of doing it. I think I'll just listen to it during the race! I'm going there with a real learning objective, rediscovering the sensations that we had together on the Transat Jacques Vabre without taking any risks in terms of maneuvers and choice of sail. The Return to Base marks the end of a busy season for me in terms of crewed and then double-handed sailing. This race is one more step towards the Vendée Globe. It will be similar to what we will have in the Southern Ocean and it will be interesting to test the sails and configurations in these conditions!"

Sam Goodchild GBR For The Planet: ". Apart from the few squalls that there may be, the first three days should be quite simple in terms of strategy. That gives us a little time before we worry about what's next! This is the first time that I will be solo on my boat. We didn't even have a day solo! There are lots of things to discover, to learn and I can't wait to see what happens! There can't be a better setup for starting out solo.There are a lot of parameters that change from double handed. I don't have any worries yet, but I really want to see what it's like! It's the last race of the year,it's the return home. We are all tired but excited nonetheless. It feels good to leave relaxed!"

Yoann Richomme, FRA, Paprec Arkéa: "I really like this boat. It is made for this type of transatlantic with strong downwind sea conditions which we will find when we get to the Azores and even more so in the Bay of Biscay as we approach Lorient. I am looking forwards to seeing its potential in these seas and getting my bearings on board when we are making fairly high average speeds I will have to manage the beast alone. I have never done this before and so looking towards the Vendée Globe, this is interesting. I need alot of information to learn how to perform well on this boat in harsh conditions. The beginning will be fairly neutral but when we go west, there we will be able to put the cursor a little more where we want and start to attack more or less. I'm going to watch the boat, we have to get to the other side but we also have to learn, we have to come back with answers and not generate more questions than those we already have at the start. I'm glad to be going home. It's been almost a month and a half since we left but mentally we've been at it for several months. Also I'm happy that it was a relatively quick transatlantic. It's true that as soon as we finish we're going to get our heads back into the next two Transats for next year, you wonder a little when will it stop but we're going to have to break a little all the same !"

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