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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