The 3,500 nautical miles solo IMOCA race, the Retour à La Base, from Martinique back to the famous epicentre of French ocean racing Lorient La Base without doubt represents the toughest test of the 2023 season, a fitting finale before the fleet is lifted out for their winter refits. The 33 solo skippers leave the warmth of the French Antilles and head back across the Atlantic to the December chill of Europe and the west coast of France.

From the trade winds belt the racers climb north, ideally to hook into a fast moving Atlantic low pressure system three or four days after the start, which they should ride back eastwards to France. In many respects it is a good test of boats and sailors for next year’s Vendée Globe.

What the skippers are saying

There is a hint of confidence in the voice of veteran Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline) who has been a regular on the IMOCA circuit since 2007. “The Retour à La Base will be extremely intense and hard,” he says simply. We usually say that return Transatlantics are more difficult than outbound Transatlantics and this looks like it will be true.”

There is a certain hunger, an anticipation prevailing through the fleet as they prepare in Fort-de-France, all of them now keen to get out and get into solo race mode.

“Because of its timing this late in the year the course, it will perhaps be the most difficult race of the season,” suggests Romain Attanasio (Fortinet-Best Western). “Last year when we did the return delivery from the Route du Rhum we could all see that it could be very challenging,” adds Manuel Cousin (Coup de Pouce – Giffard Manutention). I hope I won’t be as tough as it was then.”

“An endurance race, not a sprint”

Nicolas Lunven (Holcim-PRB) outlines the course: “We go upwind in the trade winds and seek out the westerly flow generated by the depressions in the North Atlantic”. Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa) expands: “The easterly trade winds will force us to sail upwind, to go up north on starboard tack up to above the Antilles . Then, we will put the indicator to the right and turn towards the Azores where we should get strong reaching crosswinds and downwinds.”

Basically the skippers are set to “compete in an endurance race, not a sprint” adds Sam Goodchild (FOR THE PLANET). “We will be heading out of the heat and into the cold and the storms” summarizes Violette Dorange (DEVENIR). “Physically, I expect it to be very tough. The sails are very heavy, you will have to be moving a lot between the front and back of the boat,” explains the 22-year-old Dorange.  

For Conrad Colman (MAIL BOXES ETC.), this “mixture of upwind, depressions and surfing could be good for the daggerboard boats, they often do well in mixed conditions and headwinds,” emphasizes the New Zealander Colman.

The Retour à La Base is in effect a good “final test run before the 2024 season and the Vendée Globe” says Romain Attanasio. “The solo round the world race is already on everyone's minds and this transatlantic race will be invaluable in our preparations.”

“We will find conditions which will be close to what we get on the Vendée Globe,” agrees Fabrice Amedeo (Nexans – Art & Fenêtres). “The North Atlantic solo and in winter will be really useful to prepare for the big south which I don’t know at all yet ,” says Antoine Cornic (Human Immobilier).

“And everyone who will be racing north in the Vendée Globe will have to go up the North Atlantic in winter, in January 2025, in similar conditions,” concludes Hubert Lemonnier, the Race Director.

The Retour à La Base starts Thursday 11:00hrs UTC…

They said:

Kojiro Shiraishi JPN (DMG GLOBAL ONE): “It looks quite a simple course I know what I need to do. There will be a lot of good, solid downwind conditions on the course which will be a good thing to test the boat ahead of the Vendée Globe next year, good to test the boat and the sails. Like usual I want to be in the top half of the fleet but the main objective is to not break the boat.

Szabi Weöres HUN (New Europe): “The priority is to arrive safe and finish well. It has been a long year with so much behind us now, everyone is tired, the boat is tired, I am still a bit tired but mentally I am in a good place. I just want to keep it cool, I am pretty comfortable solo now, even if I did not sail singlehanded this year.