Emotions ran high as family and friends bid farewell to 16 skippers setting out from Les Sables d’Olonne on one of the most gruelling challenges on the planet. The Golden Globe Race is a solo non stop voyage sailing small 32-36ft old fashion yachts without technology and no assistance. Following years of intense preparations and safety checks, the thought of 9 months of total isolation with only high frequency radios to speak with family was daunting.
The people of Sables d’Olonne were present in high numbers to cheer the GGR competitors and in the two weeks of the race village which drew 5000 visitors per day. Thousands lined the wall along the mythical channel of Sables d’Olonne where classic and historic yachts, competitors of the Golden Globe Race, traditional Olonnois yachts and local yachts paraded towards the start line.
We couldn’t have wished for a better home port for the GGR than Les Sables d’Olonne. To watch the sailors depart the marina was both humbling, exciting and electric. We were all swept up in the emotion and human spirit on display. Trying to imagine the hardships and joy these sailors and dreamers will experience in the months ahead was hard.Don McIntyre, President and Founder
The skippers were ready to go following years of preparations. It was time! The starting line was between Tapio Lethenin’s Swan 55 Galiana and L’Esprit d’Equipe of local skipper Lionel Reigner, both Ocean Globe Race entrants. The Official start vessel was Guépard, a French Navy training ship of which the town of Les Sables d’Olonne is the godmother. The official starter was Sir Robin Knox Johnston supported by the Mayor Yannick Moreau, and the founder of the GGR, Don McIntyre.
It was Britain’s Simon Curwen who crossed the line first, followed shortly by France’s Damien Guillou on PRB, later joined by Kirsten Neuschäfer. The trio who led the previous Gijon prologue quickly took the lead of the fleet towards Cape Finisterre, 350 miles south-west of Les Sables d’Olonne, which they are expected to reach in 3 to 4 days.
The former Classe Mini and Figaro sailor and the South African ocean navigator will be keen to set a strong pace to the rest of the fleet in the early hours of the race to implement their respective strategies. This should see them seeking the low pressure system to the west before descending to the tip of Cape Finisterre. Strong headwinds, avoiding coastal traffic and possible interactions with orcas along the Galician coast are just some of the challenges ahead.
Popular local French sailor Arnouad Gaist broke the start line by about 1 minute and was asked by the official starter to recross the line. He failed to do so. This will be addressed later, but as he sails the smallest yachts in the fleet so it is not expected to have any real impact.
Christian Dumard, the meteorologist for legendary races such as the Vendée Globe, the Volvo Ocean Race and the Mini Transat, shares his analysis:
The conditions for the first few days of the race are going to be tough. After a start in good conditions, the low-pressure system to the west of the Celtic Sea will bring strong south westerly winds. It will be followed at the end of next week by the remains of cyclone Danielle, which formed in the middle of the Atlantic. It is therefore in a prevailing SW to W flow that the competitors will sail to Cape Finisterre, then probably to the latitude of Lisbon. The sea will be rough with waves of up to 4 metres. They will then be able to hit the Portuguese trade winds, the famous northerly winds that will enable them to sail downwind towards the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Archipelago.Christian Dumard
There are two options in the immediate future: westwards towards heavy weather for the skippers who will want to make the difference during the first 24 hours, and a route favouring milder but more uncertain winds along the Asturian and Galician coastline. This choice, early in the race, could well lead to the first split of the fleet into 2 groups.
The Spaniard Aleix Seilles, still waiting for his mast, chose to sail alongside the fleet and test his jury rig on his Rustler 36 Onsoro. According to the Notice of Race, he may have one more week to rejoin the Race and cross the start line south of Nouch, and benefit from good weather conditions. He is determined and could well add another twist to this 2022 edition.
Next stop, Lanzarote!