A record sized IMOCA class will have high quality competition all the way through the fleet

There have never been so many IMOCA class entries in the La Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe in the IMOCA class.

With 37 boats set to take the start line, there are certainly more contenders for the podium than in any previous edition and there is strength and depth all the way through the field.

For the top IMOCA skippers, winning this mythical solo race is the obvious goal. It is very much a extended sprint. It is contested at a unique, high level intensity with very little time to rest. The  transition between what is often a tough Bay of Biscay crossing to the foot to the floor, relentless high speeds of the trade winds is often key. For many the race lasts around two weeks whilst the course record for the IMOCAs was set in 2014 by François Gabart, then 31 years old, who completed the race in 12 days, 4 hours and 38 minutes.

Image: Polaryse

The 2018 edition saw a dramatic finish with Paul Meilhat taking the IMOCA title. He returns with a new boat in the colours of his new sponsors Biotherm. His is just one of seven new IMOCAs which have been launched over the last four months. There are four pairs of sisterships now.  Maxime Sorel V and B – Monbana – Mayenne is a Verdier sistership of the current APIVIA. Meilhat’s Biotherm is a Verdier sistership of LinkedOut. Yannick Bestaven’s new Maitre Coq V is a Verdier sistership of 11th Hour Racing-Mâlama and Sam Davies’ new Initiatives Coeur 4 is sistership of the Sam Manuard designed L’Occitane en Provence.

Three boats come from completely new moulds. There is the Verdier Holcim – PRB by Kevin Escoffier, Manuard’s Charal2 by Jérémie Beyou and the VPLP designed new Malizia – Sea Explorer of Boris Herrmann ). All these new boats are expected to be on starting line on 6 November off Saint-Malo.

Like others in the class Kévin Escoffier (Holcim – PRB) believes that the “new boats will not be favourites, it is will be the boats of the 2020 generation that are more reliable that will have the advantage”. There were four new boats among the ‘top 10’ of the Azimut Challenge flagship event in mid-September.

Among these boats and skippers are of course the dominant Charlie Dalin (APIVIA) and Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut). Both have new IMOCAs in build and this will be their last race with their current monohulls. Dalin, second in the Vendée Globe, is the recent winner of the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race and June’s Vendée Arctic race and remains undefeated this season. But he has never competed in the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe whilst Thomas Ruyant, who won the Transat Jacques Vabre last year, is also a contender for the win.

A big jump for 13 rookies

But the weather conditions in November on the Bay of Biscay are frequently an acid test for the new boats, exposing early weaknesses. Proven reliability is often the most important attributes. There are certain weather scenarios – especially a lot of upwind sailing – which could prove good for the non-foiling straight daggerboard boats, especially early in the race. Among them Conrad Colman (Imagine), Benjamin Ferré (Monnoyeur – Duo for a Job), Guirec Soudée (Freelance.com) and Éric Bellion (Commeunseulhomme powered by Altavia) who showed well last June during the Vendée Arctique.

And there will be 13 rookies racing on the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe taking on a major solo race for the first time. Among them in the IMOCA class are the experienced Swiss sailors Justine Mettraux (Teamwork.net) and Oliver Heer (Oliver Heer Ocean Racing), the Chinese Jingkun Xu (China Dream-Haikou), and Britain’s James Harayda (Gentoo) will discover for the first time this mythical transatlantic.

All of the IMOCA skippers are expected in Saint Malo on 26 October, including Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée), who is based in the Corsair city. All will take part in a parade under sail for visiting spectators who maybe can’t get to the start to see the IMOCAs in their glory. Those lucky enough to be around in Guadeloupe for the finish can expect the first boats around 18 November.

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