As might be expected for a country for which solo ocean racing is a national passion –
witness the huge crowds on the Saint Malo docksides today enjoying warm Indian summer sunshine – the vast majority of the entries for the La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe are from France. But the record 91 strong field is peppered with solo skippers from eight other nations, nine men and two women hailing from Italy, Great Britain, South Africa, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Belgium and Finland. In fact several of them rank as serious podium contenders in their respective classes.
Italian Alessandro di Benedetto – 11th in the last Vendée Globe and ninth in the 2013 Transat Jacques Vabre – is the only non French skipper in the IMOCA Open 60 Class and his racing challenge improves with every big race even if he considers his older boat is 30 per cent less powerful than the most recent generation of boats racing.
It is in Class 40 and the Rhum Class that most of the international skippers are entered. In Class 40 Conrad Humphreys (GBR) – 7th in the Vendée Globe 2004-5 - returns to the race with Cat Phones Built for it, the Akilaria RC3 which was previously Caterham. Miranda Merron (GBR) races the well travelled, well proven Pogo S2 Campagne de France. Both will be looking to match the record of Phil Sharp who still ranks as the only British skipper to win Class 40 in the Route du Rhum, triumphing in 2006 when compatriot Ian Munslow was third.
Philippa Hutton-Squire is Anglo-South African and takes on La Route du Rhum for the first time, racing a Rogers Class 40. From Belgium Michel Kleinjans will take the start of his second La Route du Rhum – he won the Rhum class with a 45 foot mono in the 2006 edition. This time he sails one of the Farr designed Kiwi 40 FCs.
Italy's Giancarlo Pedote (ITA) races his Tyker 40 Fantastica. Second on the 2013 Mini Transat, it is also Pedote's first bit solo ocean race in Class 40. Barcelona, Spain's Alex Pella is reckoned to be a strong podium contender with the very fast Botin designed Tales 2. He finished second on the last Transat Jacques Vabre with Pablo Santurde despite having had to pit stop in Northern Spain to repair their rudder. Pella has two podium places to his credit from his days in the Mini and finished fourth on the last Barcelona World Race with Pepe Ribes.
Conrad Humphreys (CAT Phones) - Classe 40 - Route du Rhum Destination Guadeloupe - 22/10/2014
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is very much 'The Don' not just of this edition of La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe but even of solo ocean sailing itself, returning for his second Route du Rhum at the age of 75. The legendary soloist was the first sailor ever to complete a solo non stop circumnavigation between 1968 and 1969. Three times Yachtsman of the Year his last major solo ocean race was in 2007 when he completed the Velux 5 Oceans round the world race. And he is no stranger to Saint Malo and the Route du Rhum having competed in the second edition of the race finishing 16th in his Sea Falcon, Olympus III, one day and three places higher than a young Loïc Peyron.
Don't ask Knox-Johnston if he feels fit enough to race an Open 60 flat out or he is likely to challenge youphysically:
"In my head, I'm 45," replies the most famous of British sailors. He is loving the return to the fun, the camaraderie and the excitement, anticipating the race: "The atmosphere here is great," he says smiling at the crowd. "My boat is almost ready, just a few things on the rig and then I'm ready to go." His goal in the race "To the tip of Brittany, I will be very careful. It will be a tricky part, with lots of traffic. But then I think I will attack a little! ".
For Knox Johnston the race is very much a known quantity, but for Finn Ari Huusela on his 40-foot monohull (Neste Oil) on his first big ocean race simply getting to the other side represents a victory in itself. Ricardo Diniz (Parisasia.fr) is the first Portuguese in all history of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe to run the course.
And Italy's Andrea Mura (ITA) is back to defend the Rhum class title he won in 2010 on the 50 footer Vento di Sardegna. He is looking to step up to the IMOCA Open 60 Class in the next Vendée Globe.
They said on the pontoons:
Alessandro di Benedetto (IMOCA - Team Plastique - AFM Telethon)
"This is my first Route du Rhum and it's magic for me. I am happy to be going back to Guadeloupe in because that is where I raced to when I crossed the Atlantic in 2002 on the Hobie Cat I love the Creole people. My goal is to just push the boat to 100%. I know that the new boats are 35-40% faster than me, but I want to do better and share my race with everyone including the kids of the AFM Telethon. "
Giancarlo Pedote (Class40-Fantastica)
"This is an incredible opportunity for me to be in Saint-Malo to race in this Route du Rhum. A few months ago I did not think it possible that I would be here. Then an Lanfranco Cirillo lent me the boat. Of course it is still a race to be finished prepping the boat in the time but I'm really happy to be here when it only takes place every four years. I don't expect too much want to see what I can do after several years of the Mini 6.50. "
Philippa Hutton Squire (Class40 - Swish)
"After the last Normandy Channel Race, the boat owner Roderick Knowles asked me to take the keys to enter this race: an opportunity that just can not be refused! I have a great team around me to support me in my late preparation. I do not have specific concerns about the race to the extent that I have already completed a round the world race aboard a Class 40 at the Global Ocean Race (a race of nine months and 30,000 miles traveled, ed.) I know I feel very lonely at sea. I will do my best to finish. It is important to me because it is the first time a South African sailor takes on a race like this. "
Ari Huusela (Rhum - Ariel)
"I have some misgivings about the weather, but I feel good. This is the first victory for me to be here, it took me to work like crazy for a year and a half to finally make sure I could here here. Now I hope to get to the finish in Pointe-à-Pitre to become the first Finnish sailor to finish the Rhum . In Finland, many newspapers, radio stations are already following me and the awareness of this race builds all the time. "
Alex Pella () - Class40 - Route du Rhum Destination Guadeloupe - 24/10/2014