On any given day in Saint-Malo, the historic French port city in Brittany, the 1,000 locals—Malouins—go about their daily life. But every four years, sailors, skippers, along with amateurs and enthusiasts descend upon the birthplace village of Jacques Cartier for Route du Rhum, a solo transatlantic race that spans the 3,542 miles between Saint-Malo and Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe. Named for the historical rum routes from the Caribbean to France, the wildly popular French maritime event marks its 40th anniversary and 11th edition this year.
On November 4, 123 skippers on racing yachts such as the Ultimate, Multi50, and Multi Rum multihulls, as well as monohulls like the Imoca and Class40, set sail off the Pointe du Grouin in Saint-Malo in chill weather conditions. Rough elements are almost always guaranteed in the early stages of the Route du Rhum as the skippers head out to the English Channel and cross the Bay of Biscay, before sailing south to hook into the trade winds en route to the Caribbean.
In the 10 days leading up to the quadrennial event, 300,000 hotel nights were booked in Saint-Malo—quantifiable proof of the festive transformation the village undergoes in the leadup to the race. As teams deal with final preparations, boats are moored in the dock and the public has the chance to get a first-hand glimpse into life at sea for these solo skippers. In celebration of the milestone anniversary, a replica of Olympus, the 39-foot yellow trimaran that Vancouver native Mike Birch sailed to victory in for the first Route du Rhum in 1978, was also docked.
Birch’s win of the inaugural Route du Rhum made legend of the transatlantic race, when he took first place by a mere 98 seconds after being out on the water for 23 days, six hours, and 56 minutes. Since his victory, Birch participated in every Route de Rhum until 2002, when he was 71 years old. This past week, the now 87-year-old Canadian was back in Saint-Malo reminiscing with skippers and spectators alike. The only woman to have ever won the Route du Rhum is Florence Arthaud, who secured the title in 1990, with a time of 9 days, 21 hours, and 42 minutes.
Today, the fastest racers will cross the route in just under a week with the Memorial ACTe race village in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, open from November 9 to 25. The fleet of racers are spread over a large area of the ocean and reported variations in weather conditions have made for some challenging days at sea.
To follow along with the race, www.routedurhum.com is the place for up-to-date tracking.
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