Sunshine and 15 knots of wind. It was watched by hundreds spectators, quite taken by the sight, at the Rocher à la Voile, Nouméa. Frank Cammas, at the helm of "Keel Bill Groupama", had the best start.
But at the first windward buoy, the New Zealand crew on board "Crusader" got ahead - they had thrown down the gauntlet. Close behind came the double title-holder (real time and handicap) "Mange Mieux Bouge Plus". After sailing for seven hours, it was clear that two separate races were on - what could be better for a 600 nautical mile regatta around an idyllic lagoon?
Who will take line honours in a race around the World's longest Olympic course? Everyone has his/her own idea.
On paper, the favourite could well be the New Zealander - built in carbon fibre in 2012, Coastal Classic (a legendary New Zealand yacht race) record holder - "Crusader" is an Elliot 35SS (Super Sport) with a swing keel, designed for ocean racing. Then there is "Keel Bill Groupama", a Shaw 35 built in 2009, also with a swing keel, with one of France's greatest yachtsmen, Frank Cammas, on board. Waiting in the wings is the Sydney 38 "Mange Mieux Bouge Plus", real-time and handicap winner in 2012.
After racing for seven hours, "Crusader" and "Keel Bill Groupama" are neck and neck - it is as if they are match racing… In the meantime, "Mange Mieux Bouge Plus" is keeping pace only a cable astern of the leaders. Lying in wait, she is ready to take her chance.
Four yachts within a biscuit toss of each other!
This is our second race - four yachts are virtually side-by-side, still within view of each other after seven hours of racing - "Chairman PAO Production", "XLR8 Province Sud", "OPT Catch Me" et "BCI Radical Concept" take turns in leading this group. By daybreak, we might well see some spreading of the field.
But, which is the better crew?
For handicap places, the fight is well under way too. For the moment, handicap honours go to "Mange Mieux Bouge Plus". But "BCI Radical Concept", as is usually the case, is letting nothing go. The 2012 winner against the 2010 winner… In third place, "Chairman PAO Production" (absolute record holder in 3d 23h 20m), is putting up a fight. These yachts all want to win. They are not going to lose a second, if they can avoid it.