Ocean Racing

Groupama Race: First spinnaker start in history, and fleet recovers after strong southerly


The forecast for the start was a low pressure system with a front bringing gusts of up to 30 knots from the south. The 160 sailors all prepared for it, but what eventuated was a light northerly. 

The seventh edition of the Groupama Race got away under spinnaker, for the first time in the history of the race.

The start was won at the windward boat end of the line by Tosot Climitisation Ketal, a Sunfast 3200 and double-handed entry, and at the leeward end of the line by local favourites, BCI Brer Fox, a Miller 40. 

Antipodes took the lead soon after the start, but it was Rushour who rounded in first position for the “Parade of Sail”, a lap of the Harbour to involve the spectators. 

In the battle of the Sydney 38s it was Eye Candy who won the first battle, leading the “Parade of Sail”, the second battle however, to round Amedee was won by Poulpito MFS FCD; and the battle continues on both line honours and in the minor IRC placings. 

Dock out show (English): https://fb.watch/dKnQdEPUta/

Live start (English): https://fb.watch/dKnCXSDddz/ 

Out at sea on day one

After clearing the lagoon, the first tactical dilemma arose for the fleet. It split into two around Ile Ouen. The majority aimed to use the favourable currents of the Woodin Canal, while the other half, including the multihulls in particular, bet on a more regular offshore wind.

Current line honours leaders Rushour took the offshore route, while Antipodes opted for the inshore. 

The offshore route was the higher risk option, but those brave enough to take it reaped rewards, including Oceans Tribute – making good speed around the bottom of the island to move into the mix for line honours; particularly successful though was Poulpito MLS FCD, extending significantly in the Sydney 38 battle.

Of the double-handers, Motorboat II led Clockwork on line honours, after a back and forth dance throughout the “Parade of Sail” in the lagoon, another reaping rewards having opted for the offshore route around Ile Ouen.

A rough first night

At sunset on the first day, the 160 sailors on the 21 boats were hit by the front that was expected for the start, encountering heavy seas and winds varying between 25 and 35 knots while skirting the south of Grande Terre via the Havannah canal. 

While many reported varying degrees of wear and tear, for the Australians of Ocean Tribute, the night was reported to be an “exciting ride”. On board, everyone was impressed by the number of supporters present at Rocher à la voile to watch the start.

Once again the sailors were presented with a tactical dilemma; 

  1. Opt for the direct rhum line along the coast, and thereby sail the shortest route possible. 

  2. Continue towards the North-East and lengthen the route hoping for more wind offshore. 

The majority of the fleet chose to move away from the coast. 

This appears to have paid dividends for the multihulls. The Australians onboard Rushour, who opted for the most extreme trajectory, extended their lead on Line Honours overnight. 

An individual distress beacon was triggered on board the Australian vessel Antipodes. Unreachable by VHF or satellite telephone, and continuing its course with an unchanged trajectory, a rescue operation was initiated with the MRCC in conjunction with the PC Course. Three sailboats were thus diverted for several hours, and rescue means implemented by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center of New Caledonia. Around 0200 hours local time, the boat was able to be contacted, and the doubt on the whereabouts of the crew person was dissolved. The distress beacon had been triggered by mistake. 

All of the sailors have been reminded that “each boat must maintain a listening watch on channels 16 and 77 from the start to the end of the race” as in Sailing Instruction 15.5.

Current leaders and heading into night two 

While we all know that corrected time positions are continually changing, for most of the day, Tosot Climatization Ketal has led on IRC overall. They were one of the boats who chose to go inshore, with the more direct route perhaps playing to the strengths of the SunFast 3200.

BCI Brer Fox the Miller 40 is in second, while the three Sydney 38s, Guilty Pleasure (Speed Marine), Eye Candy and Poulpito MLS FCD are continually changing (but at the time of writing) w. the same distance from the next mark in the far north of Grande Terre, the big loser of the night being Axians Untouchable, who were in the lead at the start of the evening.

Line Honours is still held by Rushour a custom Drew 15, and fellow catamaran, Kalolo a Looping 56 GP is the first New Caledonian boat. 

The wind continues to vary, as it has done most of the day, between 10 and 15 knots. The boats are still under spinnaker and are progressing in a much calmer sea as they head toward the north of the Island. 

Recap of the start & Day one update (English): https://fb.watch/dLeIaozFP2/ 

Day two update (English): https://fb.watch/dLTjIimIuS/ 

Tracking is available here: https://yb.tl/ncgr2022

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