40th anniversary of the Route of Rhum

For its birthday, the legendary transatlantic solo sees things  in big with 125 boats engaged from saint-malo.  A grandiose edition that reminds us of others…

In 1978, after sailing for 23 days, 6 hours and 56 minutes and 3,542 nautical miles in the wake of Michel Malinovsky, Mike Birch overtook just before the finish line. Winning by 98 seconds, the Canadian sailor entered the history book of yacht racing. With that neck-and-neck battle for the finish line, Mike Birch also took the Route du Rhum into transatlantic racing legend. That first event embraced the racing philosophy harnessed by Michel Etevenon when he created the race with the support of sugar producers and distillers: a confrontation of professionals and amateurs, monohulls and multihulls, of every size imaginable, all the way from Saint-Malo to Pointe-à-Pitre. It was a way of encouraging innovation, leaving each sailor to design his own vessel. It was also a reaction to the restrictions imposed by the OSTAR, the English transatlantic race which limited the size of competing vessels to a 60-foot maximum.

Since 1978, the Route du Rhum has been the crowning glory of sailors and made a lasting impression with its giants of the seas steered single-handedly through the autumn conditions. Philippe Poupon, with his 22.8 meter hydrofoil trimaran, was the reigning master in 1986, winning the race with a 2-day advantage over the boat that came second. In 1990, those who thought a woman couldn’t win had to eat their words when Florence Arthaud was first to cross the finish line. Despite enduring electrical failures and suffering from hemorrhaging, she arrived triumphantly at the helm of the Pierre 1er, her golden trimaran, as the sun was setting on Pointe-à-Pitre. In 1994, the monohulls and multihulls all set sail together, but there was a winner for reach category. It was Laurent Bourgnon with his face of an angel who crossed the finish line first on his 18-meter trimaran, Primagaz.

Since then, every Route du Rhum race has attracted the greatest skippers. In 1998, Laurent Bourgnon, Loïck Peyron, Alain Gautier, Francis Joyon and Catherine

Chabaud were all in fierce competition. Laurent Bourgnon won again that year, but the public will also remember baby-faced Ellen MacArthur, a 22-year-old English woman who came first in her 50-foot monohull category… Year after year, the number of categories increases (Class 40, IMOCA, Ultimes, Multi 50…), but the Rhum style remains, loyal to the original spirit, with enlightened enthusiasts taking to the Atlantic ocean.

They were 125 on the starting line on 4 November in Saint-Malo, a record for celebrate the 40th anniversary of this race. And considering the pedigree of the competitors, we will be careful not placing any bets on the identity of the winners!

Nicole plate

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