As a sailing enthusiast, I was lucky to get to see the start of the 2006 Route du Rhum, the top European solo ocean race with many famous French and English sailors entered in the race and only one American entry, Kip Stone from Freeport, Maine who races an Open
50 monohull and is favored to win in his class.
It was my first time at the Route du Rhum and seeing the huge multihulls lined up in Saint Malo was impressive. There were a total of 74 boats entered in the race in various classes of multi and monohull boats. The number of visitors to the race village was even more impressive with both French and European visitors invading the town of Saint Malo in the hundred of thousands. Walking around the town was almost impossible at times due to the crowds.Due to the number of race entries and the large tides half of the boats entered in the race were moved from the harbor the night before the race with the remaining boats leaving the morning of the race for the starting line. I was able to get on a press boat for the races’ start representing Ocean Navigator. Several spectator boats and team boats were also at the start following their favorite boats including one huge Brittany Ferry used as a race viewing platform. The wake from the spectator boats looked as if the whole sea state had changed not from the wind but from the numerous man made wakes. The sailors would have to wave off the multitude of boats each time they tacked before and during the races start. I counted eleven helicopters at the races start, enough to change the wind direction for some of the entries. The course had a mark at Cape Frehet off the coast of Saint-Brieuc west of Saint Malo. As the press boat was in position with many other boats to see the likes of PRB, Orange, Giant, Roxy, Artemis, and Crepes Wahoo pass the mark, I looked over my shoulder at the cliffs and saw what appeared to be dots scattered over the entire cliffs. My first thought was from the movie Penguins wondering what bird was migrating, only to realize the dots were thousands of people watching the race from afar.
The French are passionate about sailing and it really shows with the following and support for each of the solo transatlantic sailors who are each heroes among the French. An estimated 1 million people saw the start this year. After the race I was on a train headed to Paris to fly back to the States when an older woman sat next to me on the train. I was surprised when she pulled out her laptop reviewing the pictures she had taken that day from the cliffs with her birds eye view of the action, as the race boat images appeared small from afar. I realized how lucky I was to see the action up close that day. We agreed to exchange pictures when we each arrived home. Solo ocean racing is a great sport and I can only hope the enthusiasm and passion the French and Europeans have for solo ocean racing can continue to migrate to the States.