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The Route du Rhum Goes Big in 2010

With the addition of a fleet of G-class multihulls, the Route du Rhum—singlehanded across the Atlantic—is making a bold play for the title of World's Most Extreme Sailing Competition.

June 30, 2010
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Forget all the America’s Cup chatter. Pay not much mind to the Volvo Ocean Race. The single most exciting sailing event on the visible horizon is the Route De Rhum. Why? For the first time it will be open to G-class multihulls. The G stands for Giant (we are talking 100-plus feet), and since the Route De Rhum is a singlehanded race that takes sailors across 3,500 miles of storm-wracked Atlantic in November, the possibility for drama, superhuman seamanship, and abject carnage is ridiculously high.

Courtesy www.Cammas-Groupama.com **| |Normally sailed with a crew of 10 or more, Franck Cammas’ Groupama 3 will be sailed across the Atlantic singlehanded in the Route du Rhum. **|

The Route De Rhum is hard enough without trying to keep a powered-up G Class multihull under control and upright. It has a storied history, and requires sailors to cross the Bay Of Biscay in early November before reaching the gentler (though still squally) climes of the trade wind belt. The first race in 1978 told you all you needed to know about what sort of competition it was: it was won by a mere 98 seconds and was traumatized by the disappearance of French multihull hero Alain Colas. Subsequent editions have featured capsizes, sinkings, and at-sea rescues.

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So what will happen when you pair one of the world’s hardest singlehanded offshore races with the largest, most-advanced multihulls on the planet? Who knows. That’s what’s so exciting. And no matter what transpires I can guarantee that it will be fascinating. I’ve been waiting for the G-class mutltihulls to be allowed into established offshore races ever since they first appeared to compete in Bruno Peyron’s The Race. I’m amazed that it took so long for race organizers and sponsors to make the move, as year after year they lapped the planet and lowered the Jules Verne non-stop record to a stunning 48 days (just a little more than twice the time it took to win the first Route De Rhum). But at least I am finally getting my wish.

So far, seven skippers—all French, naturally—have bellied up and entered mega-multihulls into the Route De Rhum’s “Ultimate” class. Some, such as Thomas Coville’s Sodeb’O and Francis Joyon’s_ IDEC_, are purpose-built solo-sailing machines. And they are tricky enough to handle. But others, particularly Franck Cammas’ Groupama 3, fresh off the Jules Verne record, are being modified from a full-crew setup in the hopes that a single sailor will be able to tame the beast. For Groupama 3, that means stripping out extra bunks and any gear meant for a crew of 10, shortening the mast, and figuring out how one man can handle the extreme loads. Cammas and his team have been brutal about stripping the boat down, and they have also shown some Gallic creativity, adding a “bicycle grinder.” For variety and spice, we also have Sidney Gavignet campaigning the Oman Sail’s A100 Majan and Servane Escoffier, the only female skipper in the class, skippering Bruno Peyron’s old Club Explorer (originally the 1980s Credit Agricole).

** | |The seven entrants for the G-Class are all French and, but for one exception, all male. Servane Escoffier has entered the former Credit Agricole **|

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My money is on Thomas Coville or Francis Joyon, but it would be a thrill to see a super-Giant like Groupama 3 be first home. Here’s how the Sodeb’O team envisions the action. I can’t wait.

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