Thierry Martinez / Sea & Co/

New York-Vendee – off in a pea souper

'Classic' east coast start as 13 of the 14 IMOCA 60 fleet sets off into the Atlantic

Sunday May 29th 2016, Author: James Boyd, Location: United States

New York Harbour laid on ideal conditions today for the Parade of Sail for the New York – Vendée (Les Sables d’Olonne) Race presented by Currency House and SpaceCode.

At 1115, with a large spectator fleet trying to keep out of the way in the Hudson River’s powerful ebb tide, the start gun fired and the IMOCA 60 fleet crossed the line directly off Manhattan’s North Cove Marina.

On board Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson chose to tack off towards the New Jersey shore early, while the bulk of the fleet headed in towards the Manhattan shore line.

New York Harbour’s array of tourist attractions provided a spectacular setting for competitors and spectators alike. Coming back in from the right, passing the famous immigrant inspection station on Ellis Island, Hugo Boss crossed ahead of Morgan Lagraviere’s Safran. From there she held on to this position, passing under the foot of the Statue of Liberty and on up to Staten Island and the finish line of this warm-up stage at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. This was despite a late charge from Vincent Riou’s PRB which had stayed closer to the Brooklyn side of the race track.

After this initial revving of engines, the boats continued on out into New York Harbour’s Lower Bay and the start line proper for the New York – Vendée (Les Sables d’Olonne) Race presented by Currency House and SpaceCode at the Ambrose Light buoy, famously the starting point of transatlantic races dating back 150 years.

However as the fleet awaited the start, a thick fog, typical of the area, rolled in. With visibility down to less than 100m, the start line had to be set by compass course rather than visually. At 1530 local time (1930 UTC) the race got under way in 10 knots of breeze from the south and some counter current. But such was the density of the fog, that at times was down to just 20m, that on the race committee boat positioned by Ambrose Light buoy Principal Race Officer Jacques Caraes could only see three starters.

The first hurdle for the competitors is not to infringe the Traffic Separation Scheme off New York harbour. At the first position update Jean-Pierre Dick on StMichel-Virbac had pulled out a fine lead heading ENE, closest to the great circle with Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss in hot pursuit, while Jeremie Beyou’s Maître CoQ, Armel le Cleac’h on Banque Populaire and Paul Meilhat on SMA were heading ESE having shaved the Ambrose Light buoy at the start.

One of the 14 competitors has yet to start. After completing the Parade of Sail, half American half New Zealander competitor Conrad Colman on 100% Natural Energy doubled back to North Cove marina to carry out final work on his IMOCA 60 having only arrived in New York late last night.

“We’ve not just burned the candle at both ends, we’ve been going at it with a blow torch,” explained Colman. “Sailing down last night, I was going through the job list and there were too many critical things to do to go across the Atlantic safely. For example, we have just put a new mainsail on the boat and it is the same one I’ll use in the Vendee Globe. This morning we were taking reefs for the first time and this evening, when the wind has gone down, we’ll be hanging around in the rigging trying to sort that out.

“For me this race is important to demonstrate that my project is viable and to attract attention in the US. I have dual citizenship so I am on a personal mission to get the Vendee Globe appreciated in the US - there is such great potential for the development of the audience here.”
The competitors are expecting the wind to build over the course of this evening and with this, hopefully, the fog will lift.

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