ROUTE DU RHUM
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In order to make the history of solo regattas, the Route du Rhum is a must: 3,540 miles from Saint-Malo to Guadeloupe, in November, when the Atlantic Ocean is very tough to manage. Sailors must endure the Bay of Biscay and the North Atlantic depressions, that bring strong winds from the southwest, with waves as high as buildings, while avoiding the possible calm seas abreast of the Azores, choosing whether to face them from the east or the west, and identifying – from a meteorological and tactical perspective – the best approach to Guadeloupe, dictated by the trade winds position; and all this – for a solitary navigator aboard a Class40 – in just over two weeks of navigation.
Established in 1978 – when a similar English regatta was limited to smaller sized hulls, effectively excluding the most famous French sailors of the time from participating – the Route du Rhum accepts professional sailors as well as “simple” enthusiasts fulfilling the dream of their life. Along what was the route of the rum-trading ships, crafts belonging to the most famous ocean classes can enter the solo regatta: the large Ultim trimarans, the 55-foot Multi catamarans, the IMOCAs (60-foot monohulls) and the Class40 – plus, in a specific class, all the other boats.
Preceded by a week of celebration in Saint-Malo, attended by over two million fans, the start is scheduled for 12:00 pm on November 6, 2022. The image of the regatta start is one of the icons of the of history sailing: in the English Channel, along an over two mile long starting line divided into areas for each class, the 138 entrants (new record, after the 123 of the previous edition, in 2018) head towards the Bay of Biscay after passing a clearance buoy. Whereas for the large and hyper-technological Ultim trimarans the crossing time is about 7 days, for the best Class40 navigation lasts about two weeks, during which the sailors’ ability to cope with weather conditions, physical fatigue and the need to choose the best route are put to the test.
Launched in 2004, the Class40 is a 40-foot (12.91 m) boat category that has evolved over time in order to achieve great goals: participate in regattas in real time, i.e. without the use of compensations; highlight the role of sailors and designers; create a series of boats with an affordable production cost.
Such objectives can only be achieved through a “box rule”, that is a stringent, clear and simple regulation with which designers and builders should comply, devising innovative solutions despite having little margin of freedom.
The class is built within specific technological boundaries. For example, several materials for the construction of the hull and sails are not allowed; the instrumentation and accessories have a maximum cost limit; the boats are performing, basic, designed to sail in the ocean and solo and to enhance – under the same conditions – the skills of the sailor.
In 2005, when the class regulations were presented at the Paris Boat Show, the Class40 immediately became popular: in 2006, registered skippers were 54, in 2007 they became 129. Since then, 187 boats have been built to participate in the circuit, and number 186 is that of Alberto Bona. As many as 770 skippers have participated in regattas on board these boats, but only a few Italians tested themselves in this exciting circuit at a competitive level, with the specific aim of challenging the great French solo navigators, thus entering the sailing élite.
In Italy, after many years in which offshore sailing was of interest to only a few, ocean regattas and solo sailing have returned to the centre of attention: a new generation of sailors is embarking on these specialties, and to do so they must necessarily compete away from home, in France, where all the great ocean challenges start.