The Centennial Transat – The Bridge – from Saint-Nazaire to New York started in uniquely spectacular fashion at 19:00 today, 100 years after American troops arrived on the coast of France.
This time the cannon shots were sounds of fraternity to begin the race between the Queen Mary 2 and four of the largest and fastest trimarans in the world. The start to ocean races are always emotive affairs but rarely are they so loaded.
On Saturday, many thousands lined the harbor and shore to welcome the Queen Mary 2 into the Brittany harbor where she was built. This Loire estuary was alive again as the only remaining ocean liner in the world weighed anchor and the four trimarans, equally impressive in their class, set sail in light airs under a cloudless sky.
The trimarans were unsurprisingly faster off the mark, but the Queen Mary 2 (1,132 feet/345m) is a very big favourite to the win 3,152-mile (5,837 km) transat and her arrival under the Verrazano Bridge in New York is expected at 08:00 on Saturday, July 1. The crewed “Ultime” class trimarans – Macif (François Gabart), Idec Sport (Francis Joyon), Sodebo Ultim’ (Thomas Coville) and Team Actual, (Yves Le Blévec) – which are all over 25 meters long, are expected to finish between one and two days later. As forecast, because the race is against the prevailing winds, the trimarans will be working their way upwind to the north, while the QM2 can power direct to New York.
“Initially, the wind will be very soft in the Saint-Nazaire channel. The small windshift from north-west with winds of less than 10 knots expected in the evening won’t allow for much flying,” Dominic Vittet, the race meteorologist said. “As soon as the trimarans have left the Grand Carpentier lighthouse (in Saint-Nazaire) to starboard, they will already have to make a crucial choice about how they round the anticyclonic ridge that has the Bay of Biscay under lockdown and is forming a wall that will be difficult to cross in the first 24 hours.”
The fleet includes the cream of French sailing – who continue to dominate this class and offshore sailing in general – both on the trimarans and on the QM2, where Jean Le Cam, Alain Gautier and Bruno Peyron, gave the official start from the bridge. There is only one Briton among the 22 sailors across the four boats, Samantha Davies, who is also the only woman. The 34-year-old Gabart and crew start as favourites to set a new reference time between these two cities. The 30-metre long Macif, launched in 2015, is the newest boat of the four and Gabart has already proved its pace by winning the TheTransat bakerly in 2016. But the older hands, Joyon and Coville, have so many oceanic records between them that they can never be discounted.
The Bridge is a transatlantic celebration of friendship and solidarity between France and the United States, marking 100 years since the arrival of American soldiers on French shores in 1917 to join the Allies in World War I. It includes:
– the 4th FIBA 3X3 World Cup in Nantes (17-21 June)
– the return of the Queen Mary 2 to where it was constructed in Saint-Nazaire, escorted by an international armada (June 24)
– the Centennial Transat to New York (June 25-July 3)
– an original tribute across the ocean to a century of American music (June 23-July 1)