The Route du Rhum is a solo transatlantic race created in 1978 by Michel Etevenon from an idea of Florent de Kersauzon.
It has been raced every four years since 1978 between Saint Malo (France) and Pointe à Pitre, in Guadeloupe.
An open race which professionals and amateurs can enter, the Route du Rhum brings together on the same course multihulls and monohulls of all sizes and all classes.
Since its first edition back in 1978, it has become a legendary ocean race and has been won by some exceptional sailors.
Mike Birch (winner in 1978), Marc Pajot (in 1982), Philippe Poupon (in 1986), Florence Arthaud (in 1990), Laurent Bourgnon (in 1994 and 1998), Michel Desjoyeaux (2002) and finally Lionel Lemonchois (2006) have all has their names added to the list of winners in what is referred to as the Queen of transatlantic races.
Since 1994 and their arrival in the event, the 60-foot IMOCA boats have also seen wins by some of the top names of ocean racing: Yves Parlier (winner in 1994), Thomas Coville (in 1998), Ellen MacArthur (in 2002) and Roland Jourdain (in 2006).
As time has gone by, the IMOCA class has become one of the headline classes in the event.
For any first time anglophile visitor, landing in the heart of the ninth edition of the Route du Rhum La Banque Postale might be overwhelming.
Even for the old stagers who are on their four yearly odyssey to the ramparts of Saint Malo, this year's edition is a truly intoxicating spectacle for its sheer scale, colour and level of activity.
To the outsider it might seem a curious contradiction that French ocean racing is so evidently in robust health.
This edition has an all time record entry which of course includes the return of giant multihulls in the Ultime category, a flourishing IMOCA Open 60 fleet including three new French boats launched since April, and a 45 boat Class 40 fleet which has more or less doubled in size since their debut in 2006.
From the multi-million Euro programmes, for which this Route du Rhum- La Banque Postale is one of the cornerstone returns, to the small sponsorships in kind, more than 75% of the entries have some kind of sponsorship.
Clearly the Route du Rhum- La Banque Postale has lost nothing of its huge appeal commercially, or to the public.
A couple of days before Sunday's start and the huge 7000 square metre main regatta village is rammed with visitors.
Friday, saw another new record with more than 1 million visitors having passed through the quayside arenas, virtually surpassing last year's total even in advance of the tens of thousands who will arrive for start day. There is scarcely a seat to be had in the huge media centre.
Sam Davies, the Brittany domiciled British skipper who is seeking support for her second Vendée Globe campaign and is here to support Oman Air's Sidney Gavignet sums up the magic and the appeal of the Route du Rhum-La Banque Postale:
'In France this is such huge event.
You have to remember that the race start is broadcast live on national TV for two and a half hours. It is Sunday, middle of the day, it is families who watch.
This is quite a traditional country and everyone sits down to watch on a Sunday, they will have an early lunch and watch the race as it unfolds.
If they do that, that creates a huge following all over France and they will follow the race until it finishes, especially because Guadeloupe is French.
That sets them off. It creates such a buzz.
And of course it is only once every four years, so everyone waits and talks about the race for months in advance.'
'It has gone on for so many years, there is so much history, names like Tabarly, Florence Arthaud.
This is the only race that a woman has won overall, beating all the guys, and it was in a race which has such extreme conditions, that makes it a race which is always has a history and stays in people's minds. So many people still cherish that memory of a little girl crossing the finish line in her silver trimaran.'
A million visitors since Friday 22nd October, comments:
Nicolas Belloir, assistant mayor of Saint-Malo in charge of sports with responsibility for the Route du Rhum-La Banque Postale:
'This is really satisfying for us. We have laid out clear measures which allow us to compute this data accurately. We have seen some great increases since 2006 and this is even in spite of what goes on with social unrest. We even saw Thursday peak with over 200,000 visitors, more than we had on Saturday in 2006.
For the town the implications are significant but the benefits are important. The hotels and camp sites are full. It is an extraordinary boost for the local economy.'
Jean-Yves Le Drian, President of the District council of Brittany:
'Even before start day for the 85 skippers., this is already as success for Brittany. A popular success as measured by the record crowds on the quays of Saint-Malo but also in the town itself.'
Pierre Bojic, Managing Director of Pen Duick:
'Our primary satisfaction is that the here the whole race attracts the wider public when it is not easy. It really underlines that the race is a popular, free access public event.'