The Bridge 2017 in St Nazaire. Photo: Stephen Davy-Osborne

It is a race like no other in history.

Four intrepid teams of sailors commanding state-of-the-art trimarans have set out across the North Atlantic in a bid to beat the matriarchal monarch of the seas at her own game.

Yesterday (Sun) Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 gracefully slipped out of her berth in the port that built her at Saint Nazaire into the Loire estuary with her sights firmly set on New York.

Watched on by thousands of people who had come to wave her off she took her place alongside the four ultimate trimarans – each over 81 feet – to compete in a rather special race to celebrate Franco-American friendship – The Bridge.

Over the next five days they will draw on all of their seafaring skills and tactics to overcome the challenges of the Atlantic in a bid to be the first to dock in New York.

The Bridge 2017 in St Nazaire. Photo: Stephen Davy-Osborne

With the weather on their side, the trimarans hope to have the edge on the world’s largest ocean liner, although the QM2 will be shaving a whole day off her typical transatlantic voyage as she cruises at her top speed to cover the 3,152-mile (5,837 km) journey.

And she has her work cut out ahead of her.

She finds herself up against Francis Joyon, skippering IDEC SPORT, who is the holder of the Jules Verne Trophy for the round the world record with a crew, in 40 days, 23 hours.

He will also be competing against holder of the round the world solo record Thomas Coville who circumnavigated the globe in just 49 days and 3 hours, taking the title from Joyon. During The Bridge he will be at the helm of Sodebo Ultim.

Sailing under Macif is François Gabart, who at 34 is the race’s youngest skipper, but who already has the title of winner of the 2016 Transatlantic Race under his belt.

A familiar face to him will be the bronze medalist from that event, Yves le Blévec. Regarded as among the finest experts in leading a trimaran at full speed, Blévec is commanding Team Actual. 

The Bridge 2017 in St Nazaire. Photo: Stephen Davy-Osborne

Somewhat stealing their thunder though – and dwarfing their impressive triple hulls – was the Cunard Queen, who for many marked a poignant return to port having been built alongside the city’s docks throughout 2003 before her launch as Cunard’s flagship in 2004. She was treated to a fanfare welcome from thousands of guests who lined the docks on Saturday as she arrived from Southampton.

But that was nothing compared to the celebration in the skies above her 13 decks and iconic red funnel as she took her place alongside her challengers on Sunday evening – 100 years to the day after the arrival of the Sammies on the French coasts.

With fireworks launched from Saint-Nazaire Bridge, a brand new Airbus A380 soared down over the estuary, looping back around to signal the start of the race to applause and cheers from those on the dock and the deck.

To follow their progress in real time visit www.thebridge2017.com

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Stephen Davy-Osborne
Stephen Davy-Osborne is a freelance features writer who fell in love with France from a young age during family holidays to Britanny and - like every other British child of the late 1980s - Disneyland Paris. Summers spent in Cannes and Nice sealed his fate and now his passport is well-used crossing back and forth The Channel.

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