In mid-August more than 80 solo sailors and duos – most of them at least in their forties – will set off from Lorient and Marseille embarking on the tenth edition of the Transquadra. The race is contested every three years in two stages to Madeira and onwards. This hugely popular transatlantic race sees a majority of boats racing that were specially designed for open waters, racing with small crew. Tip & Shaft investigates to what extent the event influences the model and marketing choices of builders and designers of cruiser-racers.
Sold out, the Transquadra attracts more and more enthusiasts. During 2022 some crews will have just brought their boat back by cargo ship (the second stage leaves in January from Madeira after a four-month break) on time for the Cap Martinique which will set off from La Trinité-sur-Mer in May.
The first non-stop amateur transatlantic race, organized under the flag of the UNCL, this new event – which should have started this spring – had attracted 48 pre-registered boats even before the official opening of the entry process. “The classic, usual regattas are attracting less and less people. On the other hand, those I call adventure regattas are full. People need to and want to get out of their comfort zone”, analyzes Eric Merlier, a business entrepreneur based in the Mediterranean from where he races mostly solo on his JPK 10.30 Télémaque 3. “Nowadays the real hierarchy is based on the results of these events which have become the real measure of a sailor ”.
Offshore solo or double-handed?
All the time the IRC calendar is increasing the number of double-handed races and now incorporating double handed classes into major offshores which were traditionally the sole preserve of crews (Spi Ouest-France, Fastnet and now even the Sydney-Hobart). It marks a real change of culture. Comradeship and shared passion for adventure contributes a lot to this success, according to Jean Philippe Cau, president of Lorient Grand Large and organizer of Cap Martinique: “After racing solo or double handed many more pairs or skippers sit round a table and re-live their races. It is much more fun to compare races afterwards. It is a good laugh!” he writes in the IRC 2021 guide.
Didier Le Moal the driving force and boss of J Composites and a renowned racer observes, “I don’t believe that the growth of double-handed racing is a natural, organic thing necessarily. Some of it for sure is an outcome of the failure of the crewed events. Finding crew members, dealing with the logistics and taking on all the costs, that’s been as much the problem that has driven people from big crews and boats. And in fact the IRC rule promotes too many crews. When I started we were racing with five on a half tonner. Today there are seven on the same size of a boat even with carbon masts without backstays … “
Correspondingly the boats have also changed. Initially raced on unsuitable cruisers or one-designs (Sélection, First Class10), the Transquadra has over the years become the playground for yards and builders who have brought in specialized models for the exercise. A little wider, a little lighter, easier to control downwind mostly with two rudders.
The first real transition took place in 2005 with the arrival of the JPK 960 which launched the eponymous marque. Jean Pierre Kelbert, the creator, remembers: “The 960 followed the trend of the Pogo 8.50 but still managed to have a good rating. In 2005 we won the solo and double transatlantic race and this victory was the springboard for our yard, which had everything to prove. We sold about fifty boats. When I arrived in 2005, Jean-François de Prémorel from Jeanneau, who had won in real time on a classic 49-footer, came to me and said jokingly: we have to buy your moulds! “
In fact the founder of Jeanneau Techniques Avancées, who died in 2020, already had a design drawn up by his brother-in-law, Daniel Andrieu. “Jeanneau kept it warm.” remembers Mico Bolo, race director of the Transquadra, “Because according to the group’s policy, it was Bénéteau that was the race brand. Andrieu simply redesigned the cockpit to be safe solo and double-handed and once out the boat went well.”
Since then, JPK and Jeanneau have not stopped stepping over each other. In 2010, the JPK 10.10 came out on top of the Sun Fast 3200, and was a real commercial success (more than 250 units produced in 11 years). Then come the JPK 10.80 and the Sun Fast 3600, at the maximum rating authorized by the Transquadra. And then in 2019 the Sun Fast 3300 and JPK 10.30, both designed models targeting the event. Now? This year, two thirds of the fleet is made up of Sun Fasts (3200, 3600, 3300) and JPK (960, 10.10, 10.80 and 10.30), making a total of 53 boats out of the fleet of 80.
A specialization at its peak?
If the JPK 960 and Sun Fast 3200 were still versatile allrounders, the new JPK 10.30 and Sun Fast 3300 are very orientated now for downwind in the breeze. Jeanneau asked Guillaume Verdier to support Daniel Andrieu in the programme and bring in Alex Ozon, who won the 2019 Transquadra on a Bepox – a boat not at all designed for the IRC – to effectively become a works driver.And meantime Jean Pierre Kelbert – remaining faithful to Jacques Valer, architect of all the JPKs – recognizes that the specialization of these IRC boats has undoubtedly reached its peak: “The 10.30 and the 3300 are lighter and larger boats. They stop easily when the conditions are light and need to be sailed very well. We are at the top of the curve no doubt we should not go further, because people have fantasies about the big seas and planning and surfing but then are very disappointed to be struggling around a three buoys course…”
For now, the Transquadra continues to sell boats, and other brands are getting into it. This is the case with J Composites. For a shipyard whose boats, efficient between three buoys and carefully fitted out, have long been the very synthesis of the very Anglo-Saxon IRC rule and indeed their J/99 launched two years ago was a bit of a revolution.
“Unlike the Sun Fasts and the JPKs, which aim only for that, short handed offshore races are only one aspect of the J/99 design brief, but it is true that it came into the equation”, recognizes Didier Le Moal. More accessible financially with an aluminum mast and fixed bowsprit, with headroom but with a simple finish, the boat has found its market with 98 units sold over the last two years worldwide. “The global market for IRC boats of this size represents around 100 boats per year, explains Didier Le Moal. We sold 20 J/99s in France. Four will race the Transquadra, and ten more will actually race on the IRC circuits. ”
135 Pogo 30 sold, 5 registered for Transqadra
Some yards think offshore but do not really consider the measurement rules. For example the German Dehler brand launched the Dehler 30 OD in 2019, a sort of large sportboat equipped with ballast. Also motivated by the prospect of the fiery Olympic offshore racing event, this pretty toy has a weighty IRC rating (1.049, the equivalent of that of a 36-footer) which will make the task very difficult for Frédéric Ponsenard, skipper of the only Dehler 30 entered this year on the Transquadra.
As for Structures, which in 2002 kicked off with Michel Mirabel’s victory in the Transquadra on a Pogo 8.50, the Combrit shipyard still refuses to tailor their boats spcfically to IRC “Making an IRC boat comes down, according to our criteria, to reduce its potential for speed, stability or comfort to optimize a rating,” explains Erwan Tymen, the Technical Director of Structures. “ I’m not saying the IRC leads to bad boats, but first and foremost we continue to produce the sailboats that we want to race ourselves and that our customers expect”.
135 Pogo 30s have been sold since its launch in 2013, five are registered with the Transquadra. And few owners have sought to improve its rating by cutting back its appendages.