The 2021 edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre has proven a tough, challenging racing contested amidst an improbable weather scenario. The Class40 fleet, still led by Redman, is not expected until the night of November 28-29 but otherwise the finishes for the Ocean Fifty, Ultimes and Imoca have followed one after another since Monday. Here is an opportunity for Tip & Shaft to take stock, looking at the three finished classes, even if to date only the first two Imoca have crossed the finish line of this edition of the Route du Café.
“It was a scenario more akin to the Solitaire du Figaro in the middle of August“: summer weather but very intense race, so Frédéric Duthil (Solidaires en Peloton-Arsep) summarised this Transat cques Vabre 2021 on his arrival in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Recall that in Le Havre, the routings also suggested a western route bit in the end no crew among the four classes attempted this choice. “This option was null and void by the tip of Brittany. It would have been upwind in a lot of sea and we did not see how to come down from there,” said Christian Dumard the weather consultant for the organization.
There were no big strategic plays then, but a very tactical game of positioning and timing, requiring countless number of gybes in a light to moderate and uncertain weather environment right to the finish. Of the 79 starters, only four dropped out, two in Class40, two in Imoca, Bureau Vallée 3 and 11th Hour Racing Team-Alaka’i, victims of surprising dismasting, for which “the technical data are being analyzed for further details with first conclusions mid-December”, confirms Antoine Mermod, president of the class.
Ocean Fifty: A beautiful Primonial surprise win
On the various courses with different geometries and a weather pattern which played to their agility, the Ocean Fifty took line honours. Beyond the symbolism of this honour, the Ocean Fifty class comes out of this transatlantic race from high level, close match with less than four hours between the first three teams on the finish line and all the boats crossing the Atlantic. “Their season saw the boats sailing a lot over the course of their new championship (the Pro Sailing Tour) and that clearly paid off. It was a real race, not a race by elimination. Small positioning errors were expensive”, comments the Race Director Francis Le Goff.
Primonial’s victory is all the more beautiful as it was not announced by any of the tipsters. Pursuing Koesio until approaching the Canaries, Sébastien Rogues and Matthieu Souben made an inspired move while passing to leeward of La Palma. From 20 miles lateral separation, their lead grew to over over 100 by Cape Verde. Neither Koesio nor Solidaires en Peloton-Arsep, which later suffered the loss of their large gennaker, were never able to get back on terms. As for Leyton that had dominated the start of the season, they finished third and paid for a modest start to the race.
The win for Sébastien Rogues and Matthieu Souben, already on the podium in 2019 (3rd, but there were only 3 boats), is that of consistency, as highlighted by Erwan Le Roux, president of the Ocean Fifty class and second into Fort-de-France: “The planets aligned for them. Their partnership works well, they had moments of incredible speed and their course carries the hallmarks of Julien Villion whom I know very well [he worked a lot with Jean-Yves Bernot, router of Koesio, Editor’s note], he is a future star of routing!”
Ultime: an indisputable winner
and finally a real race
Most tipsters’ favorites in Le Havre, Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier fulfilled that expectation. However, the 7,500 miles completed in more than 16 days was in no way a foregone conclusion nor was it easy for them, paradoxically because of the light weather conditions, as their router Erwan Israel explains: “The weather was more favourable to the new Ultimes, less proven than ours. There was a lot of uncertainty and the risk of seeing a boat pop out ahead when crossing the ridge [in the Bay of Biscay] created a lot of stress.”
Second at Cape Finisterre behind Sodebo Ultim 3, Cammas and Caudrelier stepped up the leader board during the only real breeze of the race, taking back control. Israel explains: “This is where the race was played and won because after that we stayed in front. On the descent towards Madeira, we made them (Cammas and Caudrelier) gybe every two hours. They were exhausted but asked us not to take that into account in any way!” adds the router.
The horizon then opened up for the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, “who bossed the race” according to Christian Dumard, especially as Sodebo had to stop in Madeira. Launched this year, SVR Lazartigue and Banque Populaire XI probably did not reveal their full potential, but finished without a major breakage and both on the podium after a good fight. The damage that occurred at the end of September on the BPXI centreboard, installed identically on SVR Lazartigue, led the two crews to maintain a bit of restraint, according to Antoine Gautier, technical director at MerConcept: “We had established a rule before the start for the use of the dagger board. The important thing was not to go all out for the win but to make sure we raced to the finish, right to the end.”
Even if the conditions were modest, this is the first time that all the Ultimes made it to the finish line (Sodebo Ultim 3 will finish Saturday morning) in race of this magnitude, as Francis Le Goff underlines: “Despite their immense frustration, I saw in Sodebo’s decision to keep going, a drive for the whole class to be complete at the finish. This bodes very well for the future.”
Imoca: a big first for LinkedOut
Before the start, they were often quoted as Apivia’s main challenger and this time LinkedOut won its first major success when they took first gun into Fort-de-France, just over two years after the boat’s launch. Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière came out on top in style after taking the lead on November 16 on the passage of the Cap Verde islands. But the fight was far from conclusive as their lead was still limited to 15 miles when Fernando de Noronha was passed.
It was on the last section, downwind VMG sailing, that the duo showed a real speed advantage, sailing close to the Brazilian forbidden zone and relentlessly breaking away from Apivia and Charal who completed the podium. The optimization of a well-founded platform, equipped with their third generation of foils and led by a talented and complementary duo, has therefore paid off. “We found the right gears, we had the right strategy and Morgan brought something extra to the boat that made it go fast,” said Thomas Ruyant on finishing.
That is confirmed by Gildas Mahé who sailed with Morgan Lagravière in the Figaro: “They formed a great duo, very complementary, we have never seen LinkedOut go so fast, they have done well making progress, Thomas knows his boat, but it is also due to Morgan’s qualities: when he is on a boat, it goes fast.” Francis Le Goff also notes that “It is also the victory of the one who has achieved the most miles racing this year on The Ocean Race Europe, where there were quite a few light tactical conditions like in this Transat”.
Verdier’s full house
There remains a little question about Apivia, on top for the first few days and which subsequently failed to keep the pace up downwind. By taking second place today into Fort-de-France, Dalin nevertheless consolidates the domination of the Verdier designs on this Transat Jacques Vabre by winning in the Ultime, Ocean Fifty and Imoca – the new Verdier designed Pogo S4 Seafrigo-Sogestran is 2nd in the Class40 fleet.
The big gaps between the podium in Imoca and the chasers set a clearer hierarchy of performances for the different generations of boats. The first 2015 foiler, Prysmian Group, is eighth this Friday, the first daggerboard boat, Groupe Apicil, is in 12th position. Nothing surprising for Antoine Mermod: “We knew this really but the Vendée Globe, by its very specific conditions and because it is solo, created something of an illusion.”
Behind the podium which really comprises the three most successful boats since 2018 are the two Kouyoumdjian designs Arkéa Paprec and Corum L’Epargne, holding their rank for the first time, with, between the two, Initiatives Cœur, by far the best age to performance ratio (VPLP-Verdier plan 2010) on which the Davies / Lunven duo really did make sparks fly especially in their course between Madeira and the Doldrums.
Photo: Jean-Louis Carli/Alea