On 29th October, 95 duos – compared with 78 in 2021 – will be lining up at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie-Le Havre. As before every major race, Tip & Shaft has brought together a panel of experts to talk about the line-up. This week, we focus on the Ocean Fifty and Class40 races with Francis Le Goff, the Race Director, Matthieu Souben, the winner of the race two years ago aboard an Ocean Fifty, Eric Péron and Gilles Lamiré, former Ocean Fifty racers, Christophe Gaumont, the Race Director of the CIC Normandy Channel Race, Cédric de Kervenoael, President of Class40, and Laurène Coroller, journalist with Voiles et Voiliers.
The contest in Class40 promises to be very close. Out of the 44 boats registered (31 scows/13 sharp bows), “a quarter of the fleet could win,” according to Laurène Coroller. “The skippers today have reached a level that has rarely been seen with some highly competitive crews and boats that have been well prepared,” added Cédric de Kervenoael.
“The standard in the fleet means that everyone will be forced to keep up a fast pace,” analysed Matthieu Souben, who, as co-manager of the All Purpose sailmakers, is watching the race closely and is working with around fifteen crews. “The damage factor and breakages are starting to become part of the equation, which means that everyone needs to know when to ease off.” With eleven new boats launched this year, the renewal of the fleet has continued at a fast pace, “but these new boats still require a learning phase to allow the skippers to get their full potential,” added Matthieu Souben.
It is the pair formed by Ambrogio Beccaria and Nicolas Andrieu (Alla Grande Pirelli) that our experts believe will be the first to finish in Fort-de-France. They are sailing “on a good all-round boat, which looks well built,” observed Laurène Coroller. “Ambrogio, who pushes his boats hard, but efficiently, has dominated the season,” added Cédric de Kervenoael. 2nd in the Route du Rhum in 2022, the skipper from Milan also finished 2nd in the Défi Atlantique, before winning the CIC Normandy Channel Race. “In each race, he seems to have that little bit extra in terms of speed. He doesn’t make many mistakes and is always determined and fights hard”, observed Christophe Gaumont. Laurène Coroller also places this pair on top as they complement each other so well: “As director of Charal Sailing Team’s design office, Nicolas Andrieu is offering a methodical approach with Ambrogio the racer and risk-taker.”
“Around fifteen boats capable
of making it to the podium
On the second step of the podium for our experts, we find the pair formed by Ian Lipinski and Antoine Carpentier (Crédit Mutuel) on a Raison design from 2019, which was the first scow built. “The boat is older, but is more reliable. Even if she is lacking a little in terms of sheer speed, the pair’s experience and knowledge of the boat should make up for that,” explains Christophe Gaumont. The results of the pair speak for themselves: Ian Lipinski, winner of the Jacques Vabre in 2019, won the Défi Atlantique this year and finished 2nd in the CIC Normandy Channel Race with Antoine Carpentier; the latter has won the Jacques Vabre three times, once in the Ocean Fifty (with Gilles Lamiré in 2019), twice in Class40, with Maxime Sorel in 2017 and Pablo Santurde two years ago.
It is in fact the Spaniard, co-skipper this year with Alberto Bona (IBSA), who is favourite for third place on the podium. “He’s the co-skipper everyone dreams of, (see our portrait), declares Christophe Gaumont. “They have both had a very good season [winners of the Les Sables-Horta, 3rd in the Défi Atlantique, editor’s note] on their recently built, fast Mach 40.5.”
Among the other duos capable of making it to the podium, our experts mentioned Erwan Le Draoulec and Tanguy Leglatin (Everial), winners of the Fastnet, Fabien Delahaye and Corentin Douguet (Legallais), two experienced Figaro racers, Achille Nebout and Gildas Mahé on Amarris, the boat that won the Route du Rhum, Xavier Macaire and Pierre Leboucher (Groupe Snef), 2nd in the Les Sables-Horta and Amélie Grassi and Anne-Claire Le Berre (La Boulangère Bio) “who sail incredibly well,” according to Cédric De Kervenoael. As for the outsiders, we should mention Aurélien Ducroz and Vincent Riou (Crosscall), Axel Tréhin and Gwenaël Riou (Project Rescue Ocean), Mathieu Perraut and Kevin Bloch (Inter Invest) and indeed, Cédric Chateau and Guillaume Pirouelle (Seafrigo-Sogestran).
All to play for too in the Ocean Fifty class
In the Ocean Fifty class, there will be six boats lining up at the start on 29th October out of the ten in the class. “It’s a bit disappointing that there are not that many,” said Gilles Lamiré, who this year sold his trimaran to Christopher Pratt (Wind of Trust), with the skipper from Marseille competing in the Imoca class with Maxime Sorel. “But the race looks like being closely fought and interesting,” added Lamiré, who is one of the organisers of the finish in Fort-de-France.
While two brand new boats launched this summer will be lining up at the start – Primonial, a Neyhousser design skippered by Sébastien Rogues and Jean-Baptiste Gellée, and Réalités, a VPLP design skippered by Fabrice Cahierc and Aymeric Chappellier -, “the standard of the line-up remains much the same throughout,” according to Eric Péron, who is currently preparing for the Arkéa Ultim Challenge. “In spite of all the training this summer, I’m not convinced that the crews on these two new boats will have run them in perfectly in such a short space of time to get 100% out of them. After the launch of a new boat, there is never enough time to do all the fine-tuning.”
Matthieu Souben confirmed that everything is to play for: “The class rules limit the sort of innovations that would allow a new boat to be much faster, and therefore allow older boats to have a chance of offering a decent performance. As proof of that, with Sébastien Rogues, we won the last Transat Jacques Vabre on a boat dating back to 2009 [today skippered by Luke Berry and Antoine Joubert, editor’s note]. It is the commitment of the pairs, their experience and how well they work together that will make all the difference.”
Winners of the Pro Sailing Tour and The Arch, Erwan Le Roux, also winner of the 2022 Rhum, and Audrey Ogereau (Koesio) are reckoned to be the favorites by our experts. “Erwan is a great offshore sailor who knows how to balance risk,” highlights Gille Lamiré. “He goes fast but knows how to slow down at the right time so as not to put too much strain on his boat.” These are essential qualities, according to Francis Le Goff, since “these multihulls require particular vigilance so as not to capsize. Erwan is also formidable at both ends of a Transat, that is a significant point as long-term management is important on this 15-16 day race.” For Matthieu Souben, Le Roux “can also count on Audrey, a talented sailor who learns quickly.”
In the prediction game, Thibaut Vauchel-Camus and Quentin Vlamynck (Solidaires en Peloton) take second place. “Quentin knows the boat very well, reliable and fast, after having passed it on to Thibaut (ex Arkema 4),” notes Eric Péron. And Thibaut “is a real multihull specialist”, adds Gilles Lamiré. Sébastien Rogues and Jean-Baptiste Gellée (Primonial) complete the podium. “Their boat which I had the chance to sail on shows great potential,” confirms Matthieu Souben. But what about its reliability? “I think it’s a little early, he hasn’t yet got enough miles to be able to win,” replies Gilles Lamiré.
What about the other three duos? Despite a little less experience, our experts give them chances to join the fight for the podium. Luke Berry (Le Rire Médecin-Lamotte) has “taken charge of his Ocean Fifty well”, suggests Eric Péron who has no doubts about “his ability to maintain the pace throughout the transatlantic race.” As for Pierre Quiroga and Ronan Treussart (Viabilis), “if their relationship works well they can be formidable”, according to Matthieu Souben. Fabrice Cahierc is for his part accompanied by Aymeric Chappellier, who knows the class well having previously sailed with Sam Goodchild. And Matthieu Souben recalls: “In 202 after 16 days of racing, only 4 hours separated the first finisher from the third, that is nothing!”
Photo: Vincent Olivaud / Les Sables-Horta-Les SablesEloi Stichelbaut