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Transat Jacques Vabre: analysis of the week

After the victory on Thursday night of Solidaires en Peloton (Thibaut Vauchel-Camus/Quentin Vllamynck) in the Ocean Fifty, the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie-Le Havre will reach its epilogue in the Imoca class this weekend, while the Class40s are expected in the middle of next week. Tip & Shaft caught up with skippers Pascal Bidégorry and Nicolas Troussel, as well as weather routing expert Dominic Vittet, to discuss the end of the race in these two classes.

A week ago, Martin Le Pape explained to us that there were two options open to the Imoca fleet as they approached Madeira: one to the north of the ridge of high pressure that the leading boats were about to cross, which was shorter but more challenging and uncertain, and one to the south, which was longer but less risky. In the end, of the leading group, only (Justine Mettraux/Julien Villion) and Groupe Dubreuil( Sébastien Simon/Iker Martinez) dared to play the northern card – the latter subsequently having to slow down due to a torn mainsail.

“All the routing at the start was for us to go north, but not many people wanted to go that way, in particular because there were lows to cross. We know that there’s another transatlantic race behind us, which is important for qualifying for the Vendée Globe (Retour à La Base, start on 30th November), so I think that a lot of people chose to go south for that,” believes Nicolas Troussel. “We saw the opportunity,” analyses Dominic Vittet. “The problem with such a decision is that you have to take it imagining what’s going to happen ten days later in the tropical part of the transatlantic race, where the forecasts are far less reliable than in the North Atlantic, it’s an extremely daring gamble. Now, they must have asked themselves whether it was better to stay in the pack and play for 10th or 15th place or try something else.”

Pascal Bidégorry confirms: “In the position they (the two boats to the north) were in, knowing that they were crossing the ridge of high pressure much less well than the 4-5 boats in front of them, it didn’t surprise me that they tried. You could see that everyone had decided to go south. It was brave of them to go for it, because you’re not in the same race, it was much more challenging. It could have worked, but it became more complicated…


For People in a strong position


A week later, our three experts agree: the northern option is dead. For a number of reasons: “The option was always on the edge,” says Dominic Vittet. “They (Justine Mettraux and Julien Villion) sometimes stopped in calm zones, which was always very penalising. If they had always been making at least 12-13 knots, they would have been in a better position.” For Pascal Bidégorry, “the transition phases, the manoeuvres, the heavy weather, all drain energy and time, you don’t have a high average speed, and at times, we saw some rather strange things in terms of speed, perhaps they had a few minor problems.”

Nicolas Troussel also thinks so: “They’ve been up the mast, so I’m not sure their boat is 100%, for example they were slower than on the routing last night.” And the Finisterian, who is currently looking for partners to succeed Corum L’Epargne, which ended its Imoca programme at the end of September (see our article), notes: “And to the south, they’ve managed to maintain some pretty incredible averages with more wind than on the charts and fairly flat seas.”

In the south, the Transat Jacques Vabre holders, Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière, are in a strong position to win on Saturday night in Fort-de-France, as the new For People, launched last spring and strengthened after the Fastnet, has proved very fast downwind in the trade winds. “The two Koch/Finot-Conq designs (For People and Paprec Arkéa) are going very fast,” notes Dominic Vittet. “The level has gone up a notch again in terms of hulls and appendages, and there has been a lot of progress in terms of in-flight stabilisation, as we saw on the images from the start, the boats were well set horizontally, which enables them to maintain high average speeds.”


A podium finish a long way off


Pascal Bidégorry adds: “It’s also a lot about the way the guys use it. After all, this isn’t the first time: victory in the Jacques Vabre two years ago, the Route du Rhum last year, they’ve found a trick, they also have a way of sailing that the others don’t have.” And the Basque extends this observation to the whole of the TR Racing team: “When you look at For The Planet (Sam Goodchild/Antoine Koch, 3rd this Friday), two days ago, it was the fastest boat in the fleet over 24 hours!”

Is the game up for For People? “They no longer have any reason to take risks and put a ball back in the corners. If they control well, they’ve won the race, and it’s easier to control when you have the fastest boat,” replies Dominic Vittet. The tactical move attempted by Yoann Richomme and Yann Eliès (Paprec Arkéa) on Thursday night with a northerly option to look for a shift? “They must have thought that staying behind was going to be complicated, especially as For People had secured the south, so they had to try something“, analyses Nicolas Troussel.

The move didn’t work, with Paprec Arkéa under threat from For The PlanetInitiatives Cœur (Sam Davies/Jack Bouttell) and Charal (Jérémie Beyou/Franck Cammas), even if the latter seems handicapped by sail problems“They don’t have the mast head sail (270 m2 headsail) anymoreI was convinced took the quad (230 m2 intermediate sail), apparently that’s not the case as they’re under J0 (180 m2),” analyses Pascal Bidégorry. He underlines the very good behaviour of Initiatives Cœur“It’s a good hull (Manuard design), the foils are the same as Malizia’s in The Ocean Race, they work very well downwind, which gives them good stability of flight.”


Class40: can the northerners do it?


As in the Imoca class, Class40 racing has been lively this week with, once again, a small group of mavericks, led by Amarris (Achille Nebout/Gildas Mahé), Groupe Snef (Xavier Macaire/Pierre Leboucher) and Crédit Mutuel (Ian Lipinski/Antoine Carpentier), which, between the Canaries and Cape Verde, got out of the pack to get around the ridge of high pressure to the north, in the hope, a few days later, of picking up a good easterly flow and a better angle to head for Martinique. I was very surprised,” comments Dominic Vittet. “I don’t remember any boats crossing back over the ridge of high pressure to the north. I think it’s extremely foolish for the reasons I’ve already mentioned for the Imoca boats, but also because those who went north were in the leading pack of the race. They went all in, agreeing to give up the lead and lose up to 200 miles for a gamble with a time limit of a week/ten days, in a tropical zone where the weather is unreliable”.

For Nicolas Troussel, who regularly sails in Class40s, the option could pay off: “The high is reforming behind them, which will enable them to arrive at a good angle to the north. Depending on the timing of their arrival, they may or may not get through, because there’s a low forming again in the north at the end, which may ease the trade winds for them and allow the boats to the south to get some steady wind.” 

The southern boats are led by a duo of Italians, Ambrogio Beccaria (partnering Nicolas Andrieu on Alla Grande Pirelli) and Alberto Bona (teaming up with Pablo Santurde on IBSA), of whom Dominic Vittet says: “If the northerners’ option doesn’t go through, I can’t see any boat other than one of these two winning.” Nicolas Troussel believes that “it’s a great match-race between two very good crews, before noting, with regard to Alla Grande Pirelli, Guelfi design: “It’s a boat that seems a step above, with lots of architectural choices that are a little different from the others.” Dominic Vittet adds: “The architectural competition is great in Class40. We had the Verdiers, the Raisons and the Manuards, and now the Italians have come up with a new design that makes everyone agree; as soon as there’s a bit of wind, she goes faster than everyone else.” Except IBSA, (Mach 40.5 designed by Sam Manuard) who, since passing the Canaries on Tuesday, hasn’t let him out of her sight…

Photo: Vincent Curutchet / Alea

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