Since Tuesday and the departure from Le Havre of the Imoca boats, the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie-Le Havre has resumed its ‘normal’ course, with matches in all four classes. Tip & Shaft takes a look at each of them (to be followed on our website), accompanied by Pierre-Marie Bourguinat, the editor covering the race for the organisation, the routers Jean-Yves Bernot and Marcel Van Triest for the Ultims, Martin Le Pape for the Imocas, Daniel Souben for the Ocean Fiftys and Bruno Jourdren for the Class40s.
Ultim: Banque Populaire XI advantage
The second week of racing was initially marked by the passage around Ascension Island, which saw SVR Lazartigue (Tom Laperche / François Gabart) close the gap on Banque Populaire XI (Armel Le Cléac’h / Sébastien Josse). “We did really well on this long starboard tack,” admits Jean-Yves Bernot, who is in charge of routing SVR Lazartigue. “We’d realised that we had to insist on a south-easterly course, which enabled us to get to the front.” His rival Marcel Van Triest, in charge of routing Banque Populaire XI, added: “SVR is much more at ease in medium upwind conditions, she goes a bit faster and makes a bit more headway.”
Having passed Ascension Island on Wednesday morning with a deficit of around thirty miles, Banque Populaire XI came back like a bullet downwind in the trade winds, as 48 hours later to the north-east of Brazil, she had a lead of 50 miles! “As she had shown between Madeira and the Doldrums, Banque Pop really has something extra. She’s always going at least 1 knot faster than the others, and lower too,” remarks Pierre-Marie Bourguinat. Jean-Yves Bernot doesn’t deny it: “Well done to them, we could only watch them catch up with us, they’ve found something, I don’t know what, it didn’t seem so obvious in the pre-season races.”
Even Marcel Van Triest seems surprised: “We thought we’d have a bit more in the stronger wind and big seas, but I didn’t expect the difference to be so marked. You have to wonder whether the seas were particularly hard on SVR‘s configuration or whether they had a little problem. But since the seas have improved, the difference doesn’t seem so clear-cut to me.” In any case, the two trimarans have managed to extend their lead over Charles Caudrelier and Erwan Israël (Edmond de Rothschild) who, we learnt late on Friday afternoon via a press release, “have not been spared of technical woes. As such, they have had to very quickly try to get the best out of a boat that was no longer at her full potential and adapt their race accordingly”. The press release added: “This morning, an impact caused serious damage to the steering system and the sailors will have to contend with the major breakage all the way to the finish line, which is still some 2,000 miles away.” For the Caudrelier/Israel duo, it will now be a question of defending their place on the podium.
Victory should therefore be decided between Banque Populaire XI and SVR Lazartigue, with one final weather move between now and Saturday evening, according to Marcel Van Triest: “The challenge is to decide how many gybes you do along the forbidden zone to the north of Brazil, because it takes half an hour each time, and then to choose the moment when you leave the increasingly narrow corridor between this zone and the Doldrums: SVR may try to attack by heading north a little before us.” For the router on Banque Populaire XI, the verdict is expected on Saturday evening: “Once we’re out of the Doldrums, we’ll be a little more relaxed in terms of strategy, because behind that, we’ve got some steady trade winds as far as Fort-de-France, so it’s back to being a race of speed.“
Ocean Fifty: Solidaires en Peloton in control
After a short first leg between Le Havre and Lorient, the six Ocean Fifty boats set off again last Monday, but there are only three left in the race this Friday, as Le Rire Médecin-Lamotte (dismasting), Primonial (port float) and Koesio (link arm) have retired, victims of a “tough” start according to Daniel Souben, director of the Orlabay training centre in La Trinité-sur-Mer. “4.5 to 5 metres of waves, gusting to 40 knots, that was the upper limit for these boats, we’re always on the edge with the Ocean Fifty.”
Three boats emerged from this tough start and, logically enough, it is Solidaires en Peloton, the former Arkema 4 led by the duo of Thibaut Vauchel-Camus/Quentin Vlamynck, which is leading the race, with a lead of 120 and 150 miles respectively over Réalités (Fabrice Cahierc/Aymeric Chappellier) and Viabilis Océans (Pierre Quiroga/Ronan Treussart) on Friday afternoon. “They’re fulfilling their role as favourites by producing an almost perfect copy,” continues Daniel Souben. “I think that Thibaut has found his ideal pairing with Quentin, who knows the boat very well as he built her and spent a season on her. Thibaut’s enthusiasm is well offset by Quentin’s calmness and qualities as a sailor.”
Although there are still more than 2,500 miles to go, Pierre Marie-Bourguinat believes the duo have the cards well in hand: “The pattern is relatively simple, with a trade wind that isn’t very strong, so there’s less risk of piloting errors, so it’s looking pretty good.” The latter is also keen to “pay tribute to Réalités who, after a cautious start in the first leg and at the beginning of the second, made a nice shift to the East before the Canaries and is now able to keep up with the others”.
Class40: one group stands out
Also setting out from Lorient on Monday, the Class40s also suffered at the start of the race, with four retirements to date on this second leg and the pitstop of one of the favourites, Legallais (Fabien Delahaye/Corentin Douguet), who has since set off again. “The scows are really hard in these conditions, they hit very hard and they are traumatic for the sailors and the equipment,” comments Bruno Jourdren, who sailed with his son Thomas, co-skipper of Keni Piperol on Captain Alternance. It used to be said that you could do ocean racing from the age of 7 to 77, but that’s no longer possible on these Class40s, and the profile of the sailors has become much younger.”
After more than four days at sea, a pack of around ten has broken away, led by Amarris (Achille Nebout/Gildas Mahé) thanks to a trajectory further west off Morocco. “The Madeira waypoint is really channelling the fleet, so they have no choice but to make headway southwards. We’re seeing a game of small positions, just like at the start of a Transat Paprec. We’re going to see how everyone negotiates the ridge of high pressure that awaits them from Friday evening, and we’ll have a real first ranking when they pass Madeira,” notes Pierre-Marie Bourguinat.
Winner of the first leg and in the lead at Cape Finisterre, Alla Grande Pirelli (Ambrogio Beccaria/Nicolas Andrieu) has lost out a little by being positioned further east, but for Bruno Joudren, “in the downwind trade winds, he has a lethal weapon with his spinnaker pole, which tilts, giving him the same speed as the others but at a lower angle, so I think he can make the difference in these conditions”.
Imoca: Charal leads the way
The 39 Imoca boats that set out from Le Havre on Tuesday (Macif Santé Prévoyance immediately retired due to Charlie Dalin’s health problems) also encountered some tough conditions at the entrance to the Bay of Biscay, with a violent front leading to them returning to port and, to date, four retirements (Biotherm, Be Water Positive, Stand as One, Maître CoQ V). For Martin Le Pape, who had to throw in the towel with Eric Bellion on Stand as One (structural problems), “the front was quite strong at the tip of Brittany, with 40 knots for two hours, and above all there were very rough seas with a short chop which badly affected the crews and the boats, because in spite of that, we couldn’t ease off to get the north-westerly rotation.”
The conditions then calmed down with a final crossing of the Bay of Biscay which gave rise to a shift, which didn’t pay off, to the east of the Thomas Ruyant/Morgan Lagravière duo (For People): “I think they saw a southerly option which, at one point, was pretty clear-cut, so they wanted to go all out, but in the end, the door closed along Portugal with less wind onshore, and Charal took the lead at that point”, continued Martin Le Pape. Positioned further west, the Manuard design of the Jérémie Beyou/Franck Cammas duo was the first to hit the westerly wind, which enabled them to gain a lead of around thirty miles over Paprec Arkéa (Yoann Richomme/Yann Eliès) and around 70 over the first pack.
What’s next? On the routing, there are two clearly marked options,” explains the co-skipper of Stand as One. One is to head back west upwind to pass to the north of the Azores High, look for the train of lows and then gradually drop back down towards Martinique, and the other is a longer southerly route.” The advantages and disadvantages of the two routes? “The northerly route is shorter, but a lot more challenging and more unpredictable because we’re dependent on the position of the low-pressure centres. It can close at any moment, but it’s a big winner if everything goes well. From a sporting point of view, it’s worth giving it a go, but after that, you have to know what state the boats and the sailors are in. They’ve already picked up quite a bit, and going back to the front in 35-40 knots, you have to be able to go! As for the southerly route, it’s a lot safer, but longer, with a trade wind that’s not very settled, which we’ll have to look for quite a long way south.”
For the moment, some of the daggerboard boats seem to be taking the northerly route, while the leading boats, Charal first and foremost, are continuing southwards. “It’s not up to them to start the hostilities,” says Pierre-Marie Bourguinat, “they’re in control and they’re capable of going very fast whatever the conditions. Maybe a few of the following boats will be tickled behind them, but I think the fleet was shaken up by the first front.”
Photo: Alexis Courcoux