As is often the case at the start of major autumn races, the race direction has lots of decisions to take last weekend in Le Havre. The cause? The storm Ciaran, which continued to deepen in the days leading up to the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre, making it increasingly unlikely that everyone would be able to make the start on D-Day, Sunday 29 October. Faced with this situation, the first announcement made by the race directors on Saturday morning was the introduction of a first leg for the Class40s between Le Havre and Lorient, followed by the neutralisation of the fleet pending the passage of Ciaran.
“As the Class40s are the slowest to go out of the Channel, it meant that they wouldn’t be stuck in Le Havre for too long and we’d have more room to manoeuvre to get them starting again on the second leg,” explained race director Francis Le Goff, contacted by Tip & Shaft on Friday morning. Beforehand, he took the trouble to contact Julien Bothuan, head of the ocean racing division at Sellor, responsible for administering the ports of Lorient Agglomération, who explains: “Francis called me before his briefing to ask me if I had the capacity to accommodate the Class40s. It was possible, but it required some adjustments because there was dredging work going on in Port-Louis, so we had to recover some boats from there. We had to review the layout of the pontoons, and the Cité de la Voile also played its part by making theirs available to us.”
The Imocas frustrated
The situation became more complicated at the end od Staurday: with Ciaran moving faster than expected, the race direction realised that while the Ultims were fast enough to escape in the Bay of Biscay, this was no longer the case for a large proportion of the Imoca and Ocean Fifty boats. As a result, Francis Le Goff and his team imagined a solution similar to that for the Class40s for these two fleets. “Lorient agreed to welcome the Ocean Fifty as well, and the idea was to do the same with the Imoca boats,” continues Francis Le Goff. We counted all the available berths, between Concarneau, Brest, Roscoff, even La Rochelle and Les Sables d’Olonne, we could only fit around twenty out of forty, it just didn’t fit.“
The race director then decided to launch the Ocean Fifty towards Lorient and the immobilisation of the Imoca boats. The announcement was made shortly before 8am on Sunday, just as the teams were busy, preparing to leave the Paul Vatine basin. This was hardly to the liking of the president of the Imoca class, Antoine Mermod, who didn’t appreciate being informed at the last minute and seeing the partners of the 40 boats present on site deprived of the start. “We were trapped by extremely unfavourable timing, with everything being rushed through on Saturday night, which meant that we didn’t have enough time to communicate, and that accelerated some people’s discontent,” Antoine Robin, co-director of the double-handed transatlantic race, told Tip & Shaft. “Nevertheless, in view of what we saw on Wednesday and Thursday, we’re thinking that we were right a thousand times over, especially as by emptying the basins, we were able to put the Imoca boats longside (parallel to the docks rather than perpendicular), which enabled them to face the storm in a more favourable position.”
Would it have been possible to launch a course for the Imocas and bring them back to Le Havre so that they could also benefit from live television? “I never thought about that,” replies Francis Le Goff firmly. “Taking them out would have meant a minimum of five locks in strong winds with a tidal coefficient of 105, and then we would have had to bring everyone back in on the dinghy, which would have been irresponsible.” With hindsight, Antoine Mermod calms things down: “There were malfunctions, emotion and excitement, but we’re looking ahead.”
Collisions and a dismasting
The start therefore took place from 13:05, with no preliminary course for the Ultims and Ocean Fifties, and two passing marks for the Class40s. The mark at the “spectacle buoy” at Cap de la Hève, 3.5 miles after the line, gave rise to two collisions, one of which resulted in the retirement of Movember (Bertrand Guilloneau/Kito de Pavant). Given the conditions, wasn’t this course too risky? For Francis Le Goff, “you can always say after that it should have been done differently, we knew it was a challenge, but we thought that double-handed, with the Class40s, easier to handle, it was possible. They also had the possibility of extending the tack a little further to starboard. I have no regrets, but of course I’m sad for those who been involved in collisions.”
A number of complaints have been lodged and the jury decision on Wednesday, including time compensation for Seafrigo-Sogestran, which collided with Café Joyeux and was forced to go to Lorient by road. Contacted on Thursday by Tip & Shaft, Guillaume Pirouelle, co-skipper of the Norman boat, gave an update on the repairs: “Since Wednesday morning, the guys have been in Apicil’s hangar to repair the two bulkheads and the bottom of the hull, and we’re getting a starboard planking made at JPS, which we’re fitting on Friday, so we should be back in the water on Sunday.”
The conditions of the first leg, won in the Ocean Fifty by the duo Thibaut Vauchel-Camus / Quentin Vlamynck (Solidaires en Peloton) and in the Class40 by Ambrogio Beccaria / Nicolas Andrieu (Alla Grande Pirelli), were sustained and several boats suffered. Crédit Mutuel, one of the favourites in Class40, dismasted. But he too will be at the start of the second leg, according to his skipper Ian Lipinski: “We’d kept our old mast, so if all goes well, we’ll have re-masted by Saturday. Right now, with an old mast and some old sails that we’ve had to recut in a hurry, we’re not in ideal conditions. As Antoine (Carpentier, his co-skipper) says, we’re not going there for the competition any more, we’re going there for the sport!“
Departures on Monday and Tuesday?
What about the start of the second leg in Lorient, and the start for the Imoca boats in Le Havre? On Thursday evening, the organisers announced that Sunday’s weather window was closed, suggesting a possible start early in the week. Francis Le Goff confirmed this to us on Friday: “At this stage, we’re continuing to work on a hypothesis of Monday for Lorient, Tuesday for Le Havre, with the locks exiting at 5am and the start after daybreak.” This hypothesis had still not been confirmed as this issue of Tip & Shaft was sent.
Will the Imoca be entitled to live TV this time? “The organiser’s stated and written intention is to provide all the necessary resources for a live start,” replies Antoine Mermod. “We didn’t get involved because the Imoca class asked for it,” explains Antoine Robin, “our first instinct was to ask ourselves how we could find a media window for this class. Depending on what the race director will decide, we’ll adjust our strategy. Is it better to do a live event for only 17,000 people early in the morning or a product similar to the live event to be supplied a little later to the channels so that they can broadcast it at a time with a bigger audience? We’ll see.”
To make up for lost time, the three fleets will be taking a direct, and therefore reduced, route – “We’re still wondering whether we’re putting an island for everyone on the route,” says the race director. When asked for a race time forecast, he sees, with all due caution, “the Ultims arriving around the 13th, the first Imoca boats and the Ocean Fifty around the 16th-17th, the Class40s from the 22nd”.
In other words, a delay of around five days on the planned schedule. “We’re going to maintain our village organisation as planned, i.e. opening on the 11th, closing on the 19th,” explains Damien de Longueville, who runs the Martinique Transat association, in charge of the finish in Fort-de-France. “The fact that the boats are arriving later poses technical problems, so there are bound to be solutions, but the question is how much it will cost.” This will also be the case for the organisers in Le Havre: “It’s obvious that all this will lead to significant additional costs, and we’re in the process of putting a figure on that,” confirms Antoine Robin.
Is a postponement of the start (scheduled for November 26) of Retour à La Base, the solo Imoca return race which qualifies for the Vendée Globe, being considered? “As long as nothing has been validated, it’s difficult to say,” replies Antoine Mermod, “but with five days delay, that’s not a lot of time between the two races. It’s something we could imagine if the logistical and port conditions in Martinique allow it.”
Photo: Jean-Louis Carli / Alea