After looking at the Class40 and Ocean Fifty fleet, this week, Tip & Shaft is examining the 5 Ultim and 40 Imoca boats that will be lining up on Sunday at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie-Le Havre. We are focusing on the favourites in these two categories along with the Race Director, Francis Le Goff, the President of the Imoca class, Antoine Mermod, the Director of the Finistère Course au Large training centre in Port-la-Forêt, Jeanne Grégoire, the skipper of Holcim-PRB, Nicolas Lunven, the Race Directors of the 2024 Vendée Globe, Hubert Lemonnier and the 24-hour Ultim, Gildas Morvan, and the journalist, Jacques Guyader (Ouest-France).
This is unprecedented in the Transat Jacques Vabre. 40 Imocas will line up at the start on Sunday 29th October, including eleven new generation boats built after the 2020 Vendée Globe. What about the predictions? All of the experts found this a tricky task, as the “level is that much higher,” said the Hubert Lemonnier. As for Antoine Mermod, he declared, “considering the number of excellent projects, it will be a matter of reliability, how well prepared they are and how close they are to getting 100% out of their boats.That will make all the difference.”
Five pairs stand out. Jérémie Beyou and Franck Cammas (Charal), winners of the Défi Azimut and second in the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race, are our choice for the top spot. “There are no weak points in the project,” explained Nicolas Lunven, who is not competing in the race, but who will be there for the solo return race, Retour à la Base, on Holcim PRB. “The pair perform well and the boat has been fine-tuned.” For Jacques Guyader, “Jérémie Beyou can rely on the skills of Franck Cammas, who always wants to go that bit further to advance projects and enhance performance.”
Just behind them, our experts go for the pair formed by Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière (For People), the title-holder and winner this year of the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race. “They are a fantastic pair in terms of work at the helm, trimming and strategy,“ stressed Hubert Lemonnier. Jeanne Grégoire added: “Morgan is the crewman that always takes it up a notch.” What is their weakest point? “The boat hasn’t sailed that much and may not be that reliable, as we saw this summer,” answered Nicolas Lunven. The crew were in fact forced to abandon the Fastnet due to structural problems on the Koch/Finot-Conq designed boat launched in March, which was relaunched in early October.
In third place, our experts put Charlie Dalin and Pascal Bidégorry (Macif Santé Prévoyance), before we learnt on Friday that the first, “following a medical problem”, will not be able to take part in the double-handed transatlantic race (see box below).
The pairs formed by Goodchild/Koch and
Richomme/Eliès ready to pounce
Behind our top two duos, our experts put Sam Goodchild and Antoine Koch (For the Planet) just off the podium. “Sam is an exceptional sailor and among those who clocked up the most miles in 2023 by racing in a large part of The Ocean Race on Holcim PRB,” stated Antoine Mermod. Although the Verdier design won the last race, “she finds it hard in some conditions, in particular downwind in strong winds,” explained Nicolas Lunven. “She is nevertheless a good all-rounder that performs well in lighter and moderate conditions upwind and reaching.” Yoann Richomme and Yann Eliès (Paprec Arkéa), “two former Figaro racers with a really fast boat (designed by Koch/Finot-Conq and launched last February)” – according to Hubert Lemonnier – complete the top four after their second place in the Fastnet.
After, our experts also mentioned Sam Davies and Jack Bouttell on the Manuard-designed Initiatives Coeur. Among them, Nicolas Lunven, who was going to be the co-skipper before being called up by Holcim PRB, said: “I was won over by this excellent all-rounder, which is so easy to handle and amazing in terms of performance.” Among the other outsiders that were mentioned, there were the pairs formed by Justine Mettraux/Julien Villion (Teamwork.net), Sébastien Simon/Iker Martinez (Groupe Dubreuil, ex 11th Hour, winner of The Ocean Race), and Maxime Sorel/ Christopher Pratt (V And B- Monbana-Mayenne), “discreet, but always up there,” according to Jeanne Grégoire, thinking of the results obtained by the Verdier design (sistership to the former Apivia) in the Rhum (4th) and the Fastnet (5th).
As for the boats with daggerboards, the most recent, Stand as One, the first Imoca designed by David Raison, skippered by Éric Bellion and Martin Le Pape “should be at the front, even if she encountered some technical problems in the Défi Azimut,” explained Jacques Guyader. Our experts also mentioned Benjamin Ferré and Pierre Le Roy (Monnoyeur Duo for a Job), on a boat that “so far has been the best all-rounder and best performer of her generation,” according to the journalist from Ouest-France, and also Tanguy Le Turquais and Félix De Navacelle (Lazare) as well as Violette Dorange and Damien Guillou (Devenir). “Violette knows how far she can go, without that upsetting her, which means she can go on the attack all the time. We feel confident that she will do well,” commented Jeanne Grégoire.
End of the supremacy
for the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild?
Five Ultims will compete on a 7,500-mile course between Le Havre and Fort-de-France. The match promises to be close as the gaps between the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, until now the reference boat (winner of the Jacques Vabre 2021 and the Route du Rhum 2022), and its competitors seem to have narrowed. “In September, during a 36-hour training session including two legs and different speeds, there were very few gaps between Gitana, SVR Lazartigue and Banque Populaire, they were side by side,” says Jeanne Grégoire. Similar performances were seen at the end of September during the 24h Ultim, narrowly won by Banque Populaire XI ahead of Gitana 17 and SVR Lazartigue.
“These race was short so it is difficult to draw any major conclusions from it,” underlines race director Gildas Morvan. “But it is clear that Banque Populaire and SVR Lazartigue have made good progress.” According to Francis Le Goff, “it is therefore the duos more than the boat itself, which should make the difference this time.” And so because of this Armel Le Cléac’h/Sébastien Josse (Banque Populaire XI) are the duo that our experts place on the top of the podium. “They don’t seem to have any weaknesses on the different speeds of the boat,” observes Francis Le Goff. “Its big strong point seems to be its versatility,” says Nicolas Lunven. “It goes fast in almost all conditions and it is perhaps a little easier to sail than the others.”
Banque Populaire XI is just ahead of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, “a little heavier than the others, which enables her to be stiff and perform very well in the breeze”, notes Nicolas Lunven. If Charles Caudrelier has lost his teammate Franck Cammas, now on Charal, Caudrelier can count on “Erwan Israel, his former router, who knows the boat very well and has already sailed on it a lot”, says Gildas Morvan. The duo Tom Laperche/François Gabart (SVR Lazartigue) completes the podium of our experts. “On the Route du Rhum, SVR was penalized at a crucial moment by a break in the foil lifting system, but without that, they were was close to Gitana and kept up the pace,” analyzes Morvan.
Sodebo Ultim 3 in progress
Behind this trio, it is difficult to know where Thomas Coville and Thomas Rouxel (Sodebo Ultim 3) lie, absent from the 24h Ultim due to daggerboard damage. According to Jacques Guyader, who sailed on the multihull after its winter refit, the boat has made good progress. “The mast has been extended by 2.50 m with the sail area that goes with it, and the platform has been reduced by 500 kilos, particularly at the level of the foil wells. The trimaran, which was losing ground in the transition phases, is taking off now faster, from 12 knots of wind.”
Finally, Actual Ultim 3, skippered by Anthony Marchand and Thierry Chabagny “should be a notch below the rest even with its new pair of foils”, estimates Gildas Morvan. “But if the sea conditions do not allow regular flight for other boats, perhaps it will be favored,” suggests Francis Le Goff. That will be the case for the first two days. The match will also be played on land, recalls Jacques Guyader: “Let’s not forget that it is also a battle of the routing cells. They are the ones who provide crucial information on the strategy. And sometimes some routers are more inspired than others.”
Charlie Dalin withdraws. The news came down on Friday: “following a medical problem”, Charlie Dalin will not be racing in the Transat Jacques Vabre. However, he and Pascal Bidégorry will cross the start line to preserve their chances of taking part in the next Vendée Globe. The round-the-world notice of race requires skipper/boat combinations to “take the start of a minimum of two single-handed races (including one in 2022 or 2023 AND one in 2024)”, with an asterisk specifying: “In the event of major damage encountered on the Transat Jacques Vabre 2023 making it impossible for the pair to take part in the return race of the Transat Jacques Vabre 2023 [Retour à La Base, Editor’s note], the AO (organising authority) may grant a dispensation and accept that the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre 2023 be substituted for the start of the return race.” Contacted by Tip & Shaft, Vendée Globe race director Hubert Lemonnier confirmed that this derogation could apply to Charlie Dalin if he did not take the start of Retour à La Base.
Photo: Jérémie Lecaudey