After the Ultimes and Class40 last week it is the time for the Imoca and Ocean Fifty as we evaluate the prospects for the Transat Jacques Vabre. 29 duos in these two classes set off on Sunday on the same 5,800-mile course to Fort-de-France, via the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha. Francis Le Goff, race director as well as his weather assistant Yann Chateau, Jeanne Grégoire, director of the Pôle Finistère at Port-la-Forêt, Antoine Mermod, the president of the Imoca class, as well as sailors Arthur Le Vaillant, Yoann Richomme and Maxime Sorel and the journalist Jacques Guyader (Ouest-France) make their predictions for Tip & Shaft.
There will be 22 Imocas mustered on the start line on Sunday, a record for a post Vendée Globe year (there were 13 in 2017). The logical favourites as much now because of the display on the Fastnet and then during the Défi Azimut is Apivia (Charlie Dalin / Paul Meilhat) and is cited as the most likely winner by six of our seven experts. “They have a psychological advantage. The pairing is good, the boat is in top shape and everyone else knows they are going really fast,” said Francis Le Goff. “Upwind, the speed differential with the others might be more than two knots”, confirms Jeanne Grégoire.
Where does this supremacy come from? “With MerConcept, they had the ability to detect areas of development very early after the Vendée Globe. The basic package was solid and now they really took a step forward,” responds Yoann Richomme. “Are some duos going to keep up or are we going to attend a Fastnet repeat?”, wonders the double winner of the Solitaire du Figaro.
They will be able to count on foils designed before the Vendée Globe rule change, and therefore larger. “It’s a definite plus, especially in light to medium conditions,” recognizes Antoine Mermod, who adds, however: “I notice that boats like LinkedOut and the two 11th Hour, which have foils at designed under the new rule are going very fast as well.”
These three boats are also the most often cited for the podium, starting with LinkedOut (Thomas Ruyant / Morgan Lagravière), a “safe bet” for all of our experts. At the head of the Imoca Globe Series and on all the 2021 podiums, 11th Hour Alaka’i completes the trio: “Justine (Mettraux) and SiFi (Simon Fisher) have a different way of sailing offshore. They can make gains in strategy but never hesitate about changing a sail! Whatever happens, they will be there or thereabouts “, assures Jeanne Grégoire.
Lots of outsiders,
Behind these three names hovers Charal, cited several times among the top ranks but never as winner: “We know their qualities as competitors and they need to reunite with the feeling of success thinks Yann Chateau. The end of the course between Fernando de Noronha and Martinique where there will be quite a few VMG downwind stages can also help them“, Charal is very comfortable on these points.
At the foot of the podiums this year, Arkéa Paprec, have sailed and progressed a lot and is also one of the serious outsiders. Now sailing with triple winner (twice in Imoca) Yann Eliès, whom the Transat Jacques Vabre has often been good for, Sébastien Simon, whose last race with his sponsor this is, has nothing to lose.
This transatlantic race will also be an opportunity to dispel some doubts: how will Louis Burton and Davy Beaudart take advantage of Bureau Vallée 3 (formerly L’Occitane), whose suspected potential might now be demonstrated over 5,800 miles in contact with the fleet? Will the new foils from Corum L’Epargne (Nicolas Troussel / Sébastien Josse) give the Kouyoumdjian design more of the power that it lacks in light air? And of course, what can we expect from the new 11th Hour Malama (Pascal Bidégorry / Charlie Enright), launched only in August?
11th Hour Malama is an evolution of Apivia and is mainly designed by Verdier for The Ocean Race, but so far the only Imoca launched post Vendée Globe has hardly ever raced. But some observers were impressed by the images taken off the coast of Ushant. “The boat looks like a machine!” Confirms Jacques Guyader. “And when Bidégorry has a fast boat in his hands, it usually goes well.”
Our experts podium: 1. Apivia (Charlie Dalin / Paul Meilhat), 2. LinkedOut (Thomas Ruyant / Morgan Lagravière), 3. 11th Hour Alaka’i (Justine Mettraux / Simon Fisher)
In Ocean Fifty
On the same 5,800-mile course, the seven Ocean Fifty which are lined up on the dock in Le Havre will likely enjoy a high-level match up. That is even more especially since the creation this year of the Pro Sailing Tour, which included an offshore race between Toulon and Brest of 1,650 miles which sort of allowed the crews to train well. “I have the impression that everyone has shifted the focus to performance throughout the season and the races are tight. It promises to be a great race!” Says Francis Le Goff.
That race could have two appearances, according to Arthur Le Vaillant, former skipper of Leyton: “If it is down to weather strategy, everyone has an option to win as much as the gains are made very quickly on these boats. If it’s a race of pure speed, some have proven to be faster.“ Much like Apivia in the Imocas, Leyton has shown speed and consistency this season, winning all the legs of the Pro Sailing Tour. The boat which is a very well prepared VPLP design (formerly Ciela Village) led by Sam Goodchild and Aymeric Chappellier is unanimous among our forecasters.
Behind Leyton the class is very open with a trio made up of Arkema 4 (Quentin Vlamynck / Lalou Roucayrol), Solidaires en Peloton-Arsep (Thibaut Vauchel Camus / Frédéric Duthil) and Koesio. This latter is a boat built at Persico, the latest VPLP design and sailed by the three-time winner of the Transat Jacques Vabre, Erwan Le Roux who this time is sailing with Xavier Macaire. “Koesio is new and untrialled by comparison but Erwan has such experience with these boats that I don’t see him very far from the winner,” continues Francis Le Goff. “The boat looks very Grand Prix-style but the team is of a high calibre,” adds Maxime Sorel, who has sailed this season with Gilles Lamiré.
Most dangerous Arkema 4,
Leyton’s challenger this season
“Even if his boat is reputed to be heavier, we cannot exclude Thibault Vauchel-Camus on this type of course“, thinks Jacques Guyader. Vauchel-Camus, who is racing with Fred Duthil (2nd in 2019), showed in the last act of the Pro Sailing Tour in particular that he is very strong offshore and capable of pushing his VPLP plan very hard. Finally, while many of our interviewees admit not knowing Quentin Vlamynck well, it is clear that the duo he forms with his mentor Lalou Roucayrol has proven to be Leyton’s most dangerous challenger this season. This Transat Jacques Vabre could be an opportunity to confirm the Neyhousser design which was launched a year ago and for its young skipper of 29 years to make a name for himself on the big stage.
One thing is certain: if some routings suggest the first Ocean Fifty will be in the lead at Fort-de-France ahead of all the other classes, their race will be much less linear than the old Brazilian format: “The course is 1,500 miles longer and the last section is new. It will not necessarily be all over by Fernando de Noronha as in the past,” warns Jacques Guyader. That’s an analysis shared by Arthur Le Vaillant: “It’s a course that involves much less reaching. It can put less powerful boats back in the frame and we are not immune to a surprise …”
Our experts podium: 1. Leyton (Sam Goodchild / Aymeric Chappellier), 2. Arkema 4 (Quentin Vlamynck / Lalou Roucayrol), 3. Koesio (Erwan Le Roux / Xavier Macaire)
Photo: Martin Keruzoré / Leyton Sailing Team