The General Assembly (AGM) of the Ultim 32/23 class took place on Friday in Paris. There the class announced the inclusion now of the SVR Lazartigue team which has finally agreed to modify François Gabart’s trimaran to comply with the rule. A four-year calendar has also been unveiledwhich includes the return of the Transat Jacques Vabre this year, upsetting the Imoca class. Tip & Shaft tells you more.
In many senses this should be the end of a soap opera that has lasted a year and a half, fuelling many a heated debate on the pontoons and indeed in the courts. The Ultim 32/23 class held its General Assembly this Friday and cited “an opportunity to ratify the decision to welcome SVR-Lazartigue into the membership following an agreement that will allow it to obtain its measurement certificate “, as was indicated by a press release, sent shortly before 1500hrs French time Friday.
While François Gabart and his team succeeded last year in getting authorized to take the start of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, until Saint Malo the two parties still held their opposite positions as to the compliance of the VPLP design with the class rules, and in particular with article 3.11 of the OSRs of World Sailing (see our article).
It seems time in the sun in Guadeloupe sun defrosted the icy relationships and discussions resumed then intensified at the start of the year under the leadership of the newly appointed class secretary general, Stéphane Guilbaud.
“Exchanges really reopened with the arrival of Stéphane, it was a major contribution,” confirmed the president of the class, Patricia Brochard to Tip & Shaft this Friday. “He was able to exchange with everyone with a real knowledge of the subject, knowing that on both sides, there was the will to find a positive solution to integrate SVR Lazartigue into the class.”
Stéphane Guilbaud himself added after Friday’s big meeting: “François’ teamand the class had taken the first steps to find a solution, it had to be formed into a shape and we entered into technical discussions, the SVR Lazartigue team have provided extremely detailed plans of what was to be done.”
These plans saw the two parties finally agree “during February”, according to Cécile Andrieu, team manager of the trimaran SVR Lazartigue, quoted in the press release, before adding, in this same press release: “The bases of the two winch columns have been raised, the two aft bubbles have been widened and raised, allowing the skipper maneuvering to have a direct view of the horizon, the boom has also been raised to adapt to the new shape bubbles.”
Didier Tabary new class administrator
So much work has already been validated by all members of the class, with regular monitoring by measurer René Boulaire. That makes Stéphane Guilbaud suggest “it will allow the measurement certificate to be issued” as soon as the boat is launched, “around May 10”, he specifies.
The technical subject is settled and so the business of integrating SVR Lazartigue in the class was ratified this Friday in the presence of Didier Tabary, CEO of the Kresk group, owner and title sponsor of the trimaran. “Didier Tabary is now administrator of the Ultim class, with the possibility of participating in discussions and decisions, since he now has the right to vote like the other five members, this is a major point”, says Patricia Brochard.
She also announces “a change in the class rules governance system“, before specifying to Tip & Shaft: “We are going to create a committee of three people, whose names will be revealed soon, that the measurers and the teams will be able to consult for any question relating to the rule, and whose decisions cannot be called into question.”
The other major subject of this meeting was the adoption of a four-year calendar, with in particular the 24h Ultim every year, the Finistère Atlantique every two years, Lorient-Les Bermudes Lorient in 2027 and two new crewed events, the Route des Phares in 2024 (a round trip from Lorient to Bordeaux), and the Med Ultim in 2025 in Mediterranean Sea.
And the big news of the day is that The Transat Jacques Vabre is now also on this program until 2027, including this year, which was not initially the case, due to the proximity of the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest, the solo race around the world.
The Transat Jacques Vabre returns in 2023
Why this change of heart? “Initially, the start of the world tour was planned around Christmas 2023, the fact that it was postponed (January 7, 2024) reopened this opportunity,” replies Stéphane Guilbaud. “Some teams have also said to themselves that if last year they were able to be ready in mid-December for a Jules Verne record stand-by after having done the Route du Rhum, why wouldn’t they be ready next year after the Transat Jacques Vabre? “
So the general secretary of the class warned OC Sport Pen Duick a little less than two weeks ago, which organizes the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest, of the desire to run the Transat Jacques Vabre. This is not without a risk to the solo race around the world which will only take place if there are at least four boats on the start line.
At the same time, he contacted the Transat Jacques Vabre Association, organizer of the double-handed race. The latter proved to be open to the idea, especially since the scenario was provided for in article 6.1.2 of the notice of race. The organizers set a few conditions, in particular to have a field of five boats, a commitment to the presence of the Ultim class over time, but also to accept a course with a race time almost identical to that of the other classes, as was the case in 2021 – when it was an Ocean Fifty, Primonial, which was the first to cross the line in Fort-de-France.
In this case a course of around 7,000 miles which, according to Gildas Gautier, co-general manager of the race, as quoted in the press release announcing the return of the Ultims this Friday, “respects the markers of the Transat Jacques Vabre: a passage through the Doldrums in the southern hemisphere, and a substantial race duration, of a fortnight, which guarantees both the requirement of the Coffee Route and equal finish times between the main classes.”
But……. Imoca strike back
The Ultim’s return does not have everyone celebrating, in particular the Imoca class are worried about being overshadowed by the Ultims. Indeed even before it was official, the class had prepared a reaction, via telephone discussions with the organizers, then a formal letter from their lawyer, Jean-Charles Scale, unveiled last weekend in Le Télégramme.
He recalls paragraph 3 of article II 2.2 of the sports regulations of the French Sailing Federation, which stipulates: “No article of the notice of race must be modified after its publication if the modification presents a risk of harm whatsoever to any competitor entered in the competition under the terms of the initial notice of race.”
He therefore considers that “any modification of the initial notice of race in the sense of the integration of the Ultim class sailboats in the Transat Jacques Vabre 2023 would necessarily entail a certain financial loss for the registered members of the Imoca, given the substantial media impact that the disputed participation of the 3 or 4 Ultimates would generate [they should be five].”
And the lawyer concludes: “Consequently, I would like to inform you that any modification of the initial notice of race published in the aforementioned sense would constitute a violation of article II 2.2 3rd paragraph of the sporting regulations of the FFVoile and would be likely to lead to an appeal by competitors in the Imoca class who consider themselves to be prejudiced by the head of the integration of the Ultime class in this competition.
For Antoine Mermod, contacted by Tip & Shaft, “the idea is not to attack the Transat Jacques Vabre with this letter, but to warn the organizer. A notice of race is a contract between each competitor and an organizer, any competitor could attack the race believing that they have suffered damage.” The harm in question? “It was understood for a long time that we would be the main class of this edition, with almost all the teams which will be on the next Vendée Globe. We must not forget that we are a professional sport, with sponsors who finance the boats and to whom we are accountable. There may be competitors who don’t care about being on the French television newscast, but there are others for whom it is important and can therefore feel compromised.”
The organizers’ interpretation is, predictably, different, as was confirmed this Friday to Tip & Shaft by Antoine Robin, co-general manager of the Jacques Vabre: “For us, the rider integrating the Ultim 32/23 class is not a modification of the notice of race within the meaning of article II 2.2 of the sporting regulations of the FFVoile, and the legal department of the Federation confirmed this to us by mail.” Robin also recalls that “it is the Imoca which had the greatest volume of media return on the 2021 edition anyway” even when the Ultims were in the same race.
And so will this difference in interpretation have consequences? Answer in the next few weeks.
Photo: Jean-Marie Liot / Alea