Transat B to B, Hotting up in the Carribean

St Bart Harbour
B Stichelbault
No less than four 60-feet Imoca monohulls are already here in Gustavia, Saint Barts, lapping up the sunshine and the warm breeze prior to the start of Transat B to B on Monday 5 December. Tied up safely alongside in front of Gustavia's Harbour Master's Office are Mike Golding's Gamesa, Armel Le Cléac'h's Banque Populaire, Vincent Riou's PRB and Marc Guillemot's Safran.

The latest arrival tied up to the dock at around noon local time on Wednesday, after a laborious delivery trip from the finish of the Transat Jacques Vabre in Costa Rica. All the boats are a hive of activity, with shore crew busying themselves with key repairs and general check-ups.

- A focus on priority jobs following the testing Transat Jacques Vabre race
- Routines prior to the start of the Transat B to B on Monday 5 December
- Prospects for the race start from two different angles

Priority jobs before the off
Forced to retire from the Transat Jacques Vabre and effect repairs in the Azores, skipper Vincent Riou made the delivery to Gustavia in around a week. Prior to leaving Horta, Vincent declared himself to be satisfied with the repair carried out on the watertight bulkhead. 'We’ve redone the bulkhead just as it was before, though naturally we’ve beefed it up a bit. I’m satisfied, it appears to be a lot more solid than it was before. Things went pretty well in Horta and working conditions were good. Obviously due to our technical issues in the Transat Jacques Vabre we didn’t really learn any lessons from it, which was a shame, but until we retired we were happy with our performance despite messing up on our first option out of the starting blocks. We’ve been here for a number of days so naturally the boat’s pretty much ready to go already'.

Aboard Gamesa meantime, the focus is now on getting the boat ready for the Back to Brittany Race. 'The job list isn’t massive – only 3 priority jobs – replacing the fleet broadband system, fixing the wind instruments and repairing the port daggerboard. Naturally we will be checking the mast and rigging and the whole boat but from our inspection in Costa Rica we expect no serious problems.'

Pre-start routines
For Mike Golding the work-up for the Back to Brittany race is pretty structured on a personal level: 'Monday 5 December will be synonymous with getting back to solo sailing for the first time since the Vendée Globe in 2008. The Transat B to B is another big challenge but right now I am relishing the prospect. It is a different rhythm and routine on your own. I sleep when I am tired and there is the opportunity to do so, but the days are longer, harder and no 24 hours is the same as the last one, or the next. I have the opportunity with this Transat BtoB to set the record straight before Christmas. My focus will be on finishing the race and learning as much as I can rather than just going for it. The quality of the line-up has never been so high so this race will be a great opportunity to really gauge what I’ll be up against in solo configuration in the Vendee Globe. Before the boat’s refit she was much more versatile, but now she’s a compromise in that she’s geared solely for the Vendee Globe. This BtoB will enable us to see if we’re on the right track to perform well in it.'

The skipper of PRB meantime has just a simple strategy for the Transat BtoB. 'I simply want to do as best I can and have the most enjoyable time doing it'.

Prospects for the start
'The course out of here could be a bit doldrums-y to begin with', says Golding 'but quite quickly we should join the Altantic circulation which will speed us back towards the much colder weather as you get back to Europe and the winter! After not a great TJV, due to weather choices and wanting to ensure we made it to the finish and learn as much as we could from the race we are keen not to crash and burn. For me it looks like a soft start with everyone rushing north to hook onto the next weather system. Jean-Pierre Dick is going to be my toughest competition I think but the question is whether solo sailing is really his game or not. Vincent Riou on PRB is obviously a big player and the boat has less wear and tear and is the best prepared, while Armel Le Cleac’h cannot be ruled out either'.

Just relaxing with his kids before Monday’s start a calm Vincent Riou admitted he hasn’t even looked at the weather charts yet. 'It’s a few days away yet so I haven’t looked at the weather. I know the first part will involve us sailing close-hauled in the tradewinds and that should be easy because they’re not very strong. Right now the reliability of the grib files isn’t good enough yet. Besides that, the initial conditions are pretty stable so what interests us is 3 days after the start of the race and once we have those details then I can decide on a strategy. All I know at this stage is that I’m going to do the best I can with victory in my sights.'