Transat Jacques Vabre - British duo ready for action

Strong wing in the Transat Jacques Vabre village in the Vatine Marina in Le Havre (North France) on October 28, 2013
Young British duo Sam Goodchild and Ned Collier Wakefield are expected in Le Havre for the Transat Jacques Vabre this Tuesday following a tough battle to have their new, recently launched Jason Ker designed Class 40 fully optimised in time for the start of the race.

They may have been pressed for time, but have left absolutely nothing to chance. After being cruelly forced to retire from the last Transat Jacques Vabre just after they had taken the Class 40 lead, overhauling, and battling through the last big storm of the race, they discovered some delamination in the front sections of their boat and had to abandon and head to the Azores. But they report that they are in good shape, ready to make the short hop from Hamble to Le Havre.

'We are waiting for the wind to die to get going, we still have 40kts but it is dropping fairly quickly and we should get going fairly soon. We have been watching the weather very closely', Co-skipper Ned Collier Wakefield reported this morning.

To make sure nothing untoward happened on their final night in their home marina at Hamble Yacht Services before leaving for Le Havre, Collier-Wakefield decided to sleep on their boat through the storm force winds.

'I got a little sleep. I was more worried something would come crashing into us during the night. Actually I probably got better sleep than I would at sea! Otherwise we are getting there and will be ready to go shortly.'

'Race Direction have been very understanding. To be honest we just ran out of time. We had to get new spreaders made in Cape Town at the last minute. There has been some work to do with the rig and rudders. Andy Meiklejohn has been great in helping us set up the rig. We have had a few problems with the kick up rudders but have a good solution now. They have had a good test now and we are confident.'

Concise 8 has had ten days of trialling at sea including a tough sail down to Ushant and back from Hamble.

'We are incredibly impressed with the boat. We brought her back upwind in big seas and did some proper slamming. The performance is especially good reaching, I am sure we have one of the quickest boats when the wind is between 95-130 degrees especially. And we have had some great sailing under the big kites.'

The new Concise has a much more inboard chainplate position, which allows them to set big upwind Code Zero sails, especially potent for pushing through light wind transition zones, like in the Doldrums.

'The boat has the Transat Jacques Vabre and Route du Rhum as two key events. We looked at a lot of historical weather data for the races and developed a potent hull form. The rig is a little heavier for this set up, but we did a lot of work with the sail and rig development, with Chris Williams and Scott Ferguson and so it feels like we have a proper closed loop, grand prix set up.'

Patrick Conway (Aus) and Michelle Zwagerman (Aus), Croix du Sud - Transat Jacques Vabre in the Vatine Marina in Le Havre (North France) on October 28, 2013
Collier-Wakefield is confident he knows their new boat better than any of his rivals, having been in the yard in China throughout the build.

'Yes we have not had the time we might have wanted on the water but we have had great guys involved all the way through.'

And while the young English duo are on the ascent as professional sailors, looking to make their mark at the front of the fleet, so Class 40 of the Transat Jacques Vabre is also where many of the most committed and talented amateur sailors will compete, living their dreams. Some of them have limited expectations of winning, looking to get to Brazil safely and to sail to the best of their ability. Budgets and racing experience may be correspondingly less than their professional rivals but these amateurs are no less enthusiastic.

There are osteopaths, project managers, emergency doctor, company directors but now they are taking time out from their wage paying careers to take on the adventure of the Transat Jacques Vabre.

'It is really not easy to find time to prepare. I delivered the boat from Marie Galante with a friend who could barely sail. Let’s say it was a real baptism of fire!' recalls Dominique Rivard (Marie Galante ). Australians Michelle Zwagerman and Pat Conway on the Class 40 are also living their dream.

'It started last year in April. We bought the boat and have done it all ourselves. For us, it is a huge challenge.'

Christoph Petter (co-skipper on Vaquita), is an Austrian entrepreneur who set sail on his adventures five years ago and enjoys offshore races, but the Transat Jacques Vabre will be his first big one.

'We feel both excitement and fear', says Michelle Zwagerman. 'We'll have to control our anxiety during gales, but most of the time, it will be fantastic. Dolphins, the moon, the stars, I am looking forwards to some great moments.'

Doctor Damien Rousseau skipper of the Class 40 Mr Bricolage engaged in the Transat jacques Vabre in Le Havre (North France) on October 28, 2013
And even making it to the start of Transat Jacques Vabre requires great perseverance and tenacity.

Damien Rousseau explains: 'I started without money but wanted to realise a childhood dream. I took the big chance and plunged into debt. I thought it was no worse than buying a nice car but I finally also found myself a sponsor who has helped me do it a bit more comfortably.'

Rousseau has been able to race in various events in preparation including a good ninth place in Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables. But, in contrast, without a sponsor Dominique Rivard has had to draw on his own money: 'I took a bank loan to buy a boat at EUR 250,000. Everything is very expensive, I have put another EUR 80,000 euros in the pot since, and I have worked 70 hours a week.'

All of these sailors are on a break from their daily lives and careers: some see it as big step towards new adventures, others a unique one off experience, like Pat Conway: 'Our boat is already for sale and once we have completed the Transat Jacques Vabre we return a normal life in Australia.'

Closed since 2000hrs Sunday night due to the storm force winds the village of the Transat Jacques Vabre will reopen tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 1000hrs.

All of the technical teams have remained on high alert around the village of the Transat Jacques Vabre. Buses and lorries were parked along the perimeter to protect the tents around Paul Vatine dock.

Dominique Rivard onboard Class 40 Marie Galante, Transat Jacques Vabre, in the Vatine Marina in Le Havre (North France) on October 28, 2013

Transat Jacques Vabre website