Transat Jacques Vabre - Edmond de Rothschild crosses the equator

Edmond de Rothschild - 2013 Transat Jacques Vabre
In the Transat Jacques Vabre, after the ordeal of the Doldrums, Sébastien Josse and Charles Caudrelier were the first to cross the equator on Thursday at 2035 GMT, after just seven days, eight hours and 35 minutes of racing from Le Havre; a spellbinding time in double-handed configuration and reminiscent of the record time sailed fully crewed.

The two men are now hammering along, heading due South as they approach the latitude of Recife, which they’re likely to pass this evening. Still boasting a lead of over 70 miles (130km), the crew of Edmond de Rothschild are going flat out in the south-easterly trades, despite being hosed by the spray washing over the deck. It’s the same scenario for Sidney Gavignet and Damian Foxall aboard Oman Air-Musandam, which is further over to the east, ready to pounce the minute there is an opportunity to make up ground on the leaders.

Though the two 70’ trimarans in the Transat Jacques Vabre are already making headway offshore of Brazil, the suspense of this ‘oceanic duel’ still has some great hours ahead of it. In fact, with over 1,500 miles (2,780km) to go before they reach the port of Itajaí, some 700km to the south of Rio, the two duos, who have been keeping up the pressure on one another for the past eight days, will have to display nerves of steel and make sure they’re physically strong enough for this final sprint, which will require a fair amount of tactical finesse.

Whilst the rest of the Transat Jacques Vabre fleet is continuing to make headway in the northern hemisphere, yesterday the two Multi70s crossed the equator within two hours of each other. Sailed double-handed for the first time since they came into existence, these 21m one-design trimarans have been throwing the speedos into turmoil since the start. Indeed the Edmond de Rothschild duo took seven days, eight hours and 35 minutes to cross the equator from Le Havre and just six days, 11 hours and 35 minutes from the north-west tip of Brittany (St Mathieu). This latter pace is highly reminiscent of the time racked up by Groupama 3, helmed by Franck Cammas, during his 1st Jules Verne Trophy attempt in 2008. His crew of ten completed the course from Ushant to the equator in six days, six hours and 24 minutes.

'We’ve picked up speed in 25 knots of south-easterly breeze and we’re making headway at 25-30 knots on fairly flat seas,' Charles Caudrelier admitted this morning. 'At this pace, we’ll be off the Recife headland in 12-13 hours (17-1800 GMT this evening) at which point it should become pleasant again.' Decidedly chirpy today, skipper Sébastien Josse echoes this sentiment: 'All’s well! We’re in the sunshine making good speed and soaked to the skin, but that’s par for the course: you don’t get something for nothing! The central hull is creating a constant jet of water and the minute you come out from under the cuddy, you’re soaked.'

With a few sail adjustments according to the intensity of the tradewinds, it’s the piloting that is the current focus aboard the trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild. In these conditions, the major options are a thing of the past. Right now they need to make headway to the south as fast as they can and keep their rivals at a safe distance.

And theirs is a tough rival! By shifting across to the east as they negotiated the Doldrums, the ‘challenger’ has managed to reduce its lateral separation in relation to the leader, but for now it doesn’t appear to be benefiting from a very significant advantage either in terms of angle or speed.

However, Sébastien and Charles are remaining vigilant. 'We weren’t sparing of our efforts last night' the skipper admits. 'We were on the attack and taking it in turns on a regular basis to get the most out of the boat. With their easterly separation on exiting the Doldrums, we still had a fight on our hands with Oman and we wanted to ensure we came out of the zone well ahead of them.'

Though the conclusion of this duel is still a long way off (ETA late Monday to Tuesday), the general opinion is that to the south of Cabo Frio, the weather situation is getting complicated and, some would say ‘highly random’ over the final miles to Itajaí.

Ranking on Friday 15 November at 1530 GMT:

1 – Edmond de Rothschild (Josse-Caudrelier) 1,507.8 miles to go /24.30kt average over 2 hours
2 – Oman Air-Musandam (Gavignet-Foxall) 69.8 miles behind the leader /26.9kt average over 2 hours