by Hélène Tzara
Transat Jacques Vabre transatlantic race from Le Havre to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica is underway. Armed with the two newest IMOCA Open 60 designs in the fleet it is Francois Gabart and Seb Col on Macif and Bernard Stamm and Jean-Francois Cuzon with Cheminées Poujoulat which are setting the pace, reaching down close to the rhumb line course.
Transat Jacques Vabre 2011
Gabart may be tagged the race’s ‘benjamin’ or rookie, but the winner of the 2010 Figaro circuit has learned IMOCA racing with the best, not just competing earlier this season with Michel Desjoyeaux on the Barcelona World Race on Foncia, but racing this course in the last edition to finish second on Groupe Bel with Kito de Pavant. And neither is match and fleet racing ace Col a stranger to the Transat Jacques Vabre having raced the 2005 course with De Pavant to sixth place.
The French duo took the lead early this Friday morning, sailing fast, closer to the direct course gaining progressively to lead by just less than nine miles this afternoon from Cheminées Poujoulat which was polled as the quickest of the fleet through the middle hours of today.
British skipper Alex Thomson, sailing with Spain’s Guilermo Altadill on Hugo Boss have been sailing an assured, mature race so far, working much the same course as the leading pair endorsing Thomson’s reputation for sailing fast. The had the 2007 launched Farr design making the third quickest speeds in the fleet rising from seventh place early this morning.
But while the drive for speed down the direct course was what has largely dictated the day’s gains at the front, the upcoming weather situation offers a sequence of challenges, first crossing a high pressure ridge then with two back to back active low pressure systems on each others heels over the weekend and into Monday. Setting up to the east of the leaders have been Banque Populaire (Armel Le Cléac'h and Christopher Pratt) and Groupe Bel (Kito de Pavant and Yann Reginiau). Their strategy aims to allow them to hold on to the SW’ly course for longer before the ridge moves west to them, giving them a better to be south for the low pressures’ tracks which appear to not to be very well defined as yet.
In Class 40 the British duo Ned Collier Wakefield and Sam Goodchild – average age just 22 – seem to be steadily grinding down the lead of their French rivals Yannick Bestaven and Eric Drouglazet on Aquarelle.com which has lead since leaving the start line off Le Havre on Wednesday afternoon. The British duo have shrunk the leaders’ margin to 3.2 miles.
Collier Wakefield, who won the 2009 World Title in Class 40, reported this morning: 'I think we were very conscious in the first hours of the race of trying not to break anything, others have had some issues, so we started with the fractional kite for example. But we are really pleased with the boat’s position. Looking at the forecast it is going to be a pretty tactical race. The wind is all over the place at the moment and so we just need to stay with the leaders and stay together just now, not breaking off and do anything, just taking each thing as it comes. We could not be more happy.' (listen to audio online)
Britain’s Hannah Jenner and her American co-skipper Jesse Naimark-Rowse on 40 Degrees have followed up on the assertion of Naimark-Rowse two days ago that they were ready to make some places, rising to sixth place in the 14 boat fleet.
Meanwhile the learning curve has been steep over the first few days for the all-girl duo Anna-Maria Renken of Germany and her rookie Slovenian co-skipper Jakica Jesih on Gust Buster. When Gust Buster was called today, Renken reported Jesih may have little experience of short handed ocean racing but her attitude and approach has been a real asset in the difficult moments:
'It is finally sunny for us and so we are finally getting some things dried. Conditions have not been easy since the start. We are new on the boat and need to get used to it, but here we are still going! We are really enjoying our day. Jakica is enjoying it, she is doing a really, really, really good job. She has a very strong mind and many times when I have been just like, ooooooooooo shit, shit, shit, what’s going on?? She has just been the calm one and said…’right what is going on here, let us just analyse this like this and that and it is not so bad. At the moment she does not know the boat too much and she is doing the mental stuff, but for both of us it is very exhausting we need to find a way to share the roles more evenly' (listen to audio online.)
In the Multi 50 Class three times winner Franck-Yves Escoffier on Crepes Whaou! with Antoine Koch have retaken the lead by three miles from Actual with the leading duo now holding a cushion of some 47 miles or more to the third placed boat,
Arnaud Boissières, skipper Akena Vérandas:
'We are obviously disappointed. We were dismasted at 0140hrs UTC when the conditions were really not extreme and we were actually going well. It is not clear why the mast broke because it was dark at the time. We were on starboard tack with gennaker. It could have been the outrigger (deck-spreader) but we are not sure. We have secured the boat now and are making towards the Vendée under a jury rig made from the boom and storm jib. But we are speaking with our shore team and will see if we can get fishing boat to come out and tow us a bit. We are currently about 370 miles from the Vendee and about 250 miles from Brest, so I don’t think we will get there in anything less than three days. We will deal with our troubles meantime and be back in two years time.'
François Gabart, skipper, Macif:
'We are pretty happy, the boat is going well and we are good too. We have a ridge to get through tomorrow night and then a low pressure at the Azores which we try to handle with some care, calmly and safely. We have been on it from the start really. The lateral separation with Banque Populaire and Groupe Bel is interesting, they will get to the ridge as it comes from the west a little later than us. We’ll see what happens but it is easy to reduce the lateral separation if we want to.
I was thinking that we had the same configuration as when we lost the mast with Mich in the Barcelona World race, starboard tack, the same wind conditions and sea, so that was not really reassuring. But here we are. Otherwise Seb was a bit sea-sick, but it does not seem to affect him, he has an incredible zest for life.'
Stéphane Le Diraison co-skipper Bureau Veritas-Dunkerque Plaisance:
'I am not so surprised about Comiris retiring as the conditions were not easy at all. I am happy with our position in the leading group. Concise 2 had a good start, but there is still a long way to go. We don’t run to a fixed schedule even if we had planned two hour watches. The seas are still crossed but nowhere near as bad as they were. ERDF are trying an option to the south and east and that will be interesting to see what happens.'
Ned Collier-Wakefield skipper Concise 2:
' It is bitterly cold, but we are keeping well. It was wet and reachy to start with which was good for the boat but quite hard work, with 30kts on the beam off Cherbourg and then we just tried to get west as quickly as we could. Then we have just gone through this shift a couple of hours ago, so we are heading SW. We have just had the latest positions and we are a couple of miles ahead and we can see Thomas (Ruyant, Bureau Véritas-Dunkerque Plaisance) just behind us and so the three of us are kind of playing around together. I think we were very conscious in the first hours of the race of trying not to break anything, others have had some issues, so we started with the fractional kite for example. But we are really pleased with the boat’s position. Looking at the forecast it is going to be a pretty tactical race. The wind is all over the place at the moment and so we just need to stay with the leaders and stay together just now, not breaking off and do anything, just taking each thing as it comes. We could not be more happy.'
Now up to seventh place Hannah Jenner and Jesse Naimark-Rowse on 40 Degrees gained on the southern group during the night, benefiting from having set up with a more northerly position.'
Standings at 1700hrs CET on Friday, November 4th, 2011
1- Macif (Gabart/Col) at 4066.5 miles to finish
2- Cheminées Poujoulat (Stamm/Cuzon) at 1.9 miles to leader
3- PRB (Riou/Destremeau) at 23.8 miles
1- Crêpes Whaou! (Escoffier/Koch) at 4523.4 miles to finish
2- Actual (Le Blévec/Manuard) at 5.2 miles to leader
3- Prince de Bretagne (Lemonchois/Koch) at 68 miles to leader
1- Aquarelle.com (Bestaven/Drouglazet) at 4253.7 miles to finish
2- Comiris Pôle Santé Elior (Bouchard/Bérenger) at 2.8 miles to leader
3- Bureau Veritas - Dunkerque Plaisance (Diraison/Ruyant at 5.5 miles to leader
For more rankings, click here
Transat Jacques Vabre website