Transat Jacques Vabre – Team Safran calm and collected

Marc Guillemot (Skipper) and Pascal Bidegorry (Co-skipper) of Imoca SAFRAN practising and sailing off Port La Foret (Brittany, West France) on September 11th, 2013 prior to the Transat Jacques Vabre (start : 03/11/2013)
The start of the Transat Jacques Vabre 2013 gets underway tomorrow. Now scheduled for 1415hrs (local time) on Monday, Marc Guillemot and Pascal Bidégorry remain calm and collected. Naturally, everything is ready for them to set off for Brazil and face the 5400 miles that lie ahead. As far as the conditions are concerned, as happened with the last two editions, it is certainly not going to be a comfortable ride…

All of the fleet remained moored in the harbour on Sunday in the Paul Vatine dock. The violent squalls that swept through the Transat Jacques Vabre race village have confirmed that the decision to postpone the start was wise and indeed the right one. Safran is gently pulling on her mooring lines this Sunday and will remain there for another 24 hours. She will be leaving the harbour tomorrow morning at 0936hrs to head for the start area under the cliffs at Cape de la Hève. The starting gun will be fired at 1415hrs.

Everything is more than ready aboard of course, and the two sailors appear totally relaxed. Pascal Bidégorry and Marc Guillemot are used to this sort of run-up to the race: on the eve of the start for a transatlantic race, the important thing is to get some rest and study the latest weather patterns.

So what about the weather? Marc Guillemot warns us, 'It would be wrong to believe that the first two days of racing are going to be a quiet affair. The postponement of the start will enable us to miss the strong gusts forecast on Sunday night… but we shall still be facing some tough weather, with wind, rough seas and challenging conditions.'

Upwind in nasty seas: The skipper of Safran adds, 'As for the start itself, the wind will be around ten knots. We shall be sailing upwind... And that may continue all the way to Spain, or even down as far as Lisbon. The wind will strengthen very quickly with the arrival of another low-pressure area. We shall soon find ourselves in 25-knot winds, then 30 or even 35-knot westerlies. It is not going to be easy to deal with this off the tip of the Cherbourg Peninsula, as we shall be setting off in spring tides, so with some strong currents, sometimes in excess of five knots.' The sea state? 'Looking at what has been going on out in the Atlantic over the past three weeks with a series of lows moving in, we certainly won’t be expecting to find calm seas off Ushant or in the Bay of Biscay.'

Marc seems to be clear about what is at stake during these first few days of racing. 'We have to sail quickly, not break anything, watch out for any little shifts to tack where necessary… and above all get some sleep in. It is vital get some rest at that particular moment, as it is crucial to have a clear head and not waste any time when we encounter the first transition, when the wind shifts around to the north-west, meaning we shall be sailing downwind. You have to get the timing just right to adapt to changes in the wind and ensure you have the right sail combination.' Taking care of the men and the boat is obviously a wise thing to do, but also contributes to performance, when you are setting off on a long transatlantic race that should last around 19 days.

During these three weeks, weather analysis (routing is not allowed) will be one of the main concerns for the two sailors on Safran. 'I pick up the data and we run through it together, in other words with Pascal. We then decide whether to change tack or not. For the start of the race, we shall probably have to change tack several times, if only to respect the traffic separation lanes off the Casquets (the Cherbourg Peninsula) and Ushant (off the tip of Brittany). And we know that there are always opportunities that need to be grabbed, even if the weather charts tell us to go straight ahead. There are always strategic choices to be made,' explained Marc.