by Hélène Tzara
The Transat Jacques Vabre now has only three days until the start gun is set to fire and for the fleet, Sunday’s start looms ever larger on the horizon. Today, Le Havre was a mix of quiet activity and growing anticipation whilst the weather analysis now ensures challenging conditions as the biennial race often delivers.
Hugo Boss in action
Three days before start from Le Havre, bound for Puerto Limon in Costa Rica, the weather situation is starkly clear and it is not appealing. The first 24 hours of racing in the Channel are likely to be in moderate winds of the S-SW’ly, conditions will then deteriorate under the influence of a big depression coming from Newfoundland.
As it stands Sunday at 1302hrs Sunday, the start in the bay of Le Havre, the 36 competitors in the Transat Jacques Vabre 2011 should be treated to relatively mild weather with cloudy skies, with SW’ly winds of 10 to 12 knots.
This direction will press them towards the English coast of the Channel and towards the depression from Newfoundland and will reach the coast of Ireland with winds building Monday and Tuesday, reaching 35 to 40 knots and more as front passes on Wednesday morning. The sea, it will be big and, at times confused.
The co-skippers do not seem to have any other option than to follow this NW’ly routing. The weather situation is changing every day and if the big depression moves it could open a door to the south. Friday morning, at the request of the Class 40, all the skippers in this class plan to meet the Race Director Jean Maurel to discuss the weather situation with him.
Outside of its French roots, the appeal of the imminent Transat Jacques Vabre remains as strong, if not stronger than ever. In fact the international entry, in terms of the number of different non-French nationalities represented across the three classes is at its highest of this millennium. Co-skippers from nine different countries, other than France, are scheduled to line up on Sunday’s start line – Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Slovenia, the USA.
The 2007 edition had entries from four nations besides France, in 2005 there were seven, in 2003 and 2001 it was eight Predictably, so far the international strength remains in the IMOCA Open 60 Class and Class 40.
In the IMOCA Class overseas contenders have been regularly on the podium over the long history of the Transat Jacques Vabre and many would consider some of this year’s international entry to be contenders for a top three finish this time.
Switzerland’s Bernard Stamm has a best finish of third place in 2007 when he sailed with Tanguy Cariou but starts with his brand new, relatively unproven Juan Kouyoumdjian designed Cheminées Poujoulat. His powerful new boat was launched in May this year and this will be major test for skipper and the boat.
His Swiss compatriot Dominique Wavre has not competed in this Transat Jacques Vabre since 2005 when he co-skippered with Mike Golding on the British skipper’s Ecover 2. Wavre returns on Mirabaud with his partner Michele Paret with a new rig after losing their mast in the Barcelona World Race.
Mike Golding reprises his partnership with Belgian born Bruno Dubois – who also represents Canada – on the recently updated Gamesa which also has a new rig and new coach-roof, while compatriot Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss races with the experienced Spaniard Guillermo Altadil having opted to revert to a proven Farr design which won the last Route du Rhum-La Banque Postale, and lead not only the last Transat Jacques Vabre but also the last Vendée Globe.
There is a very encouraging level of international interest in Class 40 which is the more the domain of the rising, future stars as well as the semi-professional and amateur skippers as well as top pros.
Youngest skipper in the race is Britain’s Sam Goodchild, 21, on Concise 2 with Ned Collier-Wakefield, 23. Goodchild emerged to win the very hotly contested selection from the Artemis Offshore Academy to compete with a funded, supported place on the 2011 Figaro Circuit. Collier-Wakefield has very comprehensive Class 40 experience belying his years.
Three international women race in Class 40. In fact Britain’s Hannah Jenner and Germany’s Anna-Marie Renkin finally fell short of getting an entry together in the Global Ocean Race around the world.
Having already raced round the globe as skipper on the Clipper Round the World Race – the crewed race in which Alex Thomson’s victory as skipper originally launched his professional career – Jenner was due to race with 40 Degrees’ owner Peter Harding until business commitments meant she had to find a replacement co-skipper.
American Jesse Naimark-Rowe was helping prepare the boat and has strong offshore racing and preparateur experience in Class 40 and Open 50’s and so he was a natural choice. When Renken’s Global Ocean Race partnership with Jenner foundered, the German skipper was offered a newly launched Akalira by the design’s agent for Germany, Austria and Slovenia. So, she is partnered by Slovenia’s Jakica Jesih. She has attracted considerable interest in Slovenia as the first female sailor ever to undertake such an ambitious ocean race.
American skipper Nicolas Halmos is a legal attorney with a story. He has been active on the nascent American Class 40 offshore scene for several years but has chosen to step up and compete in the European hotbed of the class. This race falls neatly timed between major legal trials, he notes. He is partnered by Kiwi Hugh Piggins who is also active in the Class in the USA.
Halmos has launched a business based around intensive mini-agriculture for city rooftops and, remarkably, carries a number of his super lightweight units on board, one of which will be mounted on the aft guardrail, ensuring that scurvy should not be an issue on board.
Norway’s Rune Aasberg returns to the Atlantic with his Solo after having to retire from the last Route du Rhum-La Banque Postale, while Italian pair Andrea Fantini and Tommaso Stella both pick up the legacy of Giovanni Soldini, winner of the 2007 Class 40 race, who they both sailed with over the years.
Domnique Wavre (SUI) co-skipper Mirabaud (SUI): ' I feel really good, we have a new mast, a good strong one. We got the mast a little late and so we are not so very well trained with it, with Michele, but we know the boat for a very long time now and so it is not really a big worry. We try to do the best race possible and if we can make the podium or get the opportunity to beat some guys then we will not miss out on the opportunity.
Our strength is our experience and knowing the boat and how to get there, but it is hard to tell how we will do because the level is very, very high. There are almost only professional teams, with good boats and good programmes. The level is higher than it ever been. And, yes, what happened in the Barcelona World Race and the Vendee Globe does affect the way you sail.
Hannah Jenner (GBR), co-skipper 40 Degrees (GBR): 'By the end of today we should be ready to go and then just focussing in the routing and weather. It is the biggest race I will have done in a Class 40 and short-handed. I am quite calm but also really excited and looking forward to it.'
'When the Global Ocean Race did not happen I was due to do this with the owner but he could not make it due to his work commitments. I only met Jesse recently but we seem to get on well. He came to do some work on the boat, on the rig and rudder set up, and here we are. So for him it was a bit of right place, right time. He brings a lot of insight into the class and making the boat go fast. I have done 11 transatlantic passages and a lot of time ocean racing.'
'The Clipper race really helped me to know how to keep going when you are tired, wet and very cold, learning a lot about personal management to keep working to an optimum.'
Jesse Naimark-Rowe (USA), co-skipper 40 Degrees: 'We are looking to get through the first big hit and then be able to take advantage of the better conditions. The first 1000 miles set up the rest of the course.'
Nicholas Halmos (USA) co-skipper 11th Hour: 'We have seen the weather coming and have had our storm sails out to do one more check. So that when the breeze comes up we should be OK. We met sailing in the USA a few years ago. About a year ago Hugh came and sailed the Pineapple Cup with us, an 800 miles race from Fort Lauderdale to Jamaica. I decided I wanted to come over and race with the French and I reached out and asked him and here we are. I have had the boat since 2009, doing all the big US East coast races, some short-handed or fully crewed but never with more than four. This will be our first time against the European Class 40 fleet. We did the Fastnet race on Dragon. It was an eye-opener to see how some of the other teams were going.
We only have four boats there so this will be our first time trying to really get the boat on pace, but I think we have a good chance in the ‘vintage’ group. I sailed through college, Melges 24, J24, I am relatively inexperienced. I run a company in California called CityBlooms, rooftop urban agriculture. We have a prototype here on the back of the boat, it is a fun excuse to have some of our technology out on the back of the boat. This is a very well tested boat. I have seen big weather before. It will be the boat’s fifth time across the Atlantic. Everything has been tested, broken and fixed at least once!'
Jakica Jesih (SLO) Gust Buster (AUT): 'We have a brand new boat and so there has been a lot to do over the last six weeks, the boat has had to be prepared from the ground up to make it a racing boat. But I think we have done only the qualifier and a little bit around, and so maybe have only done 550 miles on the boat. And the boat did some miles in La Trinite. We know each other through Felix Oeheme who won the Global Ocean Race. He is my friend through match racing in Slovenia and we met there, and Felix and Anna live in North Germany and know each other.
When Anna was looking for a co-skipper Felix mentioned me. This is my first Class 40 race, but I did a lot of cruiser-racer racing out of Slovenia. I did a lot of offshore in South America and Europe, some double handed. But it is a big step up for me. I think everybody is a big worried about this front coming in. For sure we are not here with hopes of winning. Our motto is sail safe and fast.'
Anne Marie Renkin (GER) co-skipper Gust Buster (AUT): 'There will be a lot of wind and we don’t know the boat very well. We have only done the qualifier and so we need to see how everybody else reacts and how the boat copes. Last year, I did the double handed racing in Norway which is a pretty tough circuit, together with a Norwegian girl. I did a lot of crewed racing on Tonnerre de Breskens with Piet Vroons, and also IRC 40’s and Rogers 46 things like that. It is an awful lot of wind coming, covering most of the Atlantic. We are going to have a meeting with the Class 40 and the race officer and see what we can do to avoid this if we can.
Transat Jacques Vabre website