by Joe Harris
I have been watching the Transat Jacques Vabre race develop with interest and wanted to provide a quick update and further comparisons to the 2005 race. My focus will be on the Class 40's, who are mostly now solidly into the trade winds, with the leaders flying along at 14 knots in 25 knots of Northeasterly breeze. After the pitstop in Roscoff to let a low pressure system go through, the rich seem to have gotten richer, as the two leaders- GDF Suez and Mare- (Mach 40 sisterships from the design board of Sam Manuard) seem to be moving extremely well.
11th Hour Racing
Next up are my friends Halvard and Miranda on Compagne deFrance, who are also blasting along in rough seas and wet conditions, about 127 miles back from the leader, as the move past the Azores to the West and Madeira to the East. The new Ker-designed Concise 8 with Ned Collier-Wakefield and Sam Goodchild have had to drop out with a broken port rudder that was evidently ripped off by an unidentified submerged object. The new Akilaria RC-3 Caterham Challenge sits in 11th place, about 218 miles back from the leader and going slightly slower in less breeze. Finally, 11th Hour Racing is back in the race after breaking their headstay and returning to Lorient, France to get it repaired. They are now 671 miles back from the leader but they are back in the race and bound and determined to catch up.
This situation reminds me very much of the 2005 race. Aboard my Open 50 'Wells Fargo- American Pioneer' with co-skipper Josh Hall, we were match racing fellow Open 50 class competitors Artforms and Brehat across the Bay of Biscay when suddenly Artforms turned back to Lorient to repair a torn mainsail. We were ahead of Brehat, but they elected to take a more Easterly course through the Canary Islands and also through the Cape Verde islands further south. While our routing showed that a more westerly path was faster, we were reluctant to let Brehat go on their more Easterly path alone, not knowing whether Artforms was going to get back in the game. After much discussion, we elected to cover Brehat to the East and then -sure enough- Artforms came roaring back into the trade winds 200 miles west of us and quickly began clawing back the 500 mile deficit their pitstop had created. We sailed into some very light winds near the Cape Verde Islands and were freaking out as Artforms gained on every scheduled report and our lead evaporated. Luckily, we finally found some wind and made it to the Doldrums first and then had a fast passage through the Doldrums while Artforms and Brehat struggled. We got into the South Atlantic trade winds first and were off to the races towards Brazil, with our lead now growing at every report.
So for Team 11th Hour Racing I would say 'hang in there!!' as you never know what might happen with over 4,000 miles still to go. The very fast downwind trade wind sailing under spinnakers that most of the Class 40 fleet is now experiencing can lead to some spectacular wipe-outs as either auto-pilots fail or skippers get tired at the tiller, so skippers will need to be particularly vigilant and not carry too much sail in big breeze. If a spinnaker is lost (shredded beyond repair or lost overboard), it can definitely make the boat uncompetitive for the rest of the race, as each sail in the eight sail limited inventory is critical for the boat to deliver maximum performance.
It will be fun to watch the race tracker and leaderboard change in the coming days as skippers choose different routing options as they set up for passing the Canaries and Cape Verde islands and also beginning to think about their entry waypoint for the doldrums and crossing of the equator. More to follow.