Transat Jacques Vabre race start postponed but show goes on

Prologue - Transat Jacques Vabre 2011
Transat Jacques Vabre was due to start today, Sunday 30 October 2011 at 1302hrs CET. A series of bad Atlantic low pressure systems put paid to the scheduled start of the tenth edition of the biennial double handed race from Le Havre to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. The race start has been postponed and will not go before Wednesday.

A decision to hold the start was taken this morning. After a meeting with the skippers of all three divisions, Class 40, Multi 50 and the IMOCA Open 60’s, the race organisers and race direction, Race Director Jean Maurel confirmed the decision to postpone the start until the outlook improves.

While the forecasts which will hold the fleet in the Paul Vatine Basin at least until Wednesday predict a very deep depression which will generate stormy conditions for at least 48 hours mid-week in the Atlantic, the weather around the Bay of Le Havre could scarcely have been better for a substitute 13 miles prologue race which was contested for the tens of thousands of spectators featuring all 35 boats from the three racing divisions.

Under a watery Autumn sunshine, powered by a light breeze of 7-12kts, it was the reigning Transat Jacques Vabre IMOCA Open 60 title holders Safran with Marc Guillemot and Yann Elies which won, Lionel Lemonchois and Matthieu Souben on Prince de Bretagne triumphed in the Multi 50’s. In Class 40 there was a very encouraging win by the young British duo on Concise 2, Sam Goodchild – the race’s youngest skipper – and Ned Collier Wakefield.

It is not the first time in the history of short handed oceanic races that the start has been delayed by forecasted bad weather. In 2003 the start of this Transat Jacques Vabre’s ORMA Multihull fleet was held in port for five days, while the 2000 Vendée Globe solo round the world race kept the skippers back from starting for four days,

The large very deep depression is forecast to generate stormy conditions for 48 hours: with sustained 45 knots, gusting to 55/60 knots and with heavy seas (at least 8 to 10 m) behind the cold front.

The 35 duos appeared unanimously supportive of the decision announced this morning by Maurel. 'It’s a sailors’ decision which takes into account that there are three classes in this race and we wanted to maintain the integrity of the whole fleet.' As to the date of the next departure from Le Havre, it will not be until Wednesday. One weather point will be made every morning to assess the situation.

The show must go on
To pay a tribute to the thousands of supporters and enthusiasts who had traveled to the Race Village to see the sailors off, the 35 competitors took part in the 13 miles triangular course of which started at the same time, 1302hrs CET, as the Transatlantic race was due.

In the IMOCA Class PRB lead for much of the course, proving their potential but were just one of the trio of boats – along with Hugo Boss and Virbac-Paprec 3 which were disqualified from this exhibition race for starting early.

Meantime the British pair on Concise 2 lead on each leg of the course to set themselves up for a morale boosting win to put a spring in their step as they wait for their first major Transatlantic race.

Exhibition prologue

Imoca Open 60 (French unless stated)
1 - Safran (Marc Guillemot / Yann Elies)
2 - Banque Populaire (Armel le Cléac'h / Christopher Pratt)
3 - Macif (François Gabart / Sébastien Col)
4 - Groupe Bel (Kito de Pavant/Yann Réginau)
5 -Cheminée Poujoulat (Bernard Stamm/Jean-Francois Cuzon) SUI
6 - Akena Vérandas (Arnaud Boissières/Gérald Véniard)
7 -Gamesa (Mike Golding/Bruno Dubois) GBR
8 -Mirabaud (Dominique Wavre/Michèle Paret) SUI
9 - DCNS (Marc Thiercelin/Luc Alphand)
10 -Bureau Vallée (Louis & Nelson Burton)

1 - Prince de Bretagne (Lionel Lemonchois / Mathieu Souben)
2 - Actual (Yves Le Blévec / Samuel Manuard)
3 – Fenêtré A Cardinal (Erwan Le Roux / Didier Le Vourch)

1 - Concise 2 (Ned Collier Wakefield / Sam Goodchild) GBR
2 - Comiris Pole Sante Elior (Thierry Bouchard / Gilles Berenger)
3 - (Yannick Bestaven / Eric Drouglazet)
4 -Avis Immobiler (Eric Galmard/Francois Scheek)
5 -40 Degrees (Hannah Jenner/ Jess Naimark-Rowse) GBR
6 - Partouche (Christophe Coatnoan/Etienne Laforgue)
7 - Hip Eco Blue (Andrea Fantini/Tomasso Stella) ITA
8 – Phoenix Europe Express (Stephanie Alran/Jean Edouard Criquioche)
9 -Gust Buster (Anna-Maria Renken/Jakica Jesih) AUT

Quotes, on race postponement:

Alex Thomson (GBR) skipper Hugo Boss (GBR):
'I think that everyone has to go together. I would have been happy to go but if we all went and 30% of the fleet wiped out then that does not help sailing, it does not help sponsorship and so I think it is the right decision.'

Anna Maria Renken (GER), Class 40 Gust Buster (AUT):
'It is a relief. We are pretty happy with the decision. We were concerned and had every reason to be concerned. It is a reasonable decision given that the Trimarans don’t want to go and half of the IMOCA’s don’t want to go. So the answer was pretty much there already.'

Mike Golding (GBR) IMOCA Open 60 Gamesa:
'I think it is the right decision. We have been working with Commander’s Weather from the USA and last night they sent a file, they used the words this is ‘an historic storm’ so that says it all. The other point is that while the Open 60’s might be able to go in it, to divide the fleet is bad for communication, and if something subsequently did arise then the question would arise ‘why did you send them?’. And at the end of the day they set the race for the whole fleet. It is the right decision. We will do the prologue today and look to book some go-karting!'

Nick Halmos (USA):
' It is nice to have prudence play a role in decisions made by the race committee. It is one thing to be caught by a storm but something different to knowingly sail into the middle of one. We have more of a chance making it through as one fleet and now we have a chance of a race rather than a survival contest. And finally we can enjoy Le Havre, we are ready to go, done with the boat work and we can some rest, have a good meal.'

Loïc Escoffier, Multi 50 Maitre Jacques:
'In the 50 Multis, we had already met to make a decision. It is much wiser like this. We will still try to do the prologue today. Tomorrow I think I go back to Saint-Malo to my fishing business before returning to take the start. '

Tanguy De Lamotte, skipper Initiatives - Alex Oliver:
'This decision does not surprise me because since Wednesday we talked with the class of this possible delay. I was rather surprised that multis did not consider that. For me it was obvious. Now that the decision is made there are a lot of skippers who say they are happy not to leave. Now we go to race. The important thing is not to make the race a test of survival. '

Yann Elies, co-skipper Safran
'The option of going to confront the elements like that has a high risk that I know only too well, injuries…. rescue ... So it is a bit of a relief to expect now that we will go with better conditions on Thursday. '

Kito de Pavant, skipper Groupe Bel:
'For four to five days, we knew that a large low pressure area would cover the North Atlantic. This is a very violent phenomenon for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. For the last 24 hours, there was much discussion between the classes to see whether it was reasonable or not to take to the starting line. The IMOCA class was mostly in favor of a start today, but the decision was taken out of solidarity for the other classes. There are 36 boats in the marina. The aim is to see 36 at the finish in Costa Rica! At this stage, with the weather conditions forecast, we would not have been able to envisage this, since there is a real risk of damage. All the teams and all the sailors stand by each other and so the decision was taken to set off on Wednesday at the earliest.'

On today’s race: Sam Goodchild, co-skipper Concise 2:
'It was good fun, we had a safe start and managed to keep a small lead all the way around the course. It’s a shame it does not mean very much, it would have been a good way to carry on, but we are happy. It was good to have an exact sister-ship behind us, just a boat length behind, so that is good for the boat for sure. All in all it is very encouraging.'

'Looking at the weather and not going today it felt a bit hollow going out to the cheers of the crowds today, a bit weird to be coming back again, but we will just have to go out and see if we can do the same whenever the start is.

So we will stay in Le Havre and wait rather than trying to get home and come back, better to stay here and take some time doing not very much, get a lot of rest.'

Mike Golding, skipper of Gamesa:
'Gamesa felt good, and everything is working, which is always a good sign. When we were in the zone and we were quick so I think at one point we were last and then ended up taking a few boats and closing up with some pretty good boats like Groupe Bel and Boss but we are obviously not quite as practiced as Safran, Bel and PRB. All in all, a good outing. And now tonight we’ll test our speed around the go-karting track!'

Transat Jacques Vabre website