Transat Jacques Vabre - Earning a ride in the tradewinds

Edmond de Rothschild
Transat Jacques Vabre, Gitana Team - Edmond de Rothschild: You have to earn a ride in the tradewinds! In 24 hours’ time, the ability to slip along in a warm breeze is sure to mellow the spirits as the two 70’ trimarans have had to endure a ‘painful’ night off La Coruña.

Indeed, as this description from Charles Caudrelier (co-skipper of Edmond de Rothschild) in the Transat Jacques Vabre radio session indicates, Cape Finisterre has really put the sailors to the test. On approaching the Spanish coast, the wind has doubled its intensity and the seas are boiling as a result of the steeply rising seabed.

Fortunately, the nocturnal rodeo has turned to the advantage of the Josse-Caudrelier duo, which has opted to bend its route offshore. Meantime, the Gavignet-Foxall pairing has taken an inshore option, where it has had to perform more tack changes than its rival. At the 1230 GMT ranking, the trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild had gained headway to the South with a lead of some thirty miles or so over Oman Air-Musandam.

After their successful mission to round the Breton headland, Sébastien Josse and Charles Caudrelier were able to get an edge in this second tricky section, though it proved to be very testing. 'We had some tough sea conditions in the Bay of Biscay, which slowed our speed to around 22/23 knots. In a more practicable sea state we’d have been making 30 knots,' Charles explains. 'As such we arrived a bit late off La Coruña and the south-westerly wind was already blowing at 25/30 knots. We endured a painful night with heavy seas. We’re pretty much clear of it this lunchtime. It’s still windy but we’re sticking to the same tack with much more pleasant seas.'

On shore, the night wasn’t at all restful for routers Jean-Yves Bernot and Antoine Koch. 'The crew and ourselves opted to get clear of the coast,' the latter explains. 'On the port tacks, which enabled them to make headway offshore, the boys were beating into a big beam swell. They had to carry a fair amount of sail so they could continue to manoeuvre and they came off well.'

Like cowboys in a wild arena, the sailors are having to endure a very rough ride as their steed rears up on every wave. 'We’re being careful about how we move around a boat, which is jerking about violently. It’s important that we don’t knock into anything or take a silly tumble,' Charles continues. 'We’re pleasantly surprised by how the boat is behaving; she’s proving to be very seaworthy. We have to sail cleverly by not putting the gear or ourselves under too much strain and for now we seem to be managing that fairly well.'

'We’re leaving the winter in France to get back to the summer,' the Breton concludes, his voice, like that of Sidney Gavignet’s when contacted by the organisation team a little earlier, showing signs of the physical commitment of this race start. 'We’re having a right old ding-dong with Oman and tomorrow we’ll already be in the warm airs of the tradewinds. We certainly won’t have anything to complain about there, though it can’t be easy for the competitors behind us.' Indeed, at the core of the Bay of Biscay, the Multi50s and the IMOCA monohulls are struggling to make headway. The first of this group, MACIF (Gabart-Desjoyeaux), was still some 250 miles from the Spanish headland at 1230 GMT.

'As they make their way along the coast of Portugal, Sébastien and Charles will begin to feel the influence of the Azores High,' explains the router for Edmond de Rothschild. 'The skies will clear, the clouds will flatten out and the sun will begin to shine. At that point it’ll be important not to get lax though as speed will also put in an appearance again with 20 knots of wind on the beam (reaching), leading to sporty conditions with some nicely timed gybes needed so as to keep to the edge of the zone of high pressure and hold onto the maximum amount of pressure.'

The Portuguese coast is renowned for its famous surf spots. Balanced on the crest of the wave in more ways than one, the sailors will also have to do everything by feel as they slip along the isobars, being careful not to fall as the wind drops the closer they get to the centre of the zone of high pressure. Switching from one exercise to the other, this dense and varied transatlantic sprint is certainly living up to expectations and it’s only just begun!

Ranking on Saturday 9 November at 1230 GMT:

1 - Edmond de Rothschild (Josse-Caudrelier) 4,709 miles from the goal / 24kt average over 2 hours
2 - Oman Air-Musandam (Gavignet-Foxall) 30.98 miles behind the leader / 27.9kt average over 2 hours

Gitana Team website
http://www.sail-world.com/116516