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Transat Jacques Vabre - Erratic squalls expected

by Hélène Tzara on 17 Nov 2011
Jean-Pierre Dick and Jeremie Beyou, Virbac Paprec 3 - Transat Jacques Vabre 2011 Alexis Courcoux
Transat Jacques Vabre 2011, transatlantic race from Le Havre to Costa Rica, will rank as one of the most challenging races ever contested by probably the most evenly matched IMOCA fleet racing at what has been the highest standard ever seen in the race.

Erratic squalls, the collapse of the trade winds and generally lighter conditions are forecast for the first finishers in the IMOCA Open 60 Class, which is expected to conclude on Friday.

Expected to finish in Costa Rica within the next 48 hours Jean-Pierre Dick is firmly on course to extend his record to three Transat Jacques Vabre victories in the IMOCA Open 60 class, adding to wins in 2003 and 2005, missing the 2007 edition to do the Barcelona World Race which he won with Damian Foxall.

But the western Caribbean is unlikely to deliver the Virbac-Paprec 3 duo a win without experiencing a sting in the tail, the current outlook suggesting a typical random cocktail of light and strong winds which will require vigilance until the finish gun sounds.

On the late afternoon Wednesday rankings, just over 14 days after leaving Le Havre, Virbac-Paprec 3 was a consistent 143 miles ahead of Alex Thomson and Guillermo Altadill on Hugo Boss, the French duo with just 447 miles to the finish line, hence holding a cushion equivalent to more than 30% of the remaining distance.

For their part the Hugo Boss duo were hanging tough in the fast, bouncy trade winds conditions, back on pace with the leaders and holding off any further advance of a tightly contested match race between the near identical VPLP-Verdier duo of Banque Populaire and Macif.

They spent most of today racing within sight of each other, promising a close finish which should go to the wire between very evenly matched pairs who hold a collection of Figaro class honours between them. Such is the intensity of their duel it should insulate them from any prospects of a catch up from behind.

For sure there is the potential for this race to be a redemption of sorts for a number of skippers and co-skippers.

Jérémie Beyou had a good IMOCA programme of his own which, for different reasons, could not or did not deliver results, retiring from the 2008-9 Vendée Globe into Brazil.

In the last edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre he raced with Michel Desjoyeaux on Foncia to a disappointing fourth, having been tipped to win.

Alex Thomson has suffered a string of well profiled retirements, not least in the last edition of this race and the last Vendée Globe.

Altadill has yet to podium on a major short-handed IMOCA ocean race, retiring from the 2007-8 Barcelona World Race where he carried the home city’s hopes.

And Yves Le Blevec, who leads the Multi 50 race on Actual, capsized on the first night of the last Transat Jacques Vabre and ended up with his arm in a plaster cast but sportingly still flew out to Costa Rica nonetheless to support the arrivals.

In Class 40 there was time today for Eric Drouglazet to raise a glass with his skipper Yannick Bestaven to celebrate Eric’s 44th birthday with a lead restored to 146 miles over ERDF des Pieds et des Mains. Hannah Jenner and Jesse Naimark-Rowse still hold third place with a steady 29 miles over the Norwegians on Solo. Rune Aasberg and Simen Lovgren showed no loss of speed this morning for having completed a live broadcast with Norwegian TV’ Breakfast show, linking up live with their respective wives and also raising a glass of champagne for passing the midpoint in the race.

Quotes:

Yves Le Blevec, skipper Actual:
'We look at where our rival is in the race, but mostly we just look at our strategy to get to Puerto Limon, to get there fast. In essence it is the same tempo we have always set, the target is never to be compromised or to hurt the boat.

We have a Clement on board, a little drawing given to us by the kids from a school in Le Havre and we have sent pictures at each key stage.

The conditions are quite complicated to Puerto Limon with NE’ly trade winds, quite strong but gets more complex. At the moment it is hard work, and very dark and cloudy at night, it is easy to get hit by some bad squalls and gusts. By day you manage, last night was not easy. The next two days don’t look too bad, the first half of what we have left, but the second half will be much more complicated.'

Armel Le Cléac'h, skipper Banque Populaire:
'We are having a duel under the sun and it is hot. As the sun came up we have had pretty sporty, fast conditions. Along Santo Domingo with fairly steady winds, the seas crossed, we were flying. We have seen Macif and they were one mile to leeward. It is certainly fun, great to have a battle between two identical boats, there will be a duel to the end here. But the end looks light and difficult. We went close to the Dominican Republic to get the lift off the land. We won a couple of miles off Macif last night, it all counts.

And for the last 36 hours we are right into Figaro mode, the gaps can be reduced sharply when it gets lighter and it will be a contest until the end.'

Mike Golding, skipper, Gamesa:
'We are a little bit frustrated but it is a glorious day’s sailing off Santo Domingos, we are making good progress. It is indeed frustrating but we are paying the price for our earlier choices.

We are into the Caribbean, enjoying the respite as it changes quite dramatically as we come in out of the Atlantic. We are in the lee of Santo Domingo, to the seas are quite flat, we have a good breeze and we are making good speeds along the coast.

It is a bit of an oddity that people think of the Caribbean as champagne sailing, but in fact is quite a tough environment, the seas are very short and the trade winds quite strong and so consequently you get breaking seas and conditions can be very difficult.

Fortunately for us most of the way to Costa Rica the wind is with us, and so we are going down these waves rather than up them!

'Never say never as far as catching Mirabaud are concerned. Things have not worked in our favour really and so we are making the best of it, we are flat out and we will take advantage of whatever comes our way.'

'In fact we have been up for a while, passing through the Mona Passage, and we saw the sun rise between the islands, we just did a big gybe in some rough seas because there are strong currents too, strong winds. Now we are in the flatter water, enjoying it, settling the boat down on to a west going heading.'

'From my perspective in terms of the race back, it would be nice to have some redemption! So the prospect of racing back is the next opportunity. This has been our worst result, but then again when you look at the quality of the fleet, and who is where, it is a pretty difficult fleet. The game has moved forwards. We are confident the boat is fast enough and we have the speed to compete. A combination of little things, little errors, breakages, some bad tactics and we are where we are. The reality is that we have achieved what we have achieved in terms of validating the boat, it is a shame we are not in a better place but the race is not over yet, so we are continuing to keep the pedal down and see if we can move ourselves up a few places.'

'Everything is a bit easier now. It was pretty hard to begin with, neither of us had done much training to begin with and we were finding it exhausting, but I took note this morning of how we did that manoeuvre and how we moved everything around, and it was altogether so much better. We have come on in leaps and bounds. It is very hard work though and the Atlantic has been pretty unrelenting, giving some hard conditions, lots of manoeuvres. It has been a tough race, no question, and the retirements are testament to that.'

'Safran not stopping? I kind of figured they wouldn’t. That’s OK, it’s another boat to catch.'

Standings at 1700hrs CET on Wednesday, November 16th, 2011
IMOCA
1 - Virbac-Paprec 3 (Jean-Pierre Dick - Jérémie Beyou) : 447.6 miles to finish
2 - Hugo Boss (Alex Thomson - Guillermo Altadill) : 143.5 miles to leader
3 - Macif (François Gabart - Sébastien Col) : 284.3 miles to leader

Multi50
1 - Actual (Yves Le Blevec - Samuel Manuard) : 999.7 miles to finish
2 - Maître Jacques (Loïc Fequet - Loïc Escoffier) : 290.9 miles to leader

Class40
1 - Aquarelle.com (Yannick Bestaven - Eric Drouglazet) : 1913.0 miles to finish
2 - ERDF Des Pieds et des Mains (Damien Seguin - Yoann Richomme) : 146.3 miles to leader
3 - 40 Degrees (Hannah Jenner - Jesse Naiwark) : 238.4 miles to leader

For more rankings click Transat Jacques Vabre website

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