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Transat Jacques Vabre - Gryphonsolo2's Joe Harris reminisces

by Joe Harris on 2 Nov 2013
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Gryphonsolo2's Joe Harris reminisces on past editions on the Transat Jacques Vabre and looks ahead to the next installment which sets sail from Le Havre.

I am writing with a both a short trip down memory lane for me and a preview of the upcoming Transat Jacques Vabre race ('TJV') from La Havre France to Itajai, Brazil starting this Sunday November 3rd. I did this race in 2005 aboard the original GryphonSolo, an Open 50 all-carbon offshore racing machine that I owned and raced from 2004 through 2008. Josh Hall and I had a fantastic race and took first place in our class over rivals Kip Stone and Merf Owen aboard Artforms and Servan Escoffier and Bertrand deBroc on Brehat. Suffice it to say that Brazil is an amazing place to finish a transatlantic ocean race, and although this race will finish in Itajai and our race finished in Salvador.

As I think back and compare the racing fleets of 2005 versus the boats in the 2013 race, a few major differences are apparent. First, the class of boat that I was sailing- the Open 50- while great boats and I think a perfect size for offshore short-handed sailing, basically went away in favor of the larger IMOCA 60's above and the smaller, less expensive Class 40's below. The cost saving measures employed in Class 40 has found a popular market niche that combines high performance with reasonable cost and a relatively tight Box rule that allows older boats to remain competitive against the latest generation.

Interestingly, the IMOCA or 'Open 60's' which are more akin to Formula One race cars, struggled during the recessionary years but have remained fairly stable as a fleet- 10 Open 60's in the 2005 fleet; 12 Open 60's in the 2013 fleet. The big ORMA 60 trimarans went away but were recently replaced by the MOD 70 tri's, which were thought to be more seaworthy until two recent capsizes. Only two MOD 70's remain in the race so they will be match racing for 5,00 miles! The multi- 50's have hung on and fleet size has remained about seven boats.

As I look at the fleet of 26 Class 40 boats and 52 sailors, there are many familiar boats and skippers. Most of the fleet are newer boats and a handful are brand new, and these boats generally have a bit of an edge on the older boats while power reaching in surfing conditions as the hull shapes have become broader and more powerful, but that hull shape does not necessarily have an advantage over the narrower Gen One boats while sailing upwind or tight reaching.

Of the new Generation 3 boats, the quickest boat I have raced against is the Verdier design, with kick-up rudders (Fantastica, Dunkerque). The Kiwi 40 by Farr (Solidairs en Peleton) is also quick all-around, as are the Akilaria RC2's (April/Delatacore, ) and I expect the Akilaria RC3's (Caterham, ERDF). The Owen-Clark 11th Hour Racing, (near sister is Matouba) is definitely quicker after receiving a new mast and lighter keel. I have not sailed against the 2013 Humphrey's, Manuard, Botin or Ker designs but I expect they are all very fast and will be well sailed.

So many boats have a shot at the podium that it's hard to predict a winner- I will be rooting for my pals Hannah and Rob on 11th Hour Racing; Halvard and Miranda on Compagne; Ned on Concise 8; and JC Caso on Group Picoty. Hopefully the fleet can escape the English Channel and Bay of Biscay at the start without getting completely hammered by gales as we did in 2005! We experienced headwinds over 40 knots and towering breaking seas that put many boats- particularly the multi-hulls- out of the race early. Good preparation and boat handling are at a premium at the start (see this article here).

It should be some great racing and I very much look forward to the start on Sunday and the three weeks of 'virtual' sailing.

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