In the Transat Jacques Vabre, heading into the final evening and night for the top three Class 40 duos, there is still a dense cloud of uncertainty hanging over the final outcome. Given that the waters off Itajaí Brasil have hardly seen breeze to ripple the surface of the sea through the day, the one certainty is that it will be a long evening and, maybe, night.
From a truly international podium line up, the balance is still with the French duo Sébastien Rogues and Fabien Delahaye, a pair which combines the solid experience and tenacity of Rogues – who had four successful years in the Mini 650 – with the obvious talent of Delahaye one of the rising stars of French solo and shorthanded ocean racing.
He follows very much in the wake of this year’s youngest ever Vendée Globe winner Francois Gabart, emerging through the Macif Skipper talent search programme. He was the 2011 French offshore champion, fourth in the Solitaire du Figaro last year. And Gabart’s first sailing appointment after winning the solo round the world race, was back in Port La Foret to sail with Delahaye.
GDF Suez started in Le Havre on November 7th as the favourites with the outstanding track record in the class this season with five wins including the Les Sables Azores Les Sables race. They have lived up to their top billing, leading since the re-start in Roscoff. Into the final 90 miles to the finish line, Rogues and Delahaye were leading the Spanish pair, Alex Pella and Pablo Santurde by 48 miles.
Santurde is more than just a super fast ex dinghy racer to support Pella, who has one circumnavigation and already did the 2009 Transat Jacques Vabre in the IMOCA Open 60 class with Pepe Ribes, finishing fifth on W Hotels. Ironically their average speed on this race is likely to be faster than the IMOCA race to Costa Rica. Santurde knows the recently launched design having worked on the build.
Pella and Santurde on the Botin design Tales Santander 2014 have their hands full, racing hard to also stave off the attack from the Franco-German crew, Jorg Riechers and Pierre Brasseur. Racing a sistership to GDF Suez, this pair share the same level of experience as their title adversaries.
Hamburg born Riechers is building an impressive early Vendée Globe campaign, having followed a perfect trajectory through the Mini class, wining the circuit outright in 2010 and taking sixth in Class 40 in the last Route du Rhum. In Pierre Brasseur he has an impeccable, polyvalent co-skipper whose experience spans three Mini Transats, the Figaro, Tour de France a Voile and the Multi 50 multihull.
While the IMOCA Open 60s, MOD70s and Multi 50s are all berthed in Itajaí now, awaiting Saturday’s postlogue exhibition race, all eyes are fixed on the Class 40s with the winner expected to finish tonight. But with the very light winds expected to continue into the night, and more wind sucking clouds to roll in through the hours of darkness, there are no guarantees that the team which has lead the race throughout, and is looking to add to their 2013 honours, will be the one which breaks the finish line first. The pace has been impressive for the 40 footers, covering the 5450 miles from Le Havre in less than 23 days, and so averaging more than 10.5kts.
Jörg Riechers (GER) skipper Mare: 'We are very close to the Spanish. The conditions are very unstable, anything can still happen and we will do everything to take second place. First place will be harder to get to now. GDF Suez looks set to win the Transat Jacques Vabre unless they have a technical problem'
'It has been a great Transat. Good feelings , lots of wind and lots of downwind sailing. We are happy to finish in the top three. I cant wait to celebrate with a caipirinha, maybe two!'
Pierre Brasseur: 'With the conditions off Itajai, it will be difficult to catch the Spanish but we will try to the end! We must work this long straight that leads us to the finish with crosswind of 15 knots. Over the whole race, there was no big strategic moves to make. There were the Doldrums which were good for GDF Suez but this race has mostly been about boats speed. And a lot of the time the leader is just unstoppable'.
Fabien Delahaye, co skipper GDF Suez: 'The final promises to be difficult. The files are showing we should have 15kts of wind reaching with the gennaker but we are under big spinnaker in 5kts of wind. It is difficult to understand what is happening. And we just try to find the right sail combinations. We are close to 100% just now because the big kite is repaired. We are getting there but there can be plenty of pitfalls along the final miles.'
Transat Jacques Vabre
by Soazig Guého
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6:42 PM Fri 29 Nov 2013GMT
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