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Transat Jacques Vabre race start fast and furious

by Hélène Tzara on 3 Nov 2011
Fleet depart from Le Havre - Transat Jacques Vabre 2011 © Alexis Courcoux
Transat Jacques Vabre transatlantic race from Le Havre to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica is finally underway after a delay of 50 hours. The 35 duos were unleashed at 1500hrs today for a fast and furious ride west out of the Channel, ready to encounter the remainder of the malicious low pressure system which delayed Sunday's schedule start.

With nearly 30kts of SE'ly wind blowing on the start line, memories of the bonus rest period in Le Havre – or at home for some – were blown immediately away. A notable change to the weather had the chill of winter's onset in the air but the heat of competition was ignited by the start gun.

A rapid transit of the Channel is expected after a fast, wet first night at sea. Indeed the sun was already low as the fleet passed the General Metzinger mark, four miles offshore, downwind from the start line and the excitement of the start was all but gone. It promises to be a long, dark night as the weeks and months of anticipation and preparation give way to the intensity of keeping tabs on the competition in each of the classes on the drag race speed test which will offer little in the way of big strategic choices before the weekend.

There are the busy shipping lanes and the obligatory traffic separation zones to deal with. The freshening breeze was due to send the fleet into big, contrary seas from the NW, propagated by the very depression which held them since Sunday. Key in the early stages is not to break anything.

Early honours count for little on the long passage to Costa Rica. It is not the first four miles that count but the final metres. But it was both of the fleet's multiple class winners which shone on the headlong downwind dash to the General Metzinger buoy, the only real mark of the course on this side of the Atlantic. Such is the anticipated speed over the first week of the course that much of the time lost waiting since Sunday's start might be regained before the finish line in Costa Rica. Three times running victor in the Multi50 Class Franck-Yves Escoffier on Crepes Whaou! with Antoine Koch was narrowly ahead in the multihull division. But it was the start of the IMOCA winner in 2003 with Nicolas Abiven and 2005 with Loïck Peyron – Jean-Pierre Dick, racing with Jérémie Beyou on Virbac-Paprec 3 which was impressive in their choice of course to the mark. Under masthead A3 kite and one reef which allowed them to pass just ahead of the charging PRB of Vincent Riou and Hugues Destremeau which arrived from a higher, slightly slower angle.

On the first position report at 1700hrs CET/Paris the two leaders PRB and Virbac-Paprec 3 had been quickest with a small half mile lead over Kito de Pavant and Yann Regniau on Groupe Bel. Britain's Alex Thomson, sailing with Spain's Guilermo Altadill on Hugo Boss – the Farr designed winner of last year's Route du Rhum – lay fifth, Switzerland's Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret on Mirabaud seventh and Mike Golding and Bruno Dubois on Gamesa eighth. The need to keep everything tight and under control was highlighted when both Cheminées Poujoulat and Banque Populaire suffered gennaker problems in the minutes surrounding the start leaving both on the back foot. Both had to recover wayward sails from the water and had to race under genoas until they could sort out their respective issues.

In the tight fought Class 40 Yannick Bestaven and Eric Drouglazet on their unmistakeable red and white Tyker Evolution 2 design Aquarelle.com got an early jump from a great start and superb downwind speed which slingshot them to a lead of over one mile on the first position report, ahead of the tightly matched Akilara 40 RC2 pair of Comris Pole Santé Elixir of Thierry Bouchard and Gilles Berenger and the young British duo of Ned Collier Wakefield and Sam Goodchild in third place tussling over second and third with nothing to separate them.

Tonight passing the Cherbourg peninsula there will be a front to deal with giving winds of around 35/40 knots, heavy rain and big seas, when the challenge really comes to maintain maximum speed without jeopardising craft or equipment. ' It will be just a straight boat speed race for the first bit, the first 36 hours, then a light winds patch, so it will be important to be near the front. The people who get into the new breeze first will extend. We have to cross the high pressure in a couple of days, the 4-5th Nov, everything looks quite simple.' Summarised Alex Thomson, the Hugo Boss skipper.

Standings at 1700hrs CET after two hours of racing:
IMOCA Open 60
1- PRB (Riou/Destremau) at 4701 miles to finish
2- Virbac-Paprec3 (Dick/Beyou) ) at 0.3 miles to leader
3- Groupe Bel (De Pavant/Regniau) at 0.6 miles to leader

Class50
1- Crêpes Whaou ! (Escoffier/Koch) at 5266.4 miles to finish
2- Actual (Le Blévec/Manuard) at 0.3 miles to leader
3- Maître Jacques (Fecquet/Escoffier) at 2 miles to leader

Class40
1- Aquarelle.com (Bestaven/Drouglazet) at 4705.9 miles to finish
2- Comiris Pôle Santé Elior (Bouchard/Bérenger) at 1.7 miles to leader
3- Concise 2 (Collier Wakefield/Goodchild) at 1.7 miles to leader

For more rankings please click here.

Pre-start quotes:
Alex Thomson (GBR) skipper IMOCA Open 60 Hugo Boss:
'It certainly looks better than it did last Sunday. It looks reach-y and fast. The first week looks pretty fast. You get what you get. The key for us will be just trying to get the boat going as fast as we can, but everyone is probably looking at the same things, it is about boatspeed. Generally I am not too bad at that but then obviously we dont know this boat too well. It will probably take us a little bit longer to get into the groove than others. I am super relaxed now after a couple of days at home, sleeping in my own bed makes such a difference and to come back here and there is no one around.

It will be just a straight boat speed race for the first bit, the first 36 hours, then a light winds patch, so it will be important to be near the front. The people who get into the new breeze first will extend. We have to cross the high pressure in a couple of days, the 4-5th Nov, everything looks quite simple. The models are reasonably agreeing now.'

Hugh Piggin (NZL) co-skipper 11th Hour Racing (USA):
'The first week is looking like it will be windy and wet which is fine, it is all manageable. The first bit is getting out the channel cleanly and safely. And focusing on the waypoint we have set for the second week. I think there will be two groups develop, a leading group and a trailing group, not so much on boat speed but also on boat handling which will be an issue as well. Sail choices will be a big one.

I am a little bit nervous, excited. The extra three days have built up the anticipation, looking forwards to getting out. We did a little bit more boat work, we took a trip to Normandy to Omaha Beach, most of the team are American so you can't really come here and not go and see that. It was really humbling. We are here racing yachts and there is a whole generation before who made such big sacrifices so we can do this. I slept average

Anna Maria Renken (GER) skipper Gust Buster (AUT):
'I am nervous, I feel like I am on remote control, but in truth I got more sleep last night than I feel like I have had in the last week together. The weather looks good now, around 20kts, a little more or less, and then during the night down slightly then 30kts tomorrow.

I am most nervous about the competition itself, all the procedures and build up, finishing everything in time. We had a problem with the e-mail server this morning, which is not what you want the morning before the start. But, it is OK, we are really forward to it.

I don't think at all about finishing until we cross the line in Costa Rica. We just have to take it step by step, one thing at a time and concentrate on not breaking anything and getting there.'

Mike Golding (GBR), skipper Gamesa:
'I will have a ham baguette for lunch'

I am excited.... nervous and excited. No matter how many of these you do, you are still nervous and tense on start day, you are thinking a million and one things, what you might have forgotten. But the boat is well prepared, the guys have done a good job turning the boat around in a short space of time. And I am dying to get out there.'

'It still looks looks like a lively race with lots of transitions, with some quite strong weather further down the track, but I think the decision to delay was the right one. We would have had a total pasting in the Western Approaches to the English Channel. It would have been quite unpleasant. We are all keen to get going and also knowing we are not all going out for a complete head kicking, then everyone is a bit more relaxed. It will be quite lively on the water.

We will be very quickly into this. We will be in high speed conditions very quickly, after the first mark we will be at full pelt. We have geared ourselves up for that mentally. We have talked about that, how we will run the boat. And so we tend to run a trust system so we don't have a fixed, rigid structure to our watches, so we operate very roughly around a three to four hours cycle. But we will try to get someone down straight away, so that when the real tiredness kicks in we are well set.

By late this afternoon when it gets dark the adrenaline starts to subside, when it is very dark tonight and we are still hammering along, then the tiredness will start to kick in. So it is important to get some rest early on. The adrenalin will be there for a while, though, because with all the other boats around you, you are monitoring them and seeing how you get on against them, it is only when the fleet has dissipated that the pressure starts to come on. We will be working on the data numbers we have looking at keeping up the best possible performance.'

Vincent Riou, PRB:
Tonight, it should be a little unsettled, but after that will go on its own. We will have some maneuvering to do, and we need to be vigilant for the marine traffic but with two that is easier.
Kito de Pavant, Groupe Bel:

With our boats and the breeze, and manoeuvres like that we have to be super careful.

We will not eat as much as we should in the first 24 hours of racing but we have everything you need on board. The first night will not be easy to manage, with a few sail changes and reaching into head seas. It is certain that we will not sleep much, but that's OK because we have had lots of sleep here in Le Havre!'

Ned Collier-Wakefield (GBR) Concise 2:
'We've had a couple of days off to get our heads back into the race. The weather is looking better now, still breezy but the wind direction has shifted so it should make for some good fast sailing. I'm happy not to have the upwind battle we were seeing with the Sunday start. It's looking as if we could be covering 300 nautical miles a day initially, so we should still arrive in Costa Rica around 23rd November'

Transat Jacques Vabre website

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