The Transat Jacques Vabre now has only one day left until the start gun is set to fire and the crowds which adorned the docks of the Paul Vatine Basin in Le Havre, snapped up opportunities presented by the pristine Autumn weather to deliver a vibrant adieu to the fleet. The Atlantic looks set to follow tradition and deliver a challenging first week for the 35 duos which are scheduled to take Sunday’s start line for the tenth edition.
The final day on land for the duos, and the tens of thousands of visitors who turned out to see them and their IMOCA Open 60’s, Multi50’s and Class 40 racing machines, was blessed with the kind of benign, gentle weather which so completely belies the widely forecasted pair of low pressure systems which look set to present a particularly tough first week of racing for the Transat Jacques Vabre fleet on course for Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.
In fact it is not dissimilar to the 2009 weather picture, in not only requiring a definitive measure of prudence from the race crews, but for the Multi50s and the white-hot IMOCA Open 60' fleet at least but also necessitating early strategic choices - how to set up for the low pressure systems. When the fleets clear Land’s End do they drop the bow on to a more northerly course for a faster, but more risk laden ride, sailing more miles and try and go over the system? or whether to err on the conservative southerly route, sailing fewer miles but spending more time hard upwind?
Mike Golding, skipper of Gamesa, has seen the Atlantic picture many times before and explains 'From the start it will be light, a close reach becoming on the wind as you go out of the Channel, and steadily increasing. The big tactical decision comes as soon as you can clear Lands End, whether you are sailing on a more N’ly route and drop your bows and sail a more N’ly route towards South Ireland, or whether you take a more S’ly course, on the wind, and then tack across on starboard and head south when you get the opportunity.'
'On the southerly option you are sailing less miles and are staying closest to the shortest route, which is generally a good strategy, but the northerly option you are trying to cross the top of the circulation. That means you will reach up and will reach back down and that will be very fast, potentially avoiding the worst of the winds, but the down side of that the weather systems do tend to move north.'
'And if it moves north then you find yourself very near to the centre in the worst possible zone of the storm. As a result you will get hit much worse than you would be. Or you can end up in the centre with very little wind, slopping around with very big seas, which strangely enough is when you start to break things.'
Golding joined compatriot Alex Thomson and emerging Brit Sam Goodchild, who is the youngest sailor in the race at 21, to meet the media this morning to discuss this imminent race and their shared view of the future for British short-handed oceanic sailing looking to the Vendée Globe and beyond. Both senior skippers are hopeful that there will be more than just the two of them, on the start line in Les Sables d’Olonne in one year’s time:
Transat Jacques Vabre 2011 - © Alexis Courcoux
'I am sure that we will see more than just Mike and I there. We are blessed with good sponsorship and it is great to see Mike bringing in a new sponsor with Gamesa and we have been supported now by Hugo Boss for seven years, but the reason why I am so sure that we will see more British entries in the Vendée Globe is that we have the proven talent, I can mention three of them in Dee Caffari, Brian Thompson, and Samantha Davies who are all proven talent, but we have new talent coming through. We all have the capability – no doubt – to do well and to be there' Thomson asserted.
And as for whether either can win this race, or go on to win the solo round the world race, Golding commented:
'Our programme getting ready for this race has been a very busy one with a major refit. We have taken a lot of weight out of the boat, we have changed the rig and made big changes to the coachroof, the cockpit and the result of that is we are arriving here without having done the kind of mileage we would like to have done before the start of the race, so for us this is kind of a validation. But like most of the skippers here I never go into a race without believing I can win it.'
' But I absolutely believe it is possible for a British sailor to win the Vendée Globe. I think we have capability as you can see in the sailors here and elsewhere in the UK we have other great sailors.'
Sunday, the public is expected from 09:00am on the dockside to watch the departures from the Paul Vatine Basin. The first boats will leave the dock at 10.30am local time (NB clocks go back one hour) with the IMOCA Open 60 Bureau Vallee.
On the water, the race starts at 13:02pm with the signal sounded from PSP Cormoran of the French Navy, where Bruno Luisetti, CEO of Kraft Foods France, Philippe Edouard, the Mayor of Le Havre, Agnes Firminus Bodot, Assistant sports councillor in the city of Le Havre and Roland Tresca, the President of Pen Duick.
Depending on the weather, the race director then has the choice to send the sailors on two different tracks: a coastal 'spectacle' of 13 miles or a straight race out to sea.
Mathieu Souben co-skipper of Multi 50 Prince de Bretagne: 'For sure there is a big depression but the boat is very well prepared and I am for my first Transat. We believe that we can win but the biggest threat to win is the reigning champion Franck-Yves Escoffier on Crepes Whaou! According to the experts there are four Multi 50’s which can win but to be able to come out of the storm still with full potential will offer a nice option for the future.'
Eric Peron, Class 40, Initiatives - Alex Olivier: 'I have no pressure other than that of being the substitute for Seb who I have replaced. I have not been through the preparation of the boat, so I have only my skills to offer. With Tanguy, we began to discuss some things and idea but it is certain we will have to be at the top of our game from the start. From a weather standpoint, we’ll be in the storm but it will be the sea that will be hardest. This is a critical time in the Transat.'
Sébastien Col, MACIF: 'We must be in on it pretty quickly because it is going to happen. The scenario is quite clear in our heads now. There may be a small front soon after the start of the race, but we are quite unsure of what it will be like in five or six days time.'
Dominique Wavre, skipper Mirabaud: 'We will find the first few days pretty difficult. Everyday will be quite tough. At the same time, I am looking forward to it after our last retirement (in the Barcelona World Race ed.) After 43 transatlantics between us, it is not at all diminished, the race has something wonderful.'
Michèle Paret co-skipper Mirabaud: 'We'll have to work around this low pressure system north of us before trying to slide south. But it will be a good week before we really get into manageable conditions. Then is the time to consolidate, to restore order inside the boat.'
Alex Thomson skipper Hugo Boss: 'The interesting thing with an IMOCA Open 60 is that it is an Open design and you can very easily make decisions, if you are running a four year campaign, you can make a choice in year one which can stop your race in year four, so it is an interesting challenge to make the right choices, and yes there is some pressure, you have to make some choices, but you have to live by them and then get on and do it.
Thomson on the future looking towards the Vendée Globe: We have the capability – no doubt – but why I am sure we will see more than just Mike and I is because the Vendée Globe is such an amazing race, it is not just about the sport but it is about adventure and human endeavour. I think why Gamesa and Hugo Boss are in this is because it represents fantastic value for money for sponsors, so I am sure over the next six months we will see more sign up. We need at least four and that will push us all along and we should be close to the podium.'
Sam Goodchild (GBR) co-skipper Class 40 Concise 2: 'It feels fantastic to be just sat next to these two guys who you just normally read but I am here hoping I can do the same thing. I might not be in the same class as them but as far as expectations go, the main thing is that either doing well or even doing badly I will come back stronger, if we can get a result then that is what we are aiming for.
The Artemis Offshore Academy started last year and has been focused on the Figaro and the Mini with the eventual aim of the Vendée Globe, but the idea of doing things competitively is important to me. I am about doing a competitive campaign, I don’t believe in just doing it for the sake of doing it. So the Artemis Offshore Academy has allowed me to get a year with the Figaro which has been invaluable and off the back of that I have been offered the opportunity to do this Transat Jacques Vabre and then hopefully looking at 2016 or 2020 start looking at a Vendée Globe campaign. I want to be competitive though, getting around the world has a lot to say for it, but my drive is to be competitive.'
Transat Jacques Vabre website