Transat Jacques Vabre transatlantic race from Le Havre to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica is underway. With the first 24 hours of fast racing in their Transat Jacques Vabre despatched to their streaming wakes, the rhythm and the pace in each of the three classes is firmly established. And while the high speeds of the first night and early morning reduced slightly with the abating breeze, so the early realities start to hit home.
Pre-start hopes and expectations may be one thing, but after the first day the cream has inexorably risen in each division, Multi 50, IMOCA Open 60 and Class 40. Virbac Paprec 3 heads a tightly packed vanguard of IMOCA Open 60 comprising the four boats which have probably done the most ocean miles this year settled in the top five.
Winner of this year’s Barcelona World Race Jean-Pierre Dick, racing with 2011 Solitaire du Figaro winner Jérémie Beyou had a small lead on Virbac-Paprec 3 – just around a mile – ahead of PRB with the leading duo drag racing within sight of each other between morning and the afternoon.
The recently launched MACIF of François Gabart has remained solid in fourth while Bernard Stamm’s newly launched Juan Kouyomdjian designed Cheminées Poujoulat has been the first day’s climber, rising from eighth to fifth with a display of fast reaching.
Franck-Yves Escoffier and Antoine Koch on Crepes Whaou! had a slightly bigger lead in the Multi 50 division, whilst in the 16 boat Class 40 Aquarelle.com of Yannick Bestaven and Eric Drouglazet were progressively coming under pressure from the young British duo Ned Collier-Wakefield and Sam Goodchild on Concise 2. Collier-Wakefield and Goodchild had cut away their French rivals’ lead from more than 11 miles to less than five and were quickest of the fleet this afternoon.
But as the first night of crashing through big contrary swells, fast reaching in over 30kts of breeze gave way to some sunshine and slightly lighter winds but the same confused seas the teams which are perhaps a little behind the hopes and expectations which have been built up over the preparation period are now dealing with realities. Early small miles lost – a less than perfect sail combination, ragged sail change or over-prudence – may sap the morale after the first day but it is essential to take the long view and to consider that others have already not been as fortunate.
The aggressive, contrary seas took a toll. First Thierry Bouchard revealed that he and co-skipper Gilles Berenger had turned towards France again with delamination damage to a bulkhead of Comiris Pôle Santé Elior. First official abandon was the withdrawl of the Class 40 Lecoq Cuisine due to damage to skipper Eric Lecoq’s back while the Mabit brothers on the Multi 50 Monopticien.com were forced also to retire due to a broken rudder pintle almost certainly due to hitting a floating object. In the IMOCA Open 60 Class Banque Populaire are compromised through the lack of their main gennaker was damaged when it went in the water when a halyard lashing failed soon after the start.
From the international perspective Alex Thomson and Guilermo Altadill have themselves solidly in the pack in seventh, commendable so far considering that Thomson has not raced since the 2009 edition of this race when he was forced to abandon and he and the very experienced Spaniard have only had 12 training days with the Farr design. Mike Golding, when he spoke to this afternoon’s radio calls to Paris, was not overly happy with their modest early showing, acknowledging this was an early price to pay for having been away from racing also since 2009 and having only had a handful of days training inshore since the re-configured Gamesa was launched mid-September.
'I’m not that happy with our position,' Golding confirmed, 'but I’ll ignore that for now and we’ll just keep our hammer down. It is quite clear that the boats that have been on the circuit for the past couple of years have moved on apace and we have to step up our game. In fairness to us, to both of us we haven’t had our training time on the boat and I have been away for some time. It will take a little bit of sorting out but at the moment our deficit is not too bad. We have a quite a complex weather system ahead of us and there will be opportunities for sure.'
In Class 40, co-skipper of 40 Degrees Jesse Naimark-Rowse, was just one who acknowledged they were slightly behind their early hopes, but felt they were gaining miles with British skipper Hannah Jenner, lying tenth and enjoying a good race in contact with the Norwegian duo on Solo and Nick Halmos and Hugh Piggin on 11th Hour Racing. Quotes:
Jérémie Beyou, Virbac Paprec 3:
'It was a rough wet night, we set a staysail after the Cherbourg Peninsula. We have been alongside PRB since this morning and it is nice to have someone to pace yourself against. Early in the morning our courses crossed. It is tight though but we have been a little bit better. We managed to get some sleep but have not felt like eating but the sun is out now. I was at the helm until the peninsula and then the pilot took over. We are south of the depression so getting into more westerly winds and then the weather models show different things after that. We have to be careful and see what develops.'
Yannick Bestaven, Aquarelle.com
'We had wind all night, with peaks at 25-30 knots, boat speed between 15 and 19kts and we managed it well, I feel. We sailed overpowered but reefed at the right time so have done well with managing the boat. So we still have some reserves because we worked well between getting rest and making the maneuvers It was very wet on deck. We are setting the right tempo. It is cool through, safe, on a reach you know when you have a fast boat and we have been pressing to make the biggest gains.'
Mike Golding (GBR) skipper, Gamesa:
'There are not too many options in the next 24h. As the day runs out today depending on which model you believe, we’ll be tacking over on to starboard and starting to make our way south for a while.
The models vary wildly later on down the course and one model offering quite a northerly track and the other quite a southerly track, but they are all confused by where the Bermuda high seems to form. I think we have to keep watching before we make a fundamental decision about where we are going to go.'
Jesse Naimark-Rowse (USA), 40 Degrees (GBR):
'It has been good so far. Through the night we were not quite as fast as we might have been, or as we would have liked to have been and so that was a bit of a struggle. The boat seems to be going better now, our speed is better. We have no problems, we are sailing the boat well now, and so I think in the night we maybe had some issues with which sails to have up. But now mostly now everything is good. We hope to make some gains back through the fleet we hope at the moment.'
'It was reaching conditions from 20-30kts with the Solent, reefs in and out, and for a little while our A3 small spinnaker, and so just making the sail changes was a lot of work. So we don’t sleep a whole lot, trading one hour driving each, one somebody resting a little.
We have had enough rest, just.
We can see 11th Hour Racing and Solo and besides commercial ships and fishing boats these are the only boats which we can see.
We are a little bit further back than we hoped for, when we came around Cherbourg we could see on the AIS that we were holding just 2.5 to 3 miles behind Bureau Veritas and then through the night we lost quite a few miles to them. Yes, we would like to be a little further along than we are, but overall we are happy with where we are.' Transat Jacques Vabre website