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Zhik 2018 Yacht 728x90

Dick coasting to record win as Anglo-Spanish duo re-take lead in Transat Jacques Vabre

by Soazig Guého 18 Nov 2017 10:24 PST 18 November 2017

Jean-Pierre Dick and Yann Eliès on St Michel – Virbac were a few miles away from a record-breaking victory in the Imoca class of the 13th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre tonight (Saturday, November 18) and were expected to cross the finish line in Salvador de Bahia around 19:30 UTC.

Victory will make Dick the only person in the history of this bi-annual double-handed Route du Café, in any class, to have won four times. Dick, the 52-year-old skipper from Nice, won the Imoca class in 2003, 2005 and 2011.

A 19:30 UTC finish would also mean that Dick and Eliès will set a new record for the Transat Jacques Vabre to Salvador, with Dick beating his own record, of 13 days 09 hours 19 minutes and 2 seconds set with Loïck Peyron on Virbac-Paprec in 2005.

Behind them, in the Class40, the Anglo-Spanish pair of Phil Sharp and Pablo Santurde (Imerys Clean Energy) had a strong night re-taking the lead, emerging from the Doldrums in the darkness and taking 20 miles from their four French pursuers. But many of the 26 boats still in the race this morning, have not said their last word.

Imoca: "We're counting the miles one by one"

At 15:00 UTC St Michel-Virbac still had 48 miles to go. They were sailing a few miles from the coast of Brazil, acutely conscious of fishing boats, UFOs and that the Ultime, Prince de Bretagne, dismasted on Wednesday, just 93 miles from the finish.

Having angled further offshore overnight, a lack of wind forced them to make four gybes back west yesterday afternoon allowing SMA to comeback 30 miles to 84 behind.

"We're counting the miles one by one The race isn't over yet," Eliès, for whom this would be a first victory in the Imoca, after his Multi50 win in 2013, said. "We've moved away from the coast to avoid the fishermen, we have to be careful because they're very small and low on the water. We're happy to still have a big lead on SMA. We know we have a lot of room to manoeuvre but we don't want to fall asleep."

In 13 days of racing, Dick and Eliès, the heavy favourites at the start in Le Havre, have made no serious mistakes. They have patiently built their lead mile by mile and looked uncatchable since they emerged from the Doldrums. They have been helped by the fact that the other latest generation foiling Imoca all have new skippers getting used to their boats. SMA is a 2011-boat without foils. But their performance has been commanding.

"We've been analysing the race from the start," Paul Meilhat, the skipper of SMA said. "And if we had our time again, we would follow the same route; St Michel-Virbac's perfect. There's no shame in the positions, it's easier to swallow second behind winners who've sailed so well."

Victory was a taboo subject for Dick when speaking last night, but he did recall his memories of arriving in the port of Salvador of Bahia, the destination where he announced himself on the world stage 14 years ago. It was his first victory on the Transat Jacques Vabre on his iconoclastic Farr-plan boat that was "my first real statement," he said. "Another page is turning over and whatever the outcome of the race tomorrow, we're very proud (of our performance)."

Behind SMA, Des Voiles et Vous! in third are gaining but not enough (251 miles behind the leader). Behind the podium, the race is on, with keenly fought battles throughout the fleet, which is all now grateful to be out of a Doldrums which hit their class hardest.

Class40: Imerys Clean Energy win on the west

Phil Sharp and Pablo Santurde are not the types to just go with the flow. Having suffered at the beginning of the Doldrums from their shift in the west, they re-took the lead last night, sometimes advancing at 8 knots while the group to the East - V and B, Aïna Enfance et Avenir, TeamWork40 - barely exceeding 3. "The Doldrums have been really difficult, more difficult than I imagined, especially psychologically," Sharp said. "A day in the Doldrums is a good dozen sail changes," Sharp said. "I haven't slept more than an hour in the last 24 hours and if the boat is in perfect condition, we're beginning to get tired."

Imerys Clean Energy made 206 miles in the last 24 hours, 24-30 more than their pursuers, who are now in their wake as they're diving to Salvador de Bahia headed by the south-east trade wind. Imerys Clean Energy has 1,130 miles to go.

"Last night was hard as it was still a little soft, and our English friends cleared off," Arthur Le Vaillant, co-skipper, Aïna Enfance et Avenir, "We're a little faster but Phil (Sharp) knows his boat well. There's not going to be much in it and we hope to get back in touch with him."

The Class40 emerged from the Doldrums overnight and Sharp is aware that his second-generation boat is inferior on paper to the latest generation V and B and Aïna Enfance & Avenir in the reaching angles and speeds they should have on the coasts of Brazil. They need a lead if they want to be first to Bahia and had 20 miles at 09:00 UTC.

Rankings at 16h06:

Class40
1 - Imerys Clean Energy
2 - Aïna Enfance & Avenir
3 - V and B

Multi50
1 - Arkema
2 - FenêtréA - Mix Buffet
3 - Réauté Chocolat

Imoca
1 - St Michel - Virbac
2 - SMA
3 - "DES VOILES ET VOUS!"

Ultim
1 - Sodebo Ultim'
2 - Maxi Edmond de Rothschild

Quotes:

Paul Meilhat, skipper, SMA (Imoca) "We sailed along the Brazilian coast all night, we met a lot of fishermen. Since this morning, we've had between 12-15 knots of easterly wind, we're going pretty quickly under a Code 0, we were averaging 15 knots. We crossed La French Tech (Multi50) several times, last night we saw their light. It was our last night at sea, we're not very tired; the late watches are beautiful, we're enjoying the lights and the stars. We've talked a lot over the last day, we're trying to enjoy being at sea. There are a few localised effects, we won't be slow with the spinnaker at the beginning of the night. Even if there is not much wind, it can suddenly come back a little. We've been analysing the race from the start. And if we had our time again, we would follow the same route; St Michel-Virbac's perfect. There's no shame in the positions, it's easier to swallow second behind winners who've sailed so well."

Yann Eliès, co-skipper, St Michel-Virbac (Imoca)
"We're counting the miles one by one, we cannot wait to be there but there is not much wind and we'll have to gybe a few times. It's a beautiful sunny day for sailing into Bahia. The faster the better. We've moved away from the coast to avoid the fishermen, we have to be careful because they're very small and low on the water. We'll see them again when we come back to the coast in a few hours, they're nice, some came to see us yesterday. Once we passed the Doldrums, we've been sailing on long gybes and that immediatel allowed us time to recover pretty well. It's very difficult to know what kind of state you're in when you're at sea. We'll find out back on land, but we're relatively fit, I think. For this last day, we're keeping the same watch system, we're try to stay in race mode; there are a few stupid things to avoid. The race isn't over yet, we'll tell you everything when you get there; we're happy to still have a big lead on SMA. We know we have a lot of room to manoeuvre but we don't want to fall asleep. Jean-Pierre and I talk a lot about strategy and routes. JP is very logical, there's a reason for everything. Everything's gone well, but we spare a thought for those behind (who were unlucky in the Doldrums). At the moment, we're enjoying it, we are savouring it...Another 8-10 hours of sailing and it'll be over. We're doing our best to arrive before sunset."

Arthur Le Vaillant, co-skipper, Aïna Enfance et Avenir (Class40)
"We're out of the Doldrums! Now we've got good conditions to get to Salvador de Bahia quickly. Last night was hard as it was still a little soft, and our English friends cleared off. We're trying to keep pace, us and V and B can see each other well, we're almost equal, they're 3 miles ahead, we guess its their sail, there's no AIS, so it's not easy to see its speed. I am on watch, there's a small squall ahead, I'm trimming, I'm trying to find an opening. We're a little faster but Phil (Sharp) knows his boat well. There's not going to be much in it and we hope to get back in touch with him. We don't know (if we can do it) but we know that it will be tight. We hope that there will be some opportunities, but normally it's just straight to the finish line!"

Phil Sharp, skipper, Imerys Clean Energy (Class40)
"We're doing a change of sail, it's normal in the Doldrums! We've made a dozen changes of sail a day, these last few days in the Doldrums have been really difficult, more difficult than I imagined, especially psychologically. Yesterday's wind was amazing, we had 2 or 3 hours with 25 and 35 knots, under the little spinnaker, and then nothing, for hours...Tonight is decisive, it's the last before the change of conditions. We would like to get out (of the Doldrums) in the lead because in reaching conditions, we know that we are slower than the third generation boats. After Cape Verde, we downloaded (weather) files that were pushing us to go to the west. This is something we could not really control."

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