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A look at the 2019 Transat Jacques Vabre

by David Schmidt 29 Oct 2019 08:00 PDT October 29, 2019
11th Hour Racing Team departs L:e Havre in the 2019 Transat Jacques Vabre with a fleet of 59 boats, including 29 IMOCAs, to sail to Salvador De Bahia. Charlie Enright and Pascal Bidégorry are co-skippers in the double-handed race © Alea / Transat Jacques Vabr

These are exciting days for fans of Grand Prix offshore racing, as the fleet contesting the biennial Transat Jacques Vabre departed Le Harve, France, on Sunday, October 27, with their bows pointed towards the finishing line off of Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. Teams are competing in this race as two-person, double-handed crews and are racing aboard Class 40s (27 boats), Multi 50s (three boats) and IMOCA 60s (29 boats). While there's no question that this race represents 4,335 tough nautical miles for all competing skippers, there's also no question that most spectator eyes are on the new-generation, foil-equipped IMOCA 60s, such as skipper Alex Thomson's Hugo Boss.

Some backstory. The "TJV", as it's commonly known, began in 1993 as a shorthanded Transatlantic challenge that was largely attended by French skippers (famed American skipper Mike Plant was involved in the inaugural TJV, and he had planned on entering the race's second edition but tragically did not make the starting line), however some notable British skippers have also historically been involved in the mix.

To date, only French-flagged sailors have won the TJV (at least in the IMOCA class), and today this race continues to serves as a tough, Transatlantic challenge, as well as an important preparatory step for many short-handed and singlehanded sailors preparing for circumnavigation races such as the 2020-2021 Vendee Globe.

Not surprisingly, this year's TJV fleet is a largely Francophile affair, with several notable exceptions, including Thomson's Hugo Boss (Thomson is sailing with co-skipper Neal McDonald [GBR]), and skipper Charlie Enright (USA), who is sailing aboard his team's 11th Hour Racing with co-skipper Pascal Bidegorry (FRA).

Careful readers will remember that 11th Hour Racing recently purchased this IMOCA 60 from Thomson's Hugo Boss team. Careful readers may also remember that the 2021-2022 edition of The Ocean Race (nee The Volvo Ocean Race) will be contested aboard two classes, the One Design Volvo Ocean 65s and fully crewed IMOCA 60s.

Drawing a line between the 2019 TJV and the 2021 edition of The Ocean Race for 11th Hour Racing isn't terribly difficult (the team has openly stated their interests in competing), and while Enright has already lapped the planet twice in the Volvo Ocean Race, first as skipper of Team Alvimedica in the 2014-2015 edition of the race, then as skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing (2017-2018), in addition to winning this summer's Transatlantic Race and Fastnet Race as sailing master of David and Peter Askew's Volvo Open 70, Wizard, these miles were earned aboard canting-keel monohulls, not aboard foiling IMOCA 60s.

Sail-World.com had the chance to check in with Enright for an exclusive email mini-interview, where we posed two questions to this globe-girdling, 35-year-old skipper and father of two small children, just before he and Bidegorry began racing.

How different do you think it will be racing across the North Atlantic aboard a foil-equipped boat, versus crossing in a VO65/VOR70 or a traditional maxi?

CE: It's not all that different in terms of routing the boat. That will be the same with what the routing software gives us. But onboard, the liveability is a lot more difficult than the bigger boat, that's for sure.

The conditions are tight, there's no watch system. You need to do it all on these boats in a two-handed set-up. That's been the biggest adjustment.

It's been refreshing but also a challenge, and I think that will probably be the biggest change for me in this race versus the bigger boats that I've raced on Transatlantic.

Also, have you been sailing Moths or other foiling dinghies to get a feel for foiling, or have you been sailing the IMOCA 60 a lot?

CE: I really don't have a ton of time for recreational sailing to be honest, but I do own a WASZP. That foils, but it doesn't really translate in any way to the kind of foiling we're doing on these IMOCAs, so my practice time is strictly from the training camps we've had.

Enright might not have had a lot of time to foil his WASZP ahead of this year's TJV, but — by all appearances — it certainly looks like he and Bidegorry learned a lot in their training camps, as 11th Hour Racing is currently sitting in second place (as of this writing) and is just 10 nautical miles astern of co-skippers Jeremie Beyou and Christopher Pratt who are sailing aboard Charal.

But, with more than 4,000 nautical miles to go before the finishing line, there will be ample time to test the lessons that all teams have learned in their build-up to this year's TJV.

Sail-World.com wishes all competing TJV skippers safe and successful passage to Salvador de Bahia, and we encourage readers to follow this exciting biennial race, as it unfurls.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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