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Brest Atlantiques: The trimaran MACIF takes an option that will spice things up

by Trimaran MACIF 28 Nov 13:43 PST
Macif - Brest Atlantiques 2019 © Jérémie Eloy /Macif

After 23 days of racing, the MACIF trimaran is third in the Brest Atlantiques and the finish should be in just over a week, in Brest. François Gabart and Gwenolé Gahinet are laying everything on the line by trying to sail up the Atlantic by the west, while the two leaders chose a very northerly route, once they had rounded the last course buoy, at Robben Island. This is all the better as it leaves the race open!

Last Thursday, François Gabart, Gwénolé Gahinet and Jérémie Eloy left Cape Town after a second technical pit stop, with a gap of a few hundred miles between them and the leader of the Brest Atlantiques, the maxi Edmond-de-Rothschild, and the boat in second place, Actual Leader. Although, one week later, the positions and distances have not changed, the routes followed have varied considerably. While the first two boats have chosen a very northerly route, after two days of beating along the African coast, the MACIF trimaran decided to run with a long crossing of the south Atlantic from east to west. This a strategic choice, and François hopes to reap the benefit of this in the next 48 hours, and which he talked about in a radio session today, on the 23rd day of racing.

François, you have been giving the full west option all you've got since Saturday. How's in going on the MACIF trimaran, this Thursday, after a crossing of 23 days?

François Gabart: "We crossed the South Atlantic front twice. The first time was 36-48 hours ago, when we went looking for a stronger wind with a better angle. The second was during the night, when we found the usual trade wind, in which we are currently sailing. To sail full west was another possible strategy, but it would have been complicated to sail, and I still believe that it's the fastest option. The first part of the night went pretty well and then we got stuck under a cloud. We lost a little distance but were back at full speed again. We are currently (at midday) running at 28 to 30 knots, under the gennaker, which is pretty good in relation to what we forecasted."

The distances seem to be very big (800 miles from the leader, roughly 300 miles from the second), but for all that will this have a big impact?

F. G.: "Yes and no. We have a better wind angle than our contenders as we head north. In 24 to 48 hours, we hope to begin to catch up with Actual Leader and maybe even overtake her, if our routings are to be believed. We hope possibly to get closer to Gitana, which will soon pass the doldrums in the north Atlantic trade wind. We are not exactly in the same weather system, but we are happy with our option. I remain cautious about our approach of the doldrums, but this is the best option for us if we are to gain ground on Gitana as quickly as possible."

Could you aim for a first place?

F. G.: "We always look ahead, even if Gitana does have a comfortable lead. We are doing everything we can to catch up, while they will be crossing the doldrums, which is always a difficult area to interpret. It looks fairly easy at the moment, but Franck (Cammas) and Charles (Caudrelier) are tackling it from the east, an area reputed to be harder (than the west). It's a risk and we'll see how that goes and how things develop. You can catch up on large distances fairly quickly with these trimarans. That's why we really believe it's possible! Lots of things can happen yet in the miles to come and the difficult weather conditions that we might meet in the northern Atlantic. Technical problems can also arise, even for us, and that's why we're staying vigilant. Naturally, we don't want anyone to get into difficulty, but if that were to happen, we would need to be in the right position to take advantage of this."

You do not make your choices on your own, since you can receive routing advice from on shore.

F. G.: "No, we are not completely alone for strategy. Jean-Yves Bernot's team in La Rochelle is there to guide us. Just before the radio session, we were hesitating between two sails and we were discussing it with him. We are constantly in touch with the team. On board, we focus on the short term: the choice of sails, the trajectory in the coming hours, while on shore, they work on the long term, and currently on the various finish and North Atlantic scenarios. Having routers on shore gives you data you cannot obtain when you are at sea. They study everything beforehand, so that we can have the simplest clearest information on board."

Do we have a better idea of the estimated time of arrival as the days go by?

F. G.: "We can expect a finish in and around the end of next week. The optimistic scenario is that it will be Thursday, but it may be Friday... and if the weather gets worse, over the weekend."

Do you think that your option has surprised your contenders?

F. G.: "I don't know if we've surprised the other racers. They know what they're about! Naturally, they keep an eye on us. It's possibly harder for them to know how they are situated in relation to us, with such a gap. We are constantly trying to raise doubts among our contenders. We have created a gap. We must now take advantage of it by gaining speed and overtaking Actual Leader as soon as we can and by trying to position ourselves to cast doubts among our contenders right up until the finish."

What would be the ideal scenario for you?

F. G.: "(He considers this with a smile on his face) It would be if Gitana were to get stuck in the doldrums for 48 hours, and if we were to regroup. It would be perfect if we were to return to having the three boats in three lengths, and if a super speed race got under way for a week, fighting at close quarters until the end... but with the MACIF trimaran in the lead! We'd like that..."

How are the crew bearing up physically?

F. G.: "There's an accumulation of fatigue, but we're managing it fine. When we do odd jobs or there are technical problems, we lose a little of our steam, because it takes away from the time we take to rest. It has happened quite a lot since the start, but we're still in good shape, running at a pace that means we can rest as soon as we can. We're ready to give it our all for the last stage of the course.!"

And what about the boat?

F. G.: "The boat is running well. We'd like her to run even better! There's no escaping that we've had a few problems, such as the centreboard foil, since before Rio, which has had a significant impact on the boat's speed."

After three weeks of racing, have you got into a routine as a trio?

F. G.: "Life as a trio sets a good pace. It's good! We manage to understand each other, to communicate and to share information. I'm happy with and proud of this crew and the effective way we operate! We will need to continue this until the finish, and make further progress, because we're still learning stuff about this boat every day. It's a great success.

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