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Rush-hour in Martinique as Arkea Paprec leads the mid-fleet finishers in the IMOCA Class

by Ed Gorman / IMOCA Globe Series 28 Nov 2021 11:39 PST 28 November 2021
Transat Jacques Vabre 2021 © Jean-Louis Carli / Alea

With the podium settled with the arrival of Charal on Saturday, it was rush-hour at the Transat Jacques Vabre finish today in the IMOCA Class, as six boats reached the line spread over just seven hours.

For some time it had become clear that the top-three - LinkedOut, APIVIA and Charal - were in a race on their own but equally, that the battle behind them was being waged hour-by hour for fourth place and beyond in the top-10.

At the front of this group Sébastien Simon and Yann Eliès on the Juan-Kouyoumdjian-designed ARKEA PAPREC were trying to fend off Britain's Sam Davies and Frenchman Nico Lunven on Initiatives-Coeur. And the closing stages were not easy in light winds on the approach to Fort de France.

But Simon, on his last outing in ARKEA PAPREC colours - he will be hunting for a new title sponsor when he returns to France - managed to hold on to secure a valuable fourth place by just under 22 minutes, something which will no doubt help him in his search for a new commercial partner.

"We deserve this fourth place,"said Simon as he celebrated his arrival on the French Caribbean island after 20 days, 17 hours and eight minutes at sea when he and Eliès covered 6,670.9 nautical miles at average speed of 13.72 knots. "We were in contact all the time and we fought for it. Those on the podium were too fast, but it was an exciting race, especially at the beginning. I think it's great we made so much progress with the boat with Yann to get it to this place."

Simon revealed they had lost one of their sails on the first night off the Brittany coast which, he said, had handicapped them quite badly, but he added: "that did not prevent is from fighting at the front until the end."

The hugely experienced Eliès, who won this race last time out with Charlie Dalin and the time before that with Jean-Pierre Dick, admitted their boat could not match the leaders for pure speed. He also admitted that in the closing stages he and Simon were worried that Davies and Lunven were bringing the breeze up towards them.

"We are happy to have saved our place,"he said. "It was a great relief this morning. For several days, we felt that the wind was coming back from behind, that the competitors were catching us up and we were running into a windless zone. Sam and Nico sailed really well."

Indeed the last outing for Davies on this Initiatives-Coeur was a highly competitive one. She and Lunven gelled well to get the best out of the 2010-vintage IMOCA that has always raced not only for its best ranking, but also to help save the lives of children from the Third World with heart defects.

Davies reached the finish in ebullient spirits. "The magic of ocean racing is that we never stop learning," she said. "This was my third Transat Jacques Vabre with this boat and I never get bored." Lunven reflected on a largely light-to-medium airs race and pinpointed the phase after the Cape Verde islands when he and Davies could not hold onto the front group."

"From Cape Verde, the first ones had better conditions," he said. "The fact that they were faster put them in a weather scenario that put us behind them. We were together after the Canaries but they were faster, so we couldn't take the same strategic option. They were able to take off and then benefit from a fast passage through the Doldrums. It was very good for us too, but it was exceptional for them."

Almost two hours after Initiatives-Coeur crossed the line, it was Giancarlo Pedote and Martin Le Pape's turn to do so on Prysmian Group, taking sixth place and winning a tight mid-fleet battle against Romain Attanasio and Sébastien Marsset on Fortinet-Best Western, who finished just under an hour later. An hour behind them, CORUM L'Épargne came in eighth and, then three hours later, Maître CoQ IV in ninth position.

Pedote, the only Italian skipper in the race, paid tribute to co-skipper Le Pape with whom he had not been sailing for long before they set off on the race. "We are very happy," he said. "I had a good feeling before the start and everything went well. We divided the tasks on board. Martin managed the navigation throughout. He was very methodical; he did all the analysis. Then we made the choices together. I think it's this fluidity that explains our finishing position today."

An emotional Le Pape reflected on a great partnership on board the former St Michel-Virbac. "It was magical. It's quite rare that duos work so well," he said. "I'm very happy to be here with Giancarlo. We sailed a great race, we didn't expect that. Sometimes we did something and it worked right away. Everything went our way - we worked a lot and we didn't give up on our routing choices, but if someone had told us we were going to make sixth in the Transat Jacques Vabre, we wouldn't have believed it."

On Fortinet-Best Western, Attanasio bemoaned the loss of a spinnaker after Fernando de Noronha that handicapped the former Maliza II during the last 2,000 miles to the finish. Attanasio noted that this race felt more like a Figaro contest than a long-distance IMOCA race. "We sailed as hard as we could, but we could see that we still lacked a bit of knowledge of the boat - this was penalizing at the beginning, but then we learned a lot," he said.

On CORUM L'Épargne, there was disappointment at finishing down the fleet in ninth place on the sistership to ARKEA PAPREC. Nicolas Troussel was philosophical after a race when things went wrong in the early stages and it was then hard to catch-up. "It went very well with Sébastien," he said of his partnership with Josse. "It's a bit of a special race, with some twists and turn and unusual weather conditions. It was fun to experience, with a part of the course (along the South American coast) that we didn't know so well, so there was a lot to discover."

"But we are happy to have arrived here," Troussel added. "It is the first transatlantic race for this boat, the first time she has spent so much time at sea. We are obviously a little disappointed with the result, but it was nice - we had a great time - on the water we had a blast."

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