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The recent Transat Jacques Vabre offers many lessons, the perfect warm up

by Arkea Ultim Challenge 17 Nov 2023 08:47 PST
Banque Populaire XI © Jeremie Lecaudey

The five ULTIMs which raced the Transat Jacques Vabre - Normandie Le Havre have all now docked safely in Fort-de-France and the double handed race from Le Havre to Martinique proved fascinating and insightful.

There was the intense duel between Banque Populaire XI and SVR-Lazartigue, the tenacity and never-say-die attitude of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild duo as well as the perseverance of Sodebo Ultim 3 and Actual Ultim 3, this 16th edition of the transatlantic race was particularly engaging for the ULTIM skippers and their teams.

And, by design, it has proven a great launch pad ahead of the class's first ever solo race non-stop around the world, the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE - Brest which will start January 7th.

There were of course the many typical ocean racing scenarios which all the skippers and teams will expect to relive. Things like crossing the start and the finish lines, of marshal and support boats supervising the ULTIMs, of emotional starts and finishes into the port, many hugs, lingering looks...a few tears even.

During this course of more than 9,200 miles there was a truly breathtaking battle in the heart of the Atlantic the likes of which has not really been seen between these ocean going giants.

All this played out over recent days. The ULTIMs were brilliantly spotlighted on the Transat Jacques Vabre as the renowned race celebrated its 30th anniversary.

The first conclusion is that of a measure of reliability. All of the five boats that started crossed the finish line. And as the boats leave Martinique to head to France and tackle the last phase of preparation before the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE - Brest that alone that gives some satisfaction to the teams

But now vigilance is still required and the race against time is ongoing. There was no downtime for the technical teams in Martinique. As soon as they arrived in Fort-de-France, the teams were busy repairing and working to put the ULTIMs back in good order before they all left for the crewed delivery back home across the Atlantic.

And this return crossing will be no picnic. There will be hazardous low pressure systems on the second part of the route. All the time, the clock is ticking and a speedy return will give teams their maximum opportunity to fully prepare for the imminent round the world race. And so there is a fine balance on this return trip, they cannot hang around but they have to take care to avoid major damage on the way back.

One hell of a high-intensity display

What enthusiasts and race fans followers will remember most on this race is the sheer, utter spectacle these giants are capable of putting on. They set off from the start in 35 knots of wind, saw close to 40 knots of wind at the tip of the Cotentin and then engaged in a full on, no holds barred battle. Everyone has their own preferred conditions and points of sail, their strengths, their little adjustments to make the difference. And this time it was the Maxi Banque Populaire XI that impressed.

Their passage west of Madeira allowed them to take the lead, Armel Le Cléac'h and Sébastien Josse then capitalised downwind, charging back towards the French Antilles islands to land a very prestigious victory.

Le Cléac'h who will be at the helm during the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE - Brest, has put behind him a sometimes turbulent history with multihulls but he has always believed in himself and their team.

He remarked, "It's a first in more than one way. It's the first big victory for this boat, my first Transat Jacques Vabre and actually my first in a multihull."

Behind them the François Gabart-Tom Laperche duo were in contact for a long time, sometimes they were ahead and were always in the rhythm. The SVR-Lazartigue skippers completed the race five hours after the winners and demonstrated the potential of their boat, which is lighter than those of their rivals.

"We had a great race with very high averages," enthuses Tom Laperche. "The competition was great, the boats are very competitive, the field very even... We had a blast!"

It took two days for the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild to complete the podium. Nothing was easy for the 2021 title holder, plagued by problems with their rudder system and then the foils. "It's frustrating but it's part of ocean racing," confides Caudrelier who became the MacGyver of ocean racing.

But these setbacks, these technical challenges strengthen the boat a little more. This will also be the challenge for Sodebo Ultim 3. Thomas Coville and Thomas Rouxel (4th) demonstrated considerable tenacity, after a collision with an UFO which sheared the starboard rudder bearing plane in the Doldrums.

The super experienced skipper Thomas Coville still claimed to have "learned a lot". Even more so the case for Anthony Marchand who sailed his first transatlantic aboard Actual Ultim 3 with Thierry Chabagny.

He said they hit something hard on the daggerboard 100 miles from the finish, adding "We were happy to bring the boat back the way we did. It's a joy to arrive, it's a big thing to spend 16 days aboard these machines."

So now they have recently raced more than 9,200 miles, the equivalent of a third of the race around the world.

Armel Le Cléac'h smiles wryly: " Now all we need to do is complete the two thirds more that will be ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE - Brest!"


1. Armel Le Cléac'h and Sébastien Josse (Banque Populaire XI) in 14d 10h 14mn 50sec
2. François Gabart and Tom Laperche (SVR - Lazartigue) in 14d 15h 5mn 55sec
3. Charles Caudrelier and Erwan Israel (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) in 16d 9h 5mn 43sec
4. Thomas Coville and Thomas Rouxel (Sodebo Ultim 3) in 16d 15h 22mn 59sec
5. Anthony Marchand and Thierry Chabagny (Actual Ultim 3) in 16d 20h 22mn 43sec

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