Great Race Rises on a Historical Journey

Published on October 30th, 2013

The 5460 mile Transat Jacques Vabre celebrates its eleventh edition when it begins November 3. Over its history the race has stuck loyally to the formula – following the coffee route across the Atlantic Ocean – with the 2013 edition carrying the 43-boat fleet from Le Havre, France to Itajai, Brazil.

The multihull classes taking part are the MOD70 trimaran (2) and Multi50s (6), while the IMOCA Open 60 (10) and Class 40 (25) comprise the monohull divisions. In this report, one team tells Stuart Alexander of The Independent about the dangers of 70-foot trimaran they will be racing…

(October 30, 2013) – There are no rescue boats in the middle of the Atlantic. There may be a passing ship, though the majority are quite well north, and there may be a fellow competitor. But Irishman Damian Foxall and his co-skipper Sidney Gavignet will have to rely on themselves and each other as they tackle the 5,450 miles from Le Havre to Itajai, Brazil.

They are racing a 70-foot trimaran in the bi-ennial Transat Jacques Vabre (TJV) carrying the colours of Oman Air and they have seen two sister boats capsize spectacularly this year, on both occasions with a crewman badly injured.

There is also no ambulance service mid-Atlantic, no A&E standing by to mend broken bones and bodies. “We know why those two capsizes occurred and we have developed some techniques to avoid it happening to us,” said Foxall tucking into his favourite sushi on the dockside of the Bassin Paul Vatine.

“I have capsized once in a 60-foot trimaran, so stepping on to our 70-footer in January this year had an element of having to get back on the horse, but seeing what has happened has had an effect. You can’t sail these things in a gung-ho sort of way. We had better be careful.”

In some extended training sessions, including a qualifier around the Fastnet Rock, the confidence in each other and the chemistry between them has developed.

“We know each other very well,” says Foxall, who won with another Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Dick, the Barcelona doublehanded non-stop round the world race. Dick’s 70-foot tri was one of the two to capsize, breaking the mast in three, cracking vertebrae in Dick’s back and knocking him and Roland Jourdain out of the TJV.

The other to flip was Spindrift 1 when racing in Dublin as part of the Route des Princes. Skipper Yann Guichard’s brother Jacques broke his pelvis in five places and is just about recovered over four months later.

“We have had to recalibrate the way we think,” says Foxall, now based in Quebec with wife, son and daughter. “We cannot push ourselves and the boat to the limit and beyond, we don’t want to feel we have to go into the red to perform. But we know we have the tools to do the job ahead.”

There is a rich vein of irony when he says: “We are in the match racing class.” Other classes starting ahead of him include 26 40-footers, 10 Open 60 monohulls and six 50-foot multihulls. It is a reference to their being just two MOD70s left, the Omani Musandam and Gitana XV.

Seamanship is important to complete the course, strategy, helped by weather router Jean-François Cuzon, is ever-present, and tactics, trying always to outwit the Gitana pairing of Sébastien Joss and Charles Caudrelier, can sometimes override strategy. They all know each other well, none expects any wild gambles.

The language on board the Omani boat is a mixture of French and English, the approach to sailing it is fully integrated, which leaves the most subtle of differences when it comes to the treat they both allow themselves on what should be a 14-day race. Gavignet takes a plentiful supply of chestnut purée; for Foxall it is Nutella. Same spoon, though.

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