Damage Day at Transat Jacques Vabre

Published on October 30th, 2015

(October 30, 2015; Day 5) – The fifth day of the Transat Jacques Vabre sees new leaders in the IMOCA class and the Ultimes. There is no disputing the fact that Armel Le Cléac’h and Erwan Tabarly have powered to the front of the IMOCA fleet with the new ‘foiling’ Banque Populaire VIII, this afternoon at 20 miles ahead of the older PRB, course winners in 2011.

The leading group of four IMOCAs have broken away and are reaching quickly as they follow the rotation of the new Azores high to make some useful westing.

Theirs is a more conventional, classic routing south. But the race leaders on the 5,400 miles course from Le Havre to Itajaí – the giant Ultime pair Macif and Sodebo Ultim’ – now find themselves working almost due west, crossing the rhumb line, direct course at right angles to it, as they seek to suddenly get west for what looks to be a challenging Doldrums crossing.

Their course just now is about setting up for the long term gain, the best, narrowest route through, and for the meantime their match race is forgotten. But, for the record, Macif are computed to be ahead of Sodebo Ultim for the first time this race.

Class 40 have had it tough. They almost always do. But with 30-40kts today upwind and tight reaching as they battle to escape the last of what should be the last depression of the northern hemisphere, the skippers are low on energy, looking forwards to getting drier and going faster towards the sun. There is no change in the leadership here. It is still Yannick Bestaven and Pierre Brasseur (Le Conservateur) who now hold a 36 miles advantage over Maxime Sorel and Sam Manuard on V and B.

The rate of attrition continues. There have been three more abandonments today. The Ultime Actual of Yves Le Blévec and Jean-Le Vaillant retired with a rig problem. Adopteunskipper.net, the IMOCA 60 of Nico Boidevézi who was sailing with American Ryan Breymaier, have a damaged starboard lower running backstay, and in Class 40, the new Manuard design Eärendil of Catherine Pourre and Antoine Carpenter have suffered the double whammy of an engine failure and losing their windvanes.

This Friday afternoon five boats are routing to land for repairs. Bastide Otio (IMOCA; Kito de Pavant/Yann Régniau) are in Cascais, Portugal to make repairs to their ORC headsail and their fleet broadband system. O Canada (IMOCA; Eric Holden/Morgen Watson) are heading for Vigo to repair their damaged mast track and had about 120 miles to go, Hugo Boss (IMOCA; Alex Thomson/Guillermo Altadill) are heading to the NW of Spain with a technical issue to be assessed. Jean-Pierre Dick and Fabien Delahaye will stop in Madeira with a structural issue with transverse reinforcing rings at the level of the sail bin on the new St Michel-Virbac (IMOCA). And in Class 40, Creno-Moustache Solidaire (Thibault Hector/Morgan Launay) are heading to La Coruna with damage to a stainless spreader root. On the race couuse, Louis Burton and Romain Attanasio on Bureau Vallée in the IMOCA fleet report serious energy and charging problems.

For some who really did not harbour realistic hopes of winning their class in this biennial coffee route race, getting through these first five days will already represent a serious victory of sorts. Sam Davies was back at her at her chipper IMOCA-racing best early this morning when she reported from Initiatives Coeur which she is sailing with Tanguy De Lamotte. They lie fifth in the fleet chasing 70 miles behind SMA with Paul Meilhat and Michel Desjoyeaux. In the same fleet, albeit further back, Nandor Fa, also sounded upbeat and positive with his race so far on Spirit of Hungary. And in Class 40, Pip Hare was delighted to learn they are lying eighth on Concise 2, although they have been struggling with electrical and comms issues.

They said:

Eric Holden, CAN, O Canada, IMOCA: “We’re still heading towards Vigo, we decided to tack out and get around the TSS and then tack back shortly to head to Vigo. We’re missing about one foot of mast track at the second reef point so we had to pull the mast out and the sail up harder than that on the main sail. I don’t really know how it broke but when we went to reef the headboard kind of jammed in the broken track. Right now it’s about 35-38kts upwind from the south so it’s not very pleasant. I’d say [be stopped for] a minimum of 24 hours. Everything else is fine, we’re disappointed and the conditions are not very great, it’s slow progress and we’re not making good speed to Vigo because we’re going upwind and there’s big waves but the boat otherwise is fine and Morgen and I are fine as well. We’ll probably arrive there tomorrow morning, there’s still 100 miles and its all upwind. So a middle of night kind of thing.”

Pip Hare, GBR, Concise 2, Class 40: “It’s very rough, it’s been blowing 30kts all night and the seas are quite big and the boats are really wet. It’s very rough going, we’re looking forward to the end of this bit. Everything is okay [with the boat], it’s a bit dirty and there’s stuff everywhere but, touch wood, we have no problems. Yes we’re very happy, we only have very limited data so we haven’t looked at our positions but if that is where we are then we are very, very, happy and we will be even happier when we can see the sun. For the next six hours it’s still going to be very rough,we’re expecting the winds to still be blowing very strong into the night tonight but overnight it will get lighter and it will go behind us. Hopefully we can find some downwind sailing and some waves to surf. I don’t think we’re going to see the sun until tomorrow. Wet! Everything is wet, absolutely soaking. The minute you go outside if you are steering you’re being hosed all the time. There’s water everywhere and both of us are soaking wet and we have been for four days. Just very, very, wet. We’re managing okay but yesterday we got very tired because we had a front pass over us that was unexpected. We had to do a lot of manoeuvres and sail changes but today we’ve set the boat up to be a little more stable and we’re trying very hard to take it in turns to sleep so that when this weather had gone we are strong and ready to put some more sails up. So we’re managing okay.”

Jean Pierre Dick, skipper of St Michel-Virbac, IMOCA: “We’re taking a detour on our way to Brazil. There were gale force winds in the night. 30 knots, so quite a lot of wind. We had reduced the sail with three reefs and the small jib, the G3. I went out and checked the structure of the mast in the night. Everything was fine, but then I noticed some structural elements were beginning to break. We took the decision to put the brakes on. We’ll be putting into Madeira. To avoid damaging the boat, the sail is being used as a counterweight. We’re feeling really down. It had to happen to us. Clearly there is a structural problem with the boat (we can see that by looking at the other competitors). We don’t really know what to do. We’re in talks with the designers. The hull has been weakened with all the impact, so there is definitely a problem. You can push the boat, you fly, but on the other hand, there is the harsh reality, when we see competitors retiring. We can see there is a potential problem. I’m telling you I’ve got my foot on the brake. We’re going to try to understand what’s happened, carry out repairs and set off again. It’s really spoilt the enjoyment, but we’re used to taking this sort of thing.”

Armel Le Cléac’h, skipper of Banque Populaire VIII, IMOCA: “We’ve been accelerating since the Azores. The sea has calmed down and the wind is in the right direction, which means that we can speed along nicely with good average speeds. There’s a fast pace and we’re at high speed, so on board it’s not easy to stand up and move around. When the wind is a bit stronger, we reach high speeds and you need to be careful. Apart from that, it’s fine. We’re pleased with these speeds as that is how we took the lead. The boat was under autopilot just now, but we’re trying to take it in turns at the helm. It all depends on the wind. The wind is not very stable in strength or in direction. The speed and behaviour of the boat changes quickly with stronger winds. We’ll be changing the sails in the next few hours, gybing after that, which should take us on one long tack for several days with the right sails up. It feels more like summer and is warming up on board, so we’re tidying up. We’re managing to sleep better as the sea is calmer and we’re eating well. So we’re looking after ourselves, as physically it was very demanding for the first few days. We’re building up our strength, as there’s still a long way to go to Brazil.”

Nandor Fa, HUN, Spirit of Hungary, IMOCA: “We are feeling good. This is the first day that we really are sailing in the right direction. And we have some sunshine, still 20-22kts of wind from the SW, but this is a great pleasure for us now because so far it has been very, very tough, tough for us, tough for the boat. We had to beat and we stayed on the east side of the cyclone, that was our choice, it was not a good one. Now from that point of view now our life will be a little bit easier. We are happy with the boat, it has taken a lot of punches, really big waves, it was fantastic for the boat. The boat is working well, we only lost the radar antenna from the mast and that was a technical mistake not a problem with the boat. The boat works very well. We are much better now. As long as we are sailing upwind it was difficult. But right now the better conditions means we are recovering. Peter is enjoying the race now. We did not enjoy the first days. We are very optimistic for the rest of the race. When we came towards Cape Finisterre the business was over and we had no other option and that was very tough, tacking, tacking all the time against the wind. But we work together well. We can see that sailing round the west was the best option. We see the other guys who had to withdraw and are very sorry for them.”

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Transat Jacques Vabre in brief
• A legendary race 22 years old and 2015 marks the 12th edition
• Two founding partners: the city of Le Havre and brand Jacques Vabre
• Four classes on the starting line: Class40, Multi50, IMOCA and Ultimate
• Starting October 25 in Le Havre (FRA) for the 5400nm course to Itajaí (BRA)


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