Transat Jacques Vabre: Welcome to the Doldrums

Published on November 2nd, 2015

(November 2, 2015; Day 8) – They are among the fastest ocean going multihulls on the planet, Sodebo Ultim and MACIF, both passing just over half way through the Transat Jacques Vabre – their first big Transatlantic race.

MACIF co-skipper Pascal Bidégorry owns the outright 24hrs distance under sail record at 908nms averaging 37.08kts, but the last 24 hours have seen the two giant speedsters hobbled by prolonged calms and very light winds. Their Doldrums experience has seen them crawling at Optimist dinghy speeds – or less – for hours at a time, making a net 70 miles in the last day. Sodebo Ultim’s co-skipper Jean Luc Nélias predicted this morning that they should breach the lifeblood southeasterlies tonight.

For all that this head to head has continued in super slow motion, there is still nothing at all to choose between the two in terms of Distance to Finish. Sodebo’ Ultim leads by just over three miles with 2300 miles of racing to Itajaí still to go. There is about 55 miles of lateral separation between the two.

Nélias said today: “The reality does not always match the digital predictions. We work 100% with what we see on the deck. Watch the clouds, the wind goes left or right. It is tiring. We work all the time working with whatever happens. We swap every two hours but when you are making 0.2 of a knot it is not exactly exciting. The end of the day yesterday was better for MACIF, now last night was better for us. It is the national lottery. But we should get out tonight. If so that will be good progress. We begin to get in more stable winds.”

For the IMOCA Class, the cavalcade south carries on largely unchecked. The leading trio, all sparring partners from Brittany’s Pôle Finisterre training centre, have just 28 miles from first to third. Third placed Yann Eliès and Charlie Dalin on Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir have more than halved their deficit to leaders Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h and Erwan Tabarly since Sunday morning.

As ever, the perils of leading into the Doldrums include slowing first as well as marking the worst of the calms. But compression among the top three is certain, a restart at the exit door of the Doldrums probable. And Vincent Riou, second placed skipper of PRB, believes the southern hemisphere will be more open, more strategic than the first week of racing which has been mostly about hanging on and sailing the optimal route. In the end there was just one way to go to lock down a place in the leading group and that was west.

“After the Doldrums a new race starts, we will re-group and then we will follow the edge of the Saint Helena high, Cabo Frio and the lows of the south, and so the second half can be more open than the first part of the race,” Riou told Race HQ this morning.

Now fully repaired, with their ‘Big Sails’ up and pedal down, Tanguy de Lamotte and La Sam Davies are giving chase to Le Souffle du Nord, Thomas Ruyant and Adrien Hardy. The French-English duo had spent 48 hours in ‘boatbuilding mode’ repairing their starboard rudder mounting and a crack in the transom area. Their patience, waiting for the laminate to set hard, seems to have been rewarded.

“We can now send it,” commented Davies whose megawatt smiles reflect her love of being back on the IMOCA at sea. They have made more than 20 miles back on the Ruyant and Hardy who sail the former Groupe Bel and are now just 35 miles behind sailing 2 knots faster.

Eric Bellion and Sam Goodchild appeared to be back up to speed this afternoon on Comme un Seul Homme, Stand as 1 after a period slowed this morning. They are 43 miles behind eighth placed Newrest/Matmut, while O Canada is still in NW Spain.

Alex Thomson and his technical team successfully recovered their dismasted HUGO BOSS today and have her safely docked in NW Spain this Monday afternoon.

Class 40 sees a steadily growing lead at the front for Yannick Bestaven and Pierre Brasseur on Le Conservateur, simply sailing faster in the reaching conditions. They are SW of the Canaries today and still trying to outrun the expanding Azores high pressure system to their north which threatens light airs. Pip Hare and Philippa Hutton Squire on Concise 2 have been snared by a ridge and have been slowed in less wind pressure but the British/South African duo are in good shape in eighth place.

They said:

Vincent Riou, FRA, skipper PRB: “All is well on PRB, it’s good today. It is more relaxing. This is the first day of life that is just a little quieter and we are not sailing under water. The sun is hidden slightly by the clouds, we are sailing south on a reach. However we are having to stop often because of the Sargassum weed. There is a lot of weed around the boat. We have to stop it goes around the rudders and keel. The Doldrums will be tomorrow morning, the approach is quick enough I thought we might be slowed. But in from the Ultimes have difficulties for sure getting through. In front Banque Bopulaire is a good boat with good sailors. They have conditions which are favourable for their set up but we are just half way, there are still 2,600 miles to go. After the Doldrums a new race starts, we will re-group and then we will follow the edge of the Saint Helena high, Cabo Frio and the lows of the south, and so the second half can be more open than the first part of the race.”

Jean-Luc Nélias, co-skipper Sodebo Ultim ‘(Ultime) “It has been slow and labourious since yesterday, We are trying to extricate ourselves from this Doldrums and get on the caipirinha route! Yesterday was no wind, today now some thunderstorms and rain, the wind going from SE to NW and us trying to stay with the trimming. Last night we were tacking. But there are not many squalls. The wind is light. We don’t have a router, we do it for ourselves like big boys. So we take things as they come. And the reality does not always match the digital predictions. We work 100% with what we see on the deck. Watch the clouds, the wind goes left or right. It is tiring. We work all the time working with whatever happens. We swap every two hours but when you are making 0.2 of a knot it is not exactly exciting. The end of the day yesterday was better for MACIF, now last night was better for us. It is the national lottery. But we should get out tonight. If so that will be good progress. We begin to get in more stable winds.”

Samantha Davies (GBR) co-skipper Initiatives Cœur IMOCA: “We spent a long time going slowly, first to fix the transom and the rudder, quite a large section, we needed to wait for the laminate to go off, and so there was a long period of going really slowly just to be really sure that it had set strong. And so that was yesterday morning that we go the green light to go and start sending it. So we checked that it is strong and the job that Tanguy did is really good. That is important because we need the rudder, the next seven days are almost all on port tack. So since we put the the big sails back up again we are at 100 per cent. Everything is good. We are happy that Souffle du Nord is not to far away ahead and so we have a good little race here. It was a bit disappointing. But the rudder is holding up well it is not slowing us down at all. We are off!”

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12th edition of the 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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Report by event media.

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