Risk or reward in Transat Jacques Vabre

Published on November 2nd, 2019

(November 2, 2019; Day 7) – After a hot night of gybing in the Canaries, Britain’s Samantha Davies survived a potentially boat-wrecking “pirouette” in wind gusting almost 40 knots to keep alive her hopes of a podium place in the Transat Jacques Vabre, the 4,350-mile biennial double-handed race from Le Havre, France to Salvador de Bahia.

She and French co-skipper Paul Meilhat on their 60ft monohull Initiatives-Cœur have dropped four places to eighth in the leaderboard as they entered the seventh day of racing, but they will be glad it was nothing worse. On the scale of wet to disaster, it seemed to be at the dripping and shaking end, but it cost them miles and position. Davies said their accidental gybe came in what sounded like frightening conditions but had not left any permanent damage.

“We passed La Palma with some hot gybes in 33 knots and up to almost 40 knots of wind accelerating to the coast of the island,” Davies said. “As you can imagine it was quite lively with less emphasis on style for our Spanish night out! We were more shaken than damaged, but it was annoying to lose everything that we’d won by our little ‘wipeout’, but we’re trying to learn everything we can! Now we’re out and the boat is tidy (but wet!) and we are getting some of the calories back that we spent during the night.”

Davies has been almost keeping pace with the new generation foiling boats in Initiatives-Cœur, which is almost ten years older. However, the fast performances by the older boats are also probably the result of higher risk taking. While the foilers are flying with a gennaker, the older IMOCA are often flying spinnakers with 400 square meters in front of the bow, which make the odd wipeout more likely and at these speeds they can be expensive.

Over the last 24 hours Initiatives-Cœur lost 70 miles on the running away leader, Charal, and more significantly 25-40 miles on those who have overtaken her. Those include 11th Hour Racing, being pushed hard by the American skipper Charlie Enright and French co-skipper Pascal Bidegorry. They were briefly in third and at the 15:00 UTC were in fourth having gybed further west.

The leading IMOCA were diving south towards Cape Verde this evening. The Doldrums are 1,000 miles away but the fleet are already working out their trajectory west. The inter-tropical convergence zone (aka the Doldrums) are forecast to be slimmer to the west this season.

Positioned in theory between 7° North and 27° 30 West, the best entry point is still a long way for the skippers and their tracks will look like they are descending a staircase to the Equator. Will they step gingerly or like teenagers late for a date? “Looking today, the Doldrums are a real mess, but it should be clearer for leaders on Monday!” promised Richard Silvani from Météo France said.

For the six boats (Hugo Boss, Malizia II Yacht Club de Monaco, Bureau Vallée II, Maître CoQ IV, Prysmian Group, and Advens for Cybersecurity) who chose the western strategy, it was tough going today as they entered the ridge of high pressure, with speeds dropping down to low single figures. They should emerge by the evening and will finally be in the same weather system as the leaders, but 400 miles behind.

In the Class40, Crédit Mutuel, the most westerly boat, has taken the lead and gradually increased it during the day. Britain’s Sam Goodchild on Leyton with co-skipper Fabien Delahaye had moved into second, past Aïna Enfance and Avenir. the lateral shift may yet be even more important: more than 160 miles separate Crédit Mutuel and Crosscall Chamonix Mont Blanc, the most easterly Class40 who’s sailing on a similar track to Made In Midi. They are approaching Madeira, almost on the same latitude as the six IMOCA “westerners” and should be in the trade winds tomorrow night.

They said:

Jérémie Beyou, Charal (IMOCA):

It’s going really well, we found some sun and the winds are a little more manageable; we had an active day with gybes and choices to make in a sustained wind up to 30 knots. We have a long port tack with wind more manageable. We hesitated a lot between the two options, south or west, it cost us a good thirty miles on the PRB / Apivia along the coast of Portugal, since then we’ve passed the ridge (of high pressure) and we’ve found good angles.

That’s put us well in the lead, it’s great. It was rather a psychologically tiring start to the race, we managed to find a rhythm in the last day or two. We had our first breakfast this morning, we’re getting things in place. I just went around the boat, everything is fine.

We have no real flight phases since the start, we were on the VMG downwind from Portugal. We’re not flying, we’re not using all the foil. In the trade winds at VMG bearing, there is no advantage over the (older) daggerboard boats. Over boats like that of Armel (Banque Populaire), we almost have an advantage. But to fly, you have to climb to a high angle.

We’ve got an A3 (sail) up, we’re 140° to the wind, in 17-18 knots, the sea is not badly arranged, we’re going well, it’s great. For the Doldrums…we started to look, it looks ok, but I think we shouldn’t hang around, it can change quickly. We must be careful passing the Canaries, there is a bit of strategy involved.

Fabien Delahaye – Leyton (Class40):
The sun is with us, so that’s nice. Unlike yesterday, which was a bit of a catastrophic day, where we were trying to leave a front that moved with us, with squalls of up to 45 knots. Since then, the wind has calmed down, the sea too. We have 20 knots under a gennaker at a fast angle.

It’s rather good timing to pass through the ridge (of high pressure) without too much trouble. We’ll be at Madeira tonight, and we’ll see how we negotiate the island. We musn’t lose our western separation.

Aïna Enfance and Avenir had passed us, but we came back on them all night and morning. I don’t think we have had exactly the same sails and we took back 20 miles. That’s the good news. The bad is Crédit Mutuel is really going very fast, I don’t know how they are doing it.

Visibly, their boat has big potential and they can manage speeds that we don’t know how to do. Since the start from Le Havre, we have rested a lot because we never have two on the deck. We take it in turns every three hours whatever the conditions except yesterday in the squalls,where it was necessary to make two-person manoeuvre.

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First held in 1993, the biennial Transat Jacques Vabre has three fleets of doublehanded teams – Class40s, Multi50s, and IMOCA 60S – competing from Le Havre, France’s to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. The 4350nm race started October 27 with estimated race times as:
Multi50: 11 days
IMOCA: 13-14 days
Class40: 19 days

Source: Transat Jacques Vabre

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