Groupe Bel ready for the off
They have everything it takes to win, but they are not alone! At 14:00 on Sunday, Kito de Pavant and Sebastien Audigane will start the Transat AG2R-La Mondiale from Concarneau to Saint Barth on board the Groupe Bel Figaro. Up against them are 24 identical Figaros, so to make the difference all these identical 10m long boats, they each have their own little 'tricks'
This is by no means the first AG2R for de Pavant. He won the race in 2006 with the Italian former America’s Cup sailor, Pietro D’Ali. The following year, he entered the IMOCA circuit, now de Pavant returns to his first love: Figaro racing. In terms of preparation, his experience with the ‘big boat’ will, of course, benefit the ‘little one’. For his co-skipper, he will be competing in his third Transat AG2R having in recent year been more regularly found on board the G-Class maxi-multihulls such as Orange 2.
"We can't change the boat because we all have the same ‘mopeds’… However, we can help the crew on board perform better, through comfort at the helm and below, or when sleeping, for example," explains de Pavant. "The berths measure 1.70m, but Seb is 1.93m! So we have a hammock which can be hung from several places inside the boat, depending on whether we are sailing close-hauled or under spinnaker! We already have to stack 200kgs to optimise the boat's trim depending on the speed and now, we will be stacking the sailors too!”
'Custom' helm and seat
On deck, each sailor will steer for 12 hours out of 24 every day - a test of strength for theirs backs and the body in general. When sailing a 60 footer, de Pavant chose steering wheels in order to face forward and that enabled him to get considerable feedback from the helm. He has attempted to reproduce this on the Figaro. "We have a helm that is different from the others", says de Pavant, "which is much larger than the standard version. It prevents us from being bent in half and gives us a better control of the boat and better sensation. We also have a polyester helmsman’s seat that can be tacked from one side to the other, which means that you can position yourself well, relax your back muscles and be more efficient for a longer time.”
Seb, in charge of 'food comfort'
Coming straight from his experience of large multihulls, Audiagne has taken cool boxes on board for the meals and even mugs with lids: "They're really good; at last you can drink hot coffee! You can also prepare a meal for your partner and it stays hot for several hours. It is important to eat properly on board and in the right quantities.” While this might seem like a detail they aren't and comes from years of experience of this type of sailing.
Conviviality also delivers performance
“We take three-hour watches, with a snack or a meal each time,” continues Audiagne. "The idea is to discuss strategy at this time, the choices to be made and also to find out how the others are getting on. It's essential to share things, for the atmosphere, but also for the proper running of the boat. It's easy to close up, particularly, since Kito and I are not very talkative at sea.”
From here it is a last shop for fresh produce, a line-up for the media, a study of the weather charts, and putting the finishing touches to the boat; as the job list is still very full for the sailors. On Sunday, they are due to set off to sea in calm weather conditions at the start, and for the first few days of racing, before a area of low pressure is forecast to encroach on the race course from the west leaving them on the wind as they sail down to the Canaries.