North Atlantic storm on the way

Transat Jacques Vabre fleet in for a pasting

Thursday October 27th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

Charts above and below courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and PredictWind.

The Transat Jacques Vabre sets sail this Sunday from Le Havre, in northern France, bound for Costa Rica on the opposite side of the Atlantic. However in what is currently lining up to be a repetition of the weather that decimated the fleet in the 2002 Route du Rhum, a monster depression is lurking out in the Atlantic that is due to smash into the fleet of doublehanded IMOCA 60s, Multi 50s and Class 40s sometime on Tuesday night/Wednesday next week with a front lying to the south of it bringing winds which the usually under-reading GRIB files are suggesting will exceed 50 knots. Obviously this forecast is long term and the situation could change.

At present the race organisers haven’t made a call on whether the start of the biennial doublehanded race will be postponed, however it is known that the Class 40 skippers are to hold at meeting on Friday morning to look at the prospects of what might be done.

As Tanguy de la Motte, on one of the Class 40 favourites as skipper of Initiatives-Alex Olivier put it: “It won’t make for a proper race. The result will end up being on gear failure and who can minimise the loss in the front. It is looking very bad, but it is only coming in two days at the start. We should be able to deal with it but it won’t be a race any more.”

However as the forecast charts show, if the race start is postponed it may not be until Friday next week when the race can get underway. 

“I think it will be more difficult for the Multi50s than for us,” continues de la Motte. “And more difficult for the IMOCA 60s than us. No one wants half the fleet to go home before the Canaries and that could be the case in this kind of weather, which would be a shame for the class and the organisers. It has to be considered without having in the logistics problems it might bring [ie of staying in Le Havre for longer]. It has to be considered whether we can have a race in this weather and at present it doesn’t look like being a race.”

Lionel Lemonchois, Route du Rhum winner in the ORMA 60 (2006) and Multi 50 (2010, and skipper of the Multi 50 Prince de Bretagne reckoned they would see 40 knots. “Maybe it is better to keep north. It will be a long way and cold and not very comfortable.”

Gamesa skipper Mike Golding was equally pessimistic about the outlook. “It is early days, but Tuesday is looking very bad and it is a question of what your strategy is going to be. I don’t think you can get out of it. One option is to go north and try to get around the top of it. Some boats might get there quick enough to do that - that is the safest option, but if it goes wrong and you don’t make it, you are going to get pasted even worse, plus you are going to be on the Irish coast.”

While the European model used in our maps indicates the low to be tracking quite far north, others are showing the track of the depression centre to be further south. “If it stays south it is do-able,” continues Golding. “My mental cut-off is if the low centre is south of the southern tip of Ireland. If it is mid-Ireland [as our GRIBs show] it becomes a long way to go.”

What about going south? “It is slightly better the further south you are but you can’t get south because it is a southwesterly [to the east of the front],” points out Golding. 


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