Transat Jacques Vabre sets sail
After being held in the docks of Le Havre's Paul Vatine Basin for an extra three days or so, at 1500 CET today the 35 doublehanded crews competing in the Transat Jacques Vabre to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica were unleashed ready for a fast and furious ride west out of the Channel, ready to encounter the remainder of the malicious low pressure system which delayed Sunday's scheduled start.
With nearly 30 knots of southeasterly wind blowing on the start line, memories of the bonus rest period in Le Havre – or at home for some – were blown immediately away. A notable change to the weather had the chill of winter's onset in the air but the heat of competition was ignited by the start gun.
A rapid transit of the Channel is expected after a fast, wet first night at sea. Indeed the sun was already low as the fleet passed the General Metzinger mark, four miles offshore, downwind from the start line and the excitement of the start was all but gone. It promises to be a long, dark night as the weeks and months of anticipation and preparation give way to the intensity of keeping tabs on the competition in each of the classes on the drag race speed test which will offer little in the way of big strategic choices before the weekend.
There are the busy shipping lanes and the obligatory traffic separation zones to deal with. The freshening breeze was due to send the fleet into big, contrary seas from the NW, propagated by the very depression which held them since Sunday. Key in the early stages is not to break anything.
Early honours count for little on the long passage to Costa Rica. It is not the first four miles that count but the final metres. But it was both of the fleet's multiple class winners which shone on the headlong downwind dash to the General Metzinger buoy, the only real mark of the course on this side of the Atlantic. Such is the anticipated speed over the first week of the course that much of the time lost waiting since Sunday's start might be regained before the finish line in Costa Rica. Three times running victor in the Multi50 Class Franck-Yves Escoffier on Crepes Whaou! with Antoine Koch was narrowly ahead in the multihull division. But it was the start of the IMOCA winner in 2003 with Nicolas Abiven and 2005 with Loïck Peyron – Jean-Pierre Dick, racing with Jérémie Beyou on Virbac-Paprec 3 which was impressive in their choice of course to the mark. Under masthead A3 kite and one reef which allowed them to pass just ahead of the charging PRB of Vincent Riou and Hugues Destremeau which arrived from a higher, slightly slower angle.
On the first position report at 1700 CET the two leaders PRB and Virbac-Paprec 3 had been quickest with a small half mile lead over Kito de Pavant and Yann Regniau on Groupe Bel. Britain's Alex Thomson, sailing with Spain's Guilermo Altadill on Hugo Boss – the Farr designed winner of last year's Route du Rhum – lay fifth, Switzerland's Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret on Mirabaud seventh and Mike Golding and Bruno Dubois on Gamesa eighth. The need to keep everything tight and under control was highlighted when both Cheminées Poujoulat and Banque Populaire suffered gennaker problems in the minutes surrounding the start leaving both on the back foot. Both had to recover wayward sails from the water and had to race under genoas until they could sort out their respective issues.
In the tight fought Class 40 Yannick Bestaven and Eric Drouglazet on their unmistakeable red and white Tyker Evolution 2 design Aquarelle.com got an early jump from a great start and superb downwind speed which slingshot them to a lead of over one mile on the first position report, ahead of the tightly matched Akilaria 40 RC2 pair of Comris Pole Santé Elixir of Thierry Bouchard and Gilles Berenger and the young British duo of Ned Collier Wakefield and Sam Goodchild in third place tussling over second and third with nothing to separate them.
Tonight passing the Cherbourg peninsula there will be a front to deal with giving winds of around 35/40 knots, heavy rain and big seas, when the challenge really comes to maintain maximum speed without jeopardising craft or equipment. As Hugo Boss skipper Alex Thomson, summarised: "It will be just a straight boat speed race for the first bit, the first 36 hours, then a light winds patch, so it will be important to be near the front. The people who get into the new breeze first will extend. We have to cross the high pressure in a couple of days, the 4-5th Nov, everything looks quite simple. The models are reasonably agreeing now.
"It certainly looks better than it did last Sunday. It looks reach-y and fast. The first week looks pretty fast. You get what you get. The key for us will be just trying to get the boat going as fast as we can, but everyone is probably looking at the same things, it is about boatspeed. Generally I am not too bad at that but then obviously we dont know this boat too well. It will probably take us a little bit longer to get into the groove than others. I am super relaxed now after a couple of days at home, sleeping in my own bed makes such a difference and to come back here and there is no one around."
Mike Golding skipper of Gamesa added: "I am excited.... nervous and excited. No matter how many of these you do, you are still nervous and tense on start day, you are thinking a million and one things, what you might have forgotten. But the boat is well prepared, the guys have done a good job turning the boat around in a short space of time. And I am dying to get out there.
"It still looks looks like a lively race with lots of transitions, with some quite strong weather further down the track, but I think the decision to delay was the right one. We would have had a total pasting in the Western Approaches to the English Channel. It would have been quite unpleasant. We are all keen to get going and also knowing we are not all going out for a complete head kicking, then everyone is a bit more relaxed. It will be quite lively on the water.
"We will be very quickly into this. We will be in high speed conditions very quickly, after the first mark we will be at full pelt. We have geared ourselves up for that mentally. We have talked about that, how we will run the boat. And so we tend to run a trust system so we don't have a fixed, rigid structure to our watches, so we operate very roughly around a three to four hours cycle. But we will try to get someone down straight away, so that when the real tiredness kicks in we are well set.
"By late this afternoon when it gets dark the adrenaline starts to subside, when it is very dark tonight and we are still hammering along, then the tiredness will start to kick in. So it is important to get some rest early on. The adrenalin will be there for a while, though, because with all the other boats around you, you are monitoring them and seeing how you get on against them, it is only when the fleet has dissipated that the pressure starts to come on. We will be working on the data numbers we have looking at keeping up the best possible performance."
Concise 2 Class 40 skipper Ned Collier-Wakefield added: "We've had a couple of days off to get our heads back into the race. The weather is looking better now, still breezy but the wind direction has shifted so it should make for some good fast sailing. I'm happy not to have the upwind battle we were seeing with the Sunday start. It's looking as if we could be covering 300 nautical miles a day initially, so we should still arrive in Costa Rica around 23 November."
Standings at 1700 CET after two hours of racing
IMOCA Open 60
1- PRB (Riou/Destremau) 4701 miles to finish
2- Virbac-Paprec3 (Dick/Beyou) ) 0.3 miles to leader
3- Groupe Bel (De Pavant/Regniau) 0.6 miles to leader
1- Crêpes Whaou ! (Escoffier/Koch) at 5266.4 miles to finish
2- Actual (Le Blévec/Manuard) at 0.3 miles to leader
3- Maître Jacques (Fecquet/Escoffier) at 2 miles to leader
1- Aquarelle.com (Bestaven/Drouglazet) - 4705.9 miles to finish
2- Comiris Pôle Santé Elior (Bouchard/Bérenger) -1.7 miles to leader
3- Concise 2 (Collier Wakefield/Goodchild) - 1.7 miles to leader