Photos: Alexis Courcoux

Long time coming

Erwan Tabarly claims victory in the Figaro's Transat Bretagne-Martinique

Sunday April 7th 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: Martinique

After 20 days of racing and having covered 4,455 miles at an average speed of 6.95 knots, Erwan Tabarly and his Armor Lux-Comptoir de la Mer claimed line honours in the Figaro's singlehanded Transat Bretagne-Martinique. Tabarly crossed the finish line of Fort-de-France at 10:48:55 UTC or 06:48:55 (local time).

After 11 years of regularly campaigning on the Figaro circuit, Tabarly, nephew of Eric, has always been at the front of the fleet, but has never before reached the highest step on the podium in a singlehanded race. 39 years old, Tabarly was second in last year's Transat AG2R, third in the 2011 Transat Bénodet-Martinique, and second in the Trophée BPE from Brittany to Martinique in 2009 when he was four minutes behind Gildas Morvan.

The roots of Tabarly's victory came when he led the bulk of the fleet south on an extreme southerly route across the Atlantic. Taking the lead of his group on 23 March as they were passing Gibraltar, this extreme route took them some 45° off course leaving the Canary Islands to starboard. Tabarly's route continued south, taking the overall lead on 28 March, hugging the African coast, only separating to just shave the Cape Verde islands to their north. Typically across the Atlantic Tabarly held a lead of 40 miles although this was whittled down on the approach to the Caribbean.

"Having spent so long being so close behind, I am really pleaased to have finally finished a race in first place, after so many seconds and thirds. Its taken my struggling through three of these race for me to get there and it's great.

"Last night was very hard, I could not sleep - it was tight downwind under spinnaker, so I was on the helm all the time. There was still 25-30 knots of wind, so I did not sleep.

"In the first week, we were hit hard which whittled the fleet down, but I managed to escape unscathed with my sails intact, even if they are a bit battered. I increased my lead over the course of the first week and managed to keep it until the end. I'm super happy..."

Gildas Morvan on Cercle Verte was second home into Martinique at 13:46:01 UTC and, after 21 days of racing, was just 33 minutes ahead of Fabien Delahaye on Skipper Macif 2012, the 44 year old Figaro veteran with and winner of the 2009 race against the 28-year-old nipper who was second in this race two years ago. Crossing the Atlantic the virtual elastic joining Cercle Verte to Skipper Macif 2012 never extended to more than 40 miles and at times closed in to just 15, finally closing to just single figures on the approach to the finish line.

On his arrival Morvan commented: "This transat, it has some really good memories. The two depressions were really hard and cost a lot. I even put up my storm jib and two reefs for the first time. Afterwards we headed south and it was magical, fabulous - there were fish everywhere, hundreds of birds, fishermen, a 4x 4 on the road behind me, big dunes, villages ... It was a great ride. It was a great ride, it's rare to pass between the Canary Islands and Cape Verdes, but there was always wind. Erwan was 40 miles ahead at the beginning of the Trade winds, and I said it would not be easy to catch him. The winds were tough - we had 48 hours of fighting, trying to sleep with the small spinnaker up, beam reaching in squalls that sometimes lasted half an hour....

"I was hallucinating last night, at one point Fabien was 10 miles behind, so I was pretty confident. And at one point, I saw a dead whale, and then I looked up and I thought 'that's not possible! Fabien is 3 miles behind!' In fact, I was in less wind, while he had the wind - it was crazy! Suddenly the phone rang, and I heard 'Hi, this is Fabien, ca va?' Down below, I told my coco that that hadn't happened, it was just that I hadn't slept all night, as I'd been on the helm the whole time. I would have a pity to have lost my place!"

Fabien Delahaye commented on his arrival: "This race was the first time I choose between the race and seamanship and decided to play it safe. Sometimes you have to think longer term and preserve the boat. Erwan has had a great race, Gildas was rather conservative like me. Erwan ruled in this Transat and ultimately I am pleased with myself to have held third place. The African coast was beautiful - I think it's great, the sand cliffs, the sunset is beautiful. On the next Transat AG2R-La Mondiale, if we remove the waypoint up north, we could perhaps go there again... "

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