IMOCA 60 honours for PRB
Crossing the finish line at 10:41:47 local time (12:41:47 UTC) on an overcast, humid morning in Itajaí, French Vendee Globe legends Vincent Riou and Jean Le Cam won the Transat Jacques Vabre's IMOCA 60 class.
They completing the 5450 miles course from Le Havre in 17d 0h 41mn 47sec, at an average speed of 13.21 knots for the theoretical course. In fact they sailed 5771 miles on the water, at a real average speed of 14.12 knots. When they finished, the second placed IMOCA 60 was around 50 miles behind in second.
It is the first major transoceanic race triumph for Riou since he won the 2004-5 Vendée Globe and the biggest recent win for veteran Le Cam.
Appropriately as winner of the class in this 20th anniversary edition Riou was one of the competitors in the very first edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre in 1993 racing a multihull.
The duo won their class despite an express pitstop in Madeira to replace a rudder fitting. “Rudders are broken now because of the pressure we put them under, whether ours or that of MACIF,” commented Le Cam prior to finishing, referring to near rivals MACIF who also made an early pit stop, in Portugal, to complete a similar repair.
The duel for second place was being played out as PRB finished, only a few miles separating second placed Safran (Marc Guillemot and Pascal Bidégorry) and Maitre CoQ (Jéremie Beyou and Christopher Pratt).
Both individually and separately over their 25 years or so of ocean racing Vincent Riou and Jean Le Cam have suffered their fair share of misfortunes and hard times.
But today in Itajaí, Brasil as they basked in the satisfaction of winning Transat Jacques Vabre’s IMOCA Open 60 class from a fleet of 10, all boats which started the last Vendée Globe, they finally shared the magical moments together, not only triumphing in the prestigious monohull class, but knowing that they put together a great race over the longest ever course in the 20 year history of the two handed ‘coffee route’ route from Le Havre.
Their firm friendship was cemented after Riou rescued Le Cam from his upturned monhull of Cape Horn during the 2008-9 Vendée Globe. But close as they became, they confirmed today that episode was not a reason in itself to team up their talents. Indeed, Riou, winner of the 2004-5 Vendée Globe ahead of second placed Le Cam, said he now looked forwards to racing against his winning co-skipper again soon.
“The friendship with Jean developed from the rescue in 2009 and gradually we grew closer together, but that’s not the reason behind this. We could have sailed together without that. Now I’d like to see him back out there as a rival.” Smiled Riou.
Ironically today is almost exactly one year to the day that Riou had to abandon his last Vendée Globe after striking an unmarked steel buoy approaching the Brasilian coast.
Both had to abandon their last Transat Jacques Vabre. While the typically effusive, charismatic Le Cam – his humour as dry as the salt encrusted hard on his face after 17 days at sea – summarised his first ever win in the Transat Jacques Vabre,
“ This was my seventh race, so one (win) in seven. My last one was with Yves (Le Blévec) on the Multi 50 Actual and we finished in Cherbourg. Let’s say it is more enjoyable to arrive in Brasil”
And it is doubly apposite too that Riou also finally wins this anniversary edition, as one of the 13 starters in the first ever race in 1993.
The IMOCA Race
PRB took the lead initially off the Ushant, setting a furious pace as the leaders headed into a challenging passage across the Bay of Biscay. In fact all of the top five latest generation IMOCA Open 60s – MACIF, PRB, Safran, Maitre CoQ and Cheminées Poujoulat – all led the class at some time.
On MACIF, Francois Gabart and Michel Desjoyeaux, the Vendée Globe winning duo, were most regular leaders until their rudder failed and on the afternoon of Sunday 10 November, when they were the first IMOCA 60 team to need to pitstop, making a rapid rudder replacement in Peniche, Portugal.
PRB took control again then until they were forced to replicate MACIF’s technical halt, making a very similar rudder repair in the Cape Verde islands. It took them 45 minutes, but it was enough to let MACIF – which also took the same passage through the islands – escape away to build a lead of 23 miles when PRB left Mindelo. And the match race was very soon back on.
As they went through the Doldrums almost together, there was very little in it, emerging with just one to one and a half miles between them, speed racing in the southeasterly trade winds like an afternoon training session out of Port La Foret where they all train. MACIF do move progressively away.
But on 21 November the news suddenly emerged that MACIF had dismasted. This enabled PRB to regain the lead , disappointed at the loss of their nearest rivals, who – they asserted – had been sailing a ‘perfect’ race.
Although MACIF was forced out, the pressure remained on PRB until the final days, but as Riou and Le Cam passed through the final front their win is more or less assured.
Jean Le Cam, co-skipper of PRB: “It was a bit of a race for hard headed nuts, you just never had time to stop and think, it was incessant keep your head down, and wet from beginning to end.”
Vincent Riou, skipper of PRB:
"We have never taken the foul weather gear off, it was fast, it was tough, it was physical all the time. We were always pushing with very few rest periods. It was more like life on a multihull. My first Transat Jacques Vabre was 20 years ago and over the years Jean and I have had a lot of setbacks over the years so we are really pleased to win this time.”
Jean Le Cam: "This was my seventh race, so one (win) in seven. My last one was with Yves (Le Blévec) on the Multi 50 Actual and we finished in Cherbourg. Let’s say it is more enjoyable to arrive in Brazil”
Vincent Riou: "When we broke the rudder and looked at the charts, we could see there was an opportunity if we stopped in Madeira. We had three days to get to there, which was just enough time to transport another rudder out there. It was a bit tight with the flight schedules. Fortunately the damage was limited to the rudder blade, so all we had to do was slip it into place and set off again. We’re a bit tired, but managed our sleep well. At no time did we slip into the red. I feel we did a good job, because apart from the luck we had, such as when the rudder was changed so quickly, I think we sailed well from start to finish. We didn’t make many mistakes. The boat had a certain potential, which was quite good, but not always the best. I must admit I did make one big mistake at the start in the Bay of Biscay, but apart from that we had a fine race and manoeuvres went smoothly. We were always there at the helm when we had to go on the attack and we always found good courses and angles.
"I don’t have any regrets about our work and that is why I feel so pleased today. Jean Le Cam You never know what’s going to happen. The final part of the race was fairly quick. Yesterday I spotted a huge turtle 20 metres away from the boat. If it had gone into the rudder, it would have been over. We’ve also got a keel ram that’s out of alignment… A ring holding the ram in place split open causing it to move sideways… Vincent Riou There’s one thing about sailing that’s very special.
"When I started out I was about 14 or 15 years old and used to get magazines with all the champions in them. 10-15 years later, there I was out there sailing with them and then later still against them. The lifespan of a sailor is such unlike other sports, you can find yourself out there with your idols. And then, maybe even beat them. Jean Le Cam We weren’t very often sailing at less than 15 knots. We pushed the boats hard from start to finish. We never had time to relax with the wind from astern. It was all out reaching all the time. When rudders fail like that, you have to wonder why. Two rudders didn’t make it to Itajaí, while they managed to go all the way around the world."