After the speedy latest generation boats from Sam Manuard and Botin Partners which monopolised the top three places, nearly 30 hours later it was Watt&Sea -Région Poitou Charentes, the 2010-built Verdier design which won the last race in 2011, that crossed the line in fourth in the Transat Jacques Vabre's Class40 division.
Yannick Bestaven - sailing this time with Mini sailor and two times Freeride Skiing World Champion Aurérlien Ducroz – led the chasing peloton home by a matter of 2 hours and 12 minutes ahead of Groupe Picoty, sailed by Jean-Christophe Caso and Aymeric Chappellier with Fabrice Amedeo and Armel Tripon on SNCF Geodisin turn 1 hour and 19 minutes ahead of Damien Seguin and Yoann Richomme on ERDF–Des Pieds et Des Mains.
The Austrian pro-am duo of entrepreneur Christof Petter and double Olympian and former Team Russia VO70 skipper Andreas Hanakamp on the new Tom Humphreys designed Vaquita finished Petter’s first big ocean race some 1 hour and 26 minutes later. Although ERDF had been behind them last night, the French duo, who finished second in 2011, charged past in conditions Hanakamp considered potentially boat (and heart) breaking conditions. With 25 knots of wind and big, unruly, unpredictable seas. In these the Austrians chose to stick with their Code Zero and stay safe to finish their race, rather than run any excessive last minute risks.
Themes, debriefs and sentiments on the clammy, drizzly dockside in Itajaí today were all voiced similarly from the tired duos. The pace was relentless among this group, the crews saying that they could mostly see that their opportunities to catch the runaway leading trio were always going to be negligible, especially on what has mostly proven to be a one way speed course. They spoke of often being within sight of each different boats and of the price paid for a damaged or lost sail, mechanical failure or a small deviation from the conventional strategy.
ERDF Des Pieds et Des Mains, an Akilaria RC3, latest generation 2013 Lombard design, had led the attack early on, but lost her big spinnaker by Madeira and was then compromised significantly when her hydrogenerator packed up. Such was the ebb and flow of fortunes in this hungry pack. Vaquita, acknowledged by many skippers to be one of the two or three fastest boats in the fleet, rose from 17th to fourth. But a stop-start-stop Doldrums passage which saw their course slaloming to lose 60 miles and four places, as well as damaging a key spinnaker, proved frustrating at the time for Petter and Hanakamp.
On finishing Hanakamp was resolutely philosophical: “These things happen. I told Christof there that people have been suicidal in the Doldrums, so you take that as it comes, but our one mistake was a long tack to the west when we hoped to get some fresh breeze and that cost us dearly. Next time we will do it all differently. But then later on, one big cloud near Recife and to the west was ERDF and to the east Campagne de France. We stopped and both of them went on.
“We are very confident in our boatspeed. With the team behind us we did a pretty good job, developing boatspeed. In my opinion Tales and this boat are the two fastest on the water. We knew had the right sails for the tight reaching for example and that was an advantage but then everyone sails very well. I think on most of the boats around us there are two professionals and so they don’t give you an easy catch.”
Not unexpectedly the results generally correspond to design and build ages, and crew experience. The 2010 Verdier design Watt&Sea-Région Poitou Charentes was fourth, ahead of the 2010 Finot-Conq Groupe Picoty and the sixth placed 2008 Lombard design. The 2013 Lombard designed ERDF-Des Pieds et des mains was penalised by her problems, while the eighth placed 2013 generation Humphreys Vaquita had little time on the water pre-start.
The next boat to finish should be Campagne de France sailed by England’s Miranda Merron, partnered by Halvard Mabire, and should cross the line later this evening.
Yannick Bestaven, skipper Watt&Sea - Poitou Charentes said "It was a difficult Transat, very tiring, very wearing. There were not many tactical options on these North-South courses. This is a race in which you have to be pushing all the time. We had sustained conditions of often more than 20 knots. Like other competitors, we exploded spinnakers. Fourth place is okay. I do not see how we could have done better given the potential speed of the latest Class40 latest generation (GDF Suez, Tales Santander 2014 and mare). We fought a good fight with Groupe Picoty and SNCF Geodis. We got the fourth place and that is like a little win for us."
Former Mini Transat winner Armel Tripon on SNCF Geodis added: "We race on a second generation Class40 and the class has already reached the fifth. There were two races (or three with those of the first generation ) and on pure speed terms we could not match the first three because they were a step up especially with these conditions of strong winds reaching and downwind. And so we finished third in the second division. We were not in the same race.”
Damien Seguin, skipper of ERDF-Des Pieds et Des Mains said: "It was a great race and long straight but it is not just the case that straight lines are the simplest ! It was difficult and very wet... I think we were like most competitors we were penalized by sail damaged and since the Doldrums with our power. We had to steer all the time. That was our challenge, crossing the Atlantic from north to south without a drop of fuel. We proved we could do it, even with only solar panels when our hydro- generator broke down. On the water, there were several battles, the latest with the Austrians Vaquita. It was intense because nobody let anything go.”
Andreas Hanakamp, co-skipper on Vaquita said: “We had to catch some more boats but the other guys are sailing very, very well. I think there are two professionals on most of the boats around us, so they don’t give you an easy catch. This is the pinnacle of Christof’s racing career so far. We broke the A2 spinnaker quite early in the race which was quite frustrating, and we decided to keep that quiet, during the Doldrums I started repairing it and in the end it lasted in 20kts so that was okay.”