The formidable line-up set to leave Plymouth Sound in The Transat on 31 May, has swelled by a further two boats this week in the form of Karen LEIBOVICI'S Open 60 Atlantica and Défi Vendéen, with André JANTET taking over the helm.
Including these two new additions, 40 boats are now entered in The Transat. The line-up now comprises twelve 60ft multihulls and eighteen Open 60s, compared to seven trimarans and nineteen Open 60s in the race's predecessor, the Europe 1 New Man STAR in 2000. While in the 50ft classes there are five multihulls and five monohulls, compared to two multis and seven monos four years ago. The tally of Open 50 monohulls is respectable this year considering there is still some doubt over the participation of the 50 foot monohull class in the Vendée Globe. Although, new skipper André JANTET will be hoping this class will become eligible to compete in the solo, non-stop round the world race starting on 7 November.
Karen LEIBOVICI raises the tally of female competitors taking part in The Transat to three. As with Catherine CHABAUD and Ellen MACARTHUR in the race four years ago, the Open 60 class will once again have two female skippers, although sailing two of the oldest Open 60s (1989 Anne/1991 Karen) they are unlikely to repeat MacArthur's class win on Kingfisher in 2000.
Leibovici cut her teeth in the Mini class winning the Mini Fastnet in 2001, finishing ninth in the Transat 6.50 Charentes Maritime-Bahia later that year. She is racing the 'red cigar', Jean-Luc van den HEEDE'S famous yawl. This finished second in the 1993 Vendée Globe and was raced around the world four years later by Catherine Chabaud. Her opponent is racing a boat of a similar vintage. Sailmaker Anne Liardet has had a more lengthy if more sporadic career in single-handing having competed in both the Mini and Figaro classes, famously racing the 1990 Route du Rhum on a trimaran while pregnant with her second child. This time her Open 60 is the former Fleury Michon raced in the first two Vendée Globes by veteran single-hander Philippe Poupon and, subsequently, as UUNET that Philippe Monnet sailed solo, non-stop around the world westabout in record time in 2000.
This week has seen the qualifications continue in both the ORMA and IMOCA classes. Bonduelle and Norbert Sedlacek's Austria One have both been undergoing the IMOCA's class' extreme stability tests. One of these involves the boat (with its mast removed) being turned upside down while the skipper is inside. With the boat fully inverted, the skipper must show he can right the boat from inside. This is achieved on Open 60s with relative ease by gradually canting their keel.
To date 14 of the 40 competitors have successfully qualified for The Transat, the latest being Mike Golding's Open 60 Ecover, the ORMA multihulls of Philippe Monnet's Sopra Group and Marc Guillemot on Gitana X, and Jacques Bouchacourt's Open 50 OKAMI. At present Branec III, TIM, Great America II, Atlantica, Sodebo, Groupama, Gitana XI, Objectif 3, UUDS and VMI are attempting their qualifying passages.
Those not qualifying this week in the 60ft classes are preparing for their first races of the season. The inaugural 2004 Grand Prix for the ORMA multihulls starts on 30 April in La Trinite-sur-Mer. Eleven boats are entered including Yves Parlier's extraordinary new catamaran Médiatis Région Aquitaine, making her race debut. A week later on 9 May is the start of the Open 60's 1000 Mille de Calais offshore race. Twelve boats are currently entered in this including the brand new Marc Lombard Open 60s of Bonduelle and Sill.