'To finish first, first you must finish...' is an old adage in ocean racing and during the Transat's 2800 mile course from Plymouth to Boston there is a good chance the boats will come in for considerable punishment as they sail into gale force conditions
Aware of this the skippers and their shore teams are spending much time prior to the race attempting to ensure their vessels can withstand the rigours of sailing the 'wrong way' across the North Atlantic and do not have to limp home prematurely through gear failure.
There are few better ways to shake out any bugs and weaknesses than to go racing and last weekend off the Breton haven of La Trinite-sur-Mer the ORMA 60ft trimarans had their first Grand Prix of the season. Held over three days this eight race series proved to be a two-way battle for first place between Karine FAUCONNIER's Sergio Tacchini and Franck CAMMAS' all conquering Groupama. Going into the final race Fauconnier's trimaran held a three point lead, but after a disastrous start they finished eighth handing victory conclusively to Cammas.
In the regatta Sergio Tacchini and Groupama won all the races with the exception of the coastal race on Saturday afternoon in which Michel DESJOYEAUX's Geant came out on top. During this action-packed race the wind piped up to 25-30 knots and the trimarans were clocking peak speeds of more than 35 knots, their crews hanging on for their lives as they were blasted by water flying off the leeward bow. If there were any weaknesses in the boats, then this is when they would come to light and sure enough Alain GAUTIER'S Foncia was forced to retire with a split mainsail.
The Grand Prix demonstrated Sergio Tacchini and Groupama to have a fractionally better turn of speed than their eight competitors (Yves PARLIER'S new catamaran did not take part in the regatta). Sergio Tacchini in particular have improved their upwind ability over the winter through lengthening their daggerboard and this will prove an advantage come the Transat. While useful, this performance advantage when sailed fully crewed will be less relevant come the Transat as single-handed the performance of the boats will rely much more on the ability of the skipper to keep the boat going in the right direction at maximum speed without breaking.
Shakedown For The IMOCA 60s
Six of the Open 60s will be undergoing a similar test when on Sunday [9.5.04] they set sail in the 1000 Mille de Calais race from Calais to the Fastnet Rock and back via Dover. Again, this race is fully crewed and will be a good shakedown for The Transat starting in a little over three weeks. The race will include Britain's Mike GOLDING on Ecover and will be the first outing for the Marc LOMBARD designed Sill and Bonduelle, skippered by Frenchman Roland JOURDAIN and Jean LE CAM respectively.
Meanwhile the qualifications for The Transat continue. This week has seen many of the leading Open 60s complete their 750 miles passages including Vincent Riou's PRB, Around Alone winner Bernard STAMMS Cheminées Poujoulat-Armor Lux, Sébastien JOSSE' VMI, and Jean-Pierre DICK'S Transat Jacques Vabre winner, Virbac.
Of the 67 boats that started the 1992 Europe 1 STAR the race for line honours was among a competitive group of 60ft trimarans, all with French skippers. In the late 1980s the larger 75ft and 85ft multihulls were phased out due to escalating costs and 60-footers had become the new Class 1.
The all-star cast in the trimaran fleet included Loïck PEYRON on Fujicolor, Florence ARTHAUD on Pierre 1er, winner of the 1990 Route du Rhum, the previous winner Philippe POUPON on his new Fleury MICHON and rising start Laurent BOURGNON on Primagaz. Equally capable of winning, were Philippe MONNET back from his single-handed sail round the world, Paul VATINE on the 1988 winning trimaran now renamed Haute Normandie, Francis JOYON on Banque Populaire, Jean MAUREL and Hervé LAURENT.
With harsh conditions following the start the trimaran fleet divided with Joyon heading north, Vatine south and Bourgnon and Peyron taking the middle course. Over the course of the first week, the conditions took their toll with Bourgnon, in the lead, suffering a broken mainsheet track, while Arthaud capsized off Newfoundland and Poupon had long since dropped out because of a broken daggerboard. Peyron, meanwhile, put his foot down near the finish and came in with a 30-hour lead over Vatine's Haute Normandie.
One of the surprise performances of the race came from Yves PARLIER, sailing Cacolac d'Aquitaine, formerly Christophe AUGUIN'S BOC Challenge winner, who impressively finished just over a day after the trimarans setting a new monohull record of 14 days, 16 hours and 1 minute.