Never in the history of ocean racing has a course attracted so many Open 60ft trimarans, nor so many potential winners. The Transat Jacques Vabre starts tommorrow, the race being from Le Havre, France to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.
The entire multihull armada and with it the skippers of the moment are all lined up along one side of the docks in Le Havre, a truly impressive sight in itself. In addition, there are several unknown factors, all of which makes it difficult to predict the podium. Will the new generation boats live up to their potential against the proven competition? Will the human factor survive the challenge, which is for two people to harness the power of these sophisticated carbon fibre formula one machines using simply their own muscle? Will they flirt with the African coastline to cut the corner on the way to the Ascension Islands and so risk getting stuck in the Doldrums? One thing is clear: that the objective is to go as fast as possible in the right direction, knowing that the smallest error can be fatal. This Sunday at 1250hrs (French time) a race certain to enter into the pages of sailing history will commence. Here are the protagonists taking centre stage…
The route is complex. 5,300 miles of salt water to cover, one natural mark in the shape of the Ascension Islands to round just to add an element of surprise, the unpredictable Doldrums to cross for the first time in this course, and the hazardous English Channel and Bay of Biscay to negotiate. What is harder is to review the background of the fleet, some of the skippers have CV's as long as a day without wind.
Loick Peyron is at the helm of his new Fujifilm, launched in April this year. The structural problems and then dismasting of this new generation trimaran has served to ring a warning bell for the other multihulls launched this season: Belgacom (Jean-Luc Nélias/Michel Desjoyeaux), Sergio-Tacchini (Karine Fauconnier/Franck Proffit), and Fila (Giovanni Soldini/Olivier Lozachmeur). Will these stand the test of the oceans, let alone the pressure of the competition? There are notably three highly successful and proven trimarans on the track. Quebec-St. Malo 2000 winner, 'Groupama' (Franck Cammas/Steve Ravussin), Challenge Mondial Assistance 2001 winner 'Kingfisher-Foncia' (Alain Gautier/Ellen MacArthur), and Europe 1 New Man Star 2000 winner 'Eure et Loir' (Francis Joyon/Thomas Coville), the latter known to excel in seriously strong conditions. Other front runners are 'Bonduelle' (Jean Le Cam/Jacques Caraes), 'Banque Populaire' (Lalou Roucayrol/Yves Parlier) and 'Biscuits La Trinitaine/Team Ephytharm' (Marc Guillemot/Yann Guichard), the latter bouncing back with a brand new mast and hulls, after suffering serious damage during the Challenge Mondial Assistance.
There are two more boats in the fleet that like to win: 'Nautica' (Yvan Bourgnon/Yvan Ravussin), the double Route du Rhum & 1997 Transat Jacques Vabre winner as the ex-Primagaz of Laurent Bourgnon, and 'Banque Covefi' (Betrand de Broc/Pascal Bidegorry), the 1999 race winner as Peyron's ex-Fujicolour II. Last but not least are two multihulls with a prestigious racing pedigree: 'Gitana IX' (Thierry Dupret/Francois Denis), a winning trimaran back in the '80's, and 'Pindar Systems' (Emma Richards/Mikaela von Koskull), none other than the ancient Pierre Premier of Florence Arthaud, which won the Route du Rhum in 1990. This duo are the sole all female crew in the multihull fleet, and, even if they have no pretensions to victory compared to their newer, more powerful rivals, as Emma said, "everyone knows that you have to get to the finish to win." And with that said, this Transat Jacques Vabre for the multihull division, starting tommorrow, will be anyone's game.