Nineteen monohulls started in light airs gambling for the breeze off Le Havre, France yesterday, with Bernard Stamm (SUI) on Amor Lux taking the initial lead.
The nineteen strong international fleet of 12 Open 60ft and 7 Open 50ft monohulls lined up for the start of the 5th edition of the double-handed Transat Jacques Vabre finally set off from Le Havre, France at 1250hrs (French time) yesterday under a crisp blue November sky.
The official weather expert, Louis Bodin, gave his analysis on the conditions for the beginning of the race in a weather briefing earlier in the day. `We have pretty flukey conditions, a light breeze, less than 5 knots, filling in from the East with thermal effects coming off the coast. A small high pressure bubble is hovering over the middle of the English Channel, and the wind will remain weak for the whole day.'
The fleet were towed out of the Paul Vatine Basin one by one 3 hours in advance and headed out to the start line to the North West of Cap de la Hève. At exactly 1250hrs French time the start was given, and the fleet of 18 crossed closely grouped on port tack. Engine trouble on Olympian Challenger (Taylor/Pajkowska) meant that the Open 50 was badly delayed and had to wait until the fleet had rounded the first buoy to cross the line safely.
As the boats crossed it was 'Bobst Group-Armor Lux' (Bernard Stamm) ahead, followed by 'Sill Plein Fruit' and 'Voila.fr' (Gallay/de Pavant). 'Adecco-Etoile Horizon' (Escoffier/Mace) was the only boat recalled. The 5 - 6 knot Easterly wind in the start area began to die off as the boats headed in fits and starts towards the shore in search of the slightest puff of air.
The inshore course marked out after crossing the line brought the fleet towards the beach off St. Adresse, to round the Paul Vatine buoy to port, then sent them back in a NW direction to the Grande Rade Sud buoy, and finally round the Metzinger Buoy in the Seine Bay.
Three Open 60's soon got clear of the mess of boats to round the Paul Vatine Buoy first. 'Bobst Group-Armor Lux' had eeked out a lead of 9 minutes by the time second placed 'Ecover' (Golding/Hutchinson) turned the mark, with 'Temenos' (Wavre/Paret) a boat length behind. 'Ecover' then found the ENE breeze off the headlands and heeled over slightly, making fractional gains on 'Temenos'. These latter two boats were notably optimised for such conditions.
The First Open 50 in 5th place round the buoy was 'SetraBio' (Denamiel/Amblard), the old Cray Valley, followed by the 60's 'Un Univers de Service' (Merron/Brulé), the ex-Gartmore 'SME-Négocéane' (Sanso/Dumont), and 'This Time' (Tolkein/Wingate). Some 25 minutes after the leader, 'Sill Plein Fruit' & 'Casto-Darty-But' (Moloney/Turner) rounded, trailed by 'Fila' (Laurent/Rufini).
Now, each will have to decide whether to play with the currents near the coastline, or go off in search of a more stable wind mid-Channel but in less favourable spring tide. The beginnings of this race are proving to be extremely tactical and each fraction of a mile will count on the exit of the English Channel, in view of the conditions to come in the next few days.
Positions round the Paul Vatine buoy:
1-Bobst Group-Armor Lux (Bernard Stamm-Vincent Riou) 1316hrs French time
2-Ecover (Mike Golding-Marcus Hutchinson) 1325hrs
3-Temenos (Dominique Wavre-Michèle Paret) 1326hrs
4-Sollac Atlantique (Joé Seeten-Eric Drouglazet)
5-SetraBio (Eric Denamiel-Jean-Pierre Amlard) - 1st Open 50
6-Un univers de services (Miranda Merron-Frédérique Brulé)
7-SME-Négocéane (Eric Dumont-Javier Sanso)
8-This Time (Richard Tolkien-Robert Wingate)
9-La Rage de vivre (Loïc Pochet-Patrick Tabarly)
10-Saving (Renaud Le Youdec-Jean-François Pellet) - 2nd Open 50
11-Sill Plein Fruit (Roland Jourdain-Gaël Le Cleac'h)
12-Casto-Darty-But (Nick Moloney-Mark Turner)
13-Fila (Bruno Laurent-Massimo Ruffini)
14-Branec (Roger Langevin-Henriette Lemay) - 3rd Open 50
15-Voilà.fr (Bernard Gallay-Kito de Pavant)
16-Tredici (Simon Accati-Alessio Stefani) - 4th Open 50
17-One Dream-One Mission (Alex Bennett-Paul Larsen) - 5th Open 50
18-Adecco-Etoile Horizon (Bon Escoffier-Christian Macé) - 6th Open 50
Positions are polled every two hours daily between 0430hrs - 2030hrs and the first set of maps and rankings from 1500hrs French time can be viewed online at : http://www.jacques-vabre.com - click on 'positions'