A new course for the ninth edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre presents a whole new set of challenges for the 14 IMOCA Open 60 teams and the six Multi 50 crews who will start Sunday.
The IMOCA Open 60 fleet leave the island of the Dominican Republic to starboard en route to the finish off Puerto Limon which sets them a theoretical course distance of 4,730 miles, while the Multi 50 class sail an extra 370 miles, making a total of 5,050 miles as they pass south of Barbados. The idea is that the monohulls and the multis should finish at around the same time.
This Transatlantic route appears much more of a direct, straight line route, removing the challenge of the Doldrums and the 'corner' of Cape Finisterre but instead the final 12-1300 miles could, under certain circumstances, could offer their own Doldrums.
"In fact because we can pass the island of Dominican Republic on starboard side the game is very open, very wide." Suggests the reigning Transat Jacques Vabre winning skipper Michel Desjoyeaux (FRA) of Foncia,
"In the beginning when I started to look at this race, I felt we would be in very light air at the finish. We can have light airs, but it is not the most common in Puerto Limon. The standard weather situation is a low pressure just west of Columbia, so we should have East or North East wind, maybe 15-20 knots to the finish line. That is the common wind, so perhaps a little more straightforward than going into Salvador. If this small low pressure moves to the west or north west, then we can have no wind, just the waves to push us along from the back."
"Arguably there are not that many options," suggests Andrew Cape (AUS), weather advisor to Hugo's Boss Alex Thomson (GBR), "Traditionally it is a relatively straightforward route. Either you go south for the trade winds, or you just go a great circle route, working the weather patterns fronts as they traverse across the Atlantic. You sail upwind on the south westerly breeze til the front goes over, tack and go more towards the course. Once you are committed towards the great circle route, you are forced into a life of upwind and tight reaching. On the trade winds route you get south if the trade winds are strong and you get nice downwind sailing and you are happy. Typically that does not work and you are going against the shift to use the trade winds. It is usually best to work the fronts and get into the trades as you can, more in the west, in this case Dominican Republic."
"The final bit is really the only bit which could go bad. If there is a ridge there, or behind a front if there is no wind. Then, a boat which worked the trades might be better off. But usually you pick your time, get down the trades and into the Caribbean."
"It is a more challenging route than to Salvador. That is no very much a stock standard, well travelled route, working mainly south in the trades but a little bit west to get through the Doldrums. On this one if you are sailing the great circle you can get some very windy upwind conditions at times."
"The start looks OK which is a relief, because you don't want to leave here in a very strong SW'ly which happens a lot at this time. So the boats might get away in a N'ly and wait for a day or two until the first front approaches."
This edition of the race, for the first time, offers the option for crews to use Stealth mode, or as the French are calling it 'Furtive' mode. This self imposed blackout allows them 24 hours to do their own thing in secrecy. They must inform Race Direction before 08:30 and then they disappear for 24 hours between the 11:00 position reports.
The Multi 50 fleet are attracting great interest around the Paul Vatine basin. Today Yves Le Blevec (FRA) and Jean Le Cam's (FRA) new Actual was officially launched. Drawn with a blank sheet of paper approach by Guillame Verdier for Le Blevec, winner of the last Transat 6.50, the main foils - the central daggerboard and the rudders were made using the tooling from Safran and the Bonduelle trimaran. The other two new boats in the fleet are Franck-Yves Escoffier's (FRA) Crepes Whaou, which is from Vincent Lauriot Prevost and built by CDK in Cherbourg, and Prince of Bretagne which is from Nigel Irens and Benoit Cabaret which has the rudders and foils on the floats.