Nineteen foreign or mixed crews will line up for the start of 8th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre this weekend, amongst a total fleet of 60 boats.
The will be 60 boats at the starting line at Le Havre, France heading to Bahia (Brazil), respectively, on Saturday 3 Novembers for the monohulls (IMOCA and Class 40) and Sunday 4 November for the multihulls (ORMA and Open 50 multi). Among them 19 foreign or mixed crews (French + other nationalities), representing one-third of the fleet. The majority of them are British, followed by Swiss, Belgian, German, American, Canadian, Spanish, Chilean, South African and a New Zealander. All of them picked up monohulls, be it an IMOCA or Class 40, to compete in this race. Let's start with an overview of the IMOCA fleet and a weather forecast for the start.
The IMOCA fleet (Open 60) lines up seven foreign crews (after the late withdrawal of Pindar 60 due to dimasting on her trip to Le Havre) of the 17 entries of the class. Most of the IMOCA skippers participating in the Transat Jacques Vabre this year will be sharpening their skills for the next Vendée Globe (2008) whether on brand-new boats: Ecover
(GOLDING/DUBOIS), Groupe Bel
(DE PAVANT/COL), Generali
(DESJOYEAUX/LE BORGNE), Gitana Eighty
(GUILLEMOT/CAUDRELIER), Brit Air
(LE CLÉAC'H/TROUSSEL) or optimizing their existing boats before their new formula Ones are being delivered: Aviva
(MALBON/TOURELL), VM Materiaux
(LE CAM/MORVAN), Cheminées Poujoulat
With a hull that just touches the water, Mike GOLDING (GBR) and Bruno DUBOIS (FRA) will certainly have a long "to-do list" to deal with during the crossing. But considering their second place at the monohull prologue last Saturday, they will be nonetheless a reckoning force.
And even if some of the newest boats are supposedly in the race to test and validate their development and technical options, they will be under close watch. It also likely that the skippers' competitive spirit will drive them to free up a bit more power than originally planned to stay in the lead.
Berthing next to these brand-new ladies, their older sisters - by one generation - are being expected to set the pace. In the spotlight is "King Jean" (Jean LE CAM) on VM Matériaux
(launched in 2004) and Bernard STAMM (SUI) on Cheminées Poujoulat
(2003). With fully optimized machines, they will be a benchmark for the performances of the new generation of boats. Artemis
(2003 - MALBON/TOURELL) will have to play tactics and weather to keep up the pace. As for Maisonneuve
(2005 - DEJEANTY/LEVAILLANT) she unfortunately never performed. How well the Spanish boat Pakea Bizkaia
(2005 - BASURKO/GANDARIAS) will do is an unknown.
The oldest boats, even though skippered by proven talent, should not create surprises. Launched between 1998 and 2000, their power can no longer match the rest of the fleet. Aviva
(CAFFARI/KING) Roxy (DAVIS/GRÉGOIRE), Akena Verandas
(BOISSIÈRES/CHOMETTE), Cervin EnR
(BESTAVEN/GUÉRIN), and Great America III
skippered by Rich WILSON (USA) and Mike BIRCH (CAN). The latter will celebrate his 75th birthday before the start.
With three days to go before the start for the monohulls, the weather forecast is becoming more and more reliable and the initial phase of the race looks like being a quick one.
On Saturday, the anticyclone will be centred over the British Isles, leading to a northerly flow between 8 and 14 knots. "According to its precise position at the start for the monohulls, there may either be a bit of a westerly hint or an easterly touch,"
explained Sylvain MONDON, the Meteo France weather expert and router for Gitana 11
. "In any case, as time goes by, it will veer slightly to the right. The multihulls are likely to set sail downwind from the outset, with a north-easterly blowing at around fifteen knots."
A thundering start that could well enable the multihulls to catch up the fleet of monohulls, creating a potential traffic jam on Monday evening off the coast of Spain. "After that, things start to get a bit more complicated,"
continued MONDON. "A deep low is forming over the Azores. It will stop the trade wind from blowing in the south, but also right across to Africa. It will be a bit like the Doldrums in the Canaries. It's a wide area at least 300 miles across, with inside it winds blowing at less than seven knots. They could easily start to slow down as they reach the latitude of Lisbon, or in other words on Tuesday for the trimarans, and mid-week for the others."
Transat Jacques Vabre - www.jacques-vabre.com