Today started at 0300hrs local time when in the pitch black of Brazilian night a lot of excited French people descended upon the Centro Nautico da Bahia (CENAB) to welcome in the victors of the Transat Jacques Vabre - Groupama.
The 'green flash' trimaran came into view as dawn rose, heralded by champagne coloured clouds and a smooth sea, the nearest to a red carpet Franck CAMMAS and Franck PROFFIT will get for their convincing victory in this edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre. They crossed the finish line in Salvador de Bahia on Sunday 16 November at 0810hrs and 41s GMT, or 0510hrs 41s local time. For the second year running Groupama has taken the crown, covering an actual distance 4,624m in 10 days, 23 hours, 10 minutes, 41 seconds at an average speed of 17.57 knots on the water. For Franck Proffit it is his second victory as he was co-skipper with Loick Peyron on Fujicolour which won in 1999.
Franck Cammas' words: "The race was shorter but much harder than the last time. There were a lot more weather systems to play with, strong upwind, downwind - and we got fairly trapped by the calms in the Doldrums too when the boats behind didn't have it so bad. Although the last tack in is an easy solution in terms of strategy, it's the least comfortable one. Well, it was great to arrive this morning, physically we felt as if we'd just been in a night club dancing til dawn - we were both awake and on deck for the last 48 hours of the race. In fact the whole race has been physically tough, we didn't eat our first hot meal until 4 days into the race! This victory is sweeter than the one in 1999, because it was one which we had to fight much harder for. She's a great boat, but in a race where pure boatspeed was crucial for the last part and with Belgacom hard on our heels for the last 2 days, we know that she's not as fast as the others now. But the team had to put her back together after my capsize in the Rhum and they deserve this victory as much as we do."
At 0922hrs and 42s GMT Belgacom slid across the finish line to the sound of fireworks and samba drums from the CENAB pontoons, to finish second, just 1 hour, 12 minutes and 1 second behind Groupama. Helmed by Jean-Luc NÉLIAS and Loick PEYRON, Belgacom had been storming in at high speed thanks to well established SE Trade winds and eating into Groupama 's lead all night, and if the race had been any longer the result may have been different. The turquoise tri covered an actual distance of 4,675m in 11 days, 00 hours, 22 minutes, 42 seconds at an average speed of 17.68 knots on the water. A great final result for what is sadly the end of the Belgacom Sailing Team project.
Jean-Luc Nélias' words: "We had a much better first part of the race, the boat is simple, intelligent and we were looking very dominant. Then our descent to Madeira was not so great, and we got blocked by the weather, and then lost control over Groupama. We fought hard in the Doldrums and came out second and the rest of the race was like skiing on new powder! This was our Transat, for us two to enjoy, aside from the commercial pressure there has been about the end of the sponsorship by Belgacom. We would have liked the race to be longer, who knows what will have happened, but those guys on Groupama weren't born on the last wave! Now we are hoping the keys to this 2yr old boat may attract another sponsor soon…the rest of life starts tomorrow!"
The last spot on the podium was well fought and won by mixed doubles of Karine FAUCONNIER, the first lady in the race, and Irishman Damian FOXALL on Sergio Tacchini, who kept a lot of other hounds at bay, not least Géant (Desjoyeaux/Jan), and spent a measure of the race in second place, to deserve their third place overall. Arriving at a more civilized hour of 1220GMT and 28s across the line and 4 hours, 9 minutes and 47s after Groupama, Sergio Tacchini covered an actual distance of 4,700m in 11 days, 03 hours, 20 minutes, 28 seconds at an average speed of 17.58 knots on the water.
And they kept coming like the Number 19 bus - next up in fourth place the giants stormed in at 1527hrs 31 s GMT. Michel DESJOYEAUX and Hervé JAN on Géant covered the course in 11 days, 6 hours, 27mins and 31 seconds at an average speed of 16.05 knots. They arrived 7 hours 16mins 50s behind Groupama.
Just in is fifth placed Biscuits La Trinitaine (Guillemot/Guichard), whose best ranking in the race was third, but lost the Doldrums battle and will have to be content to finish just outside the top rankings. They crossed the line at 1730hrs GMT (TBC)
As the trimarans fall into line on the way in to the finish, Banque Populaire continues to accumulate more speeding tickets of over 600m in consecutive 24hr periods, Sodebo has become un-sandwiched from Gitana by 74m now and Foncia (Gautier/MacArthur) have moved up a place to tenth and the Anglo-French mixed team has their sights on Sopra Group (Monnet/L. Bourgnon) just 45 miles up ahead. The weather is no longer a factor and it's a straight line in so it is becoming less likely that any of these positions will change now in the final 24 hours of the multihull class race.
Banque Populaire, helmed by Lalou ROUCAYROL and Pascal BIDEGORRY, may not be taking the crown in the Transat Jacques Vabre but they will surely win the overall Baume and Mercier trophy for the most miles covered in 24hrs. They have been on the rampage for the last day, and consistently clocking over 600m over several position reports yesterday evening. The most miles recorded in one 24hr period was 613m, but they still have time to beat the current record held by Yvan Bourgnon of 625m with 260m to the finish in perfect conditions as Banque Populaire maintains an average speed above 20 knots. As a result, the trimaran moved into 6th place in the rankings.
Monohull Open 60's & 50's
Virbac (Dick/Abiven) leads still with 419m to go and a consistent 130m advantage over second placed Ecover (Golding/Thompson). With the Trades firmly in place all the way to the finish, bar an unforeseen technical incident onboard, Jean-Pierre Dick and Nicolas Abiven look set to take their first major offshore victory in their brand new Farr 60.
So, while a lot of people start making phone calls to the Farr design office, the real excitement of the race is being played out on 600m of battlefield, where the English and French are in their final scrum against each other - but also in the same boat. Feeling the pressure this morning, Ecover's Golding and Thompson found Jourdain and Thomson just 4 miles behind them after a fast overnight run on the red rocket ship Sill. Neither boat is compromised right now as both are on optimum points of sail, Ecover sailing tighter and faster to the West, and Sill surging ahead on a close reach. The wind sways in its loyalty, switching from one to the other every few hours, and the two-hourly position updates show incremental gains or losses between both boats throughout the day. This will continue until the final corner is reached tomorrow, where the last 200 miles will be the decider.
With no words today from the Brits on Ecover, Alex Thomson on Sill made his comment on what lies ahead: "It's just so close, I think it's going to be a real nail-biter of a final between Sill and Ecover. If the last miles turn out to be a spinnaker run then hopefully we'll be able to cream in ahead as they have no spi's left, but we'll see, they are sailing higher and faster, and are not yet showing any signs of slowing up."
Both boats are expected in on Tuesday morning - but in which order is yet unknown for sure.
Behind these two and fourth placed PRB (Riou/Beyou), VMI and Team Cowes have been polled with exactly the same distance to go twice today, as the Anglo-Aussie pair of Moloney and Davies keep to their Westerly option, now fully free from the Doldrums. Sam Davies doesn't give up for one moment even though they are down 4 miles on VMI at the 1700 GMT poll: "We are on 100% form, sailing as fast as possible to the finish. Our race is not over, VMI and PRB have a better angle to the wind right now and they are a little faster. We need to hang in there until the breeze frees us so that we are still in touch for a final attack at the finish."
The Trades are well established for the rest of the multihull arrivals and they will continue to come in fast and straight. The gaps between any of the trimarans will not change from now on so close into the finish.
For the monohulls, Tuesday will be their day to hurry on in with the same regularity of trade winds. However after Virbac it is still not clear what the order will be down the rest of the rankings as the boats remain within a few miles. So the weather will play no further part in this battle, it will be down to pure boat speed as to which boat prevails.