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28 October 2003, 09:44 am
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Transat Jacques Vabre
Le Harve

It's the calm before the storm, literally. Winds across Le Havre and the basin Paul Vatine where the competitors are moored are forecast to be light, 10 to 15 knots - until this weekend, when a new depression is scheduled to arrive.
The Route:
Exiting the English Channel (48 28 N 5 06 W) - Westerly gales blowing up the channel make for upwind tacking battles out of the world's busiest shipping waters and notorious tidal vaguaries. There could be a North Easterly wind if a high pressure system sits over England, giving the fleet a quicker run out into the Atlantic.

Bay of Biscay - In November, the Bay lives up to its reputation with active low pressure systems whipping up strong westerlies and a rough sea - probably the harshest part of the race.

Cape Finisterre at 42 54 N 9 16 W - The course rhumb line passes off this notorious headland, which can trap any boat that comes too close and has not calculated his route properly. Only a losing tack to the Northwest will get you out and round this promontory. The sailors call the seas in this area 'boat-breaking' as the distance between waves shortens nearer the coastline.

The N Hemisphere Trades - Racing down the coast of Portugal is the fun part, with high speeds maintained by the steady following winds.

The Islands - The rhumb line takes the fleet past the Canaries and Cape Verde Islands, which can either create wind funnels to accelerate the boats or indeed great parking lots to halt their progress too. The tactics come in to play here in order to choose the right route through these obstacles.

The Doldrums & Equator - The toughest part of the race tactically and mentally, weaving through the unpredictable light and squally conditions in the transition zone before the Equator. The sailors attest to the fact that each time is never the same! These days, the high tech and ultra lightweight carbon racing machines never completely come to a stop here, even the lightest breeze can be exploited.

The Southern Hemisphere Trades - The fleet change hemispheres and season, as they enter spring time and benefit from South Easterly winds to propel them to their destination.

The Ascension Island waypoint (multihulls) - After the Equator the fleet splits in two, and the multihulls must head towards the Ascension Islands directly into the SE Trades, so another tacking battle ensues. However, once round, the multis fly directly into Salvador, skirting above the S Atlantic anticyclonic system called the Saint Helena High.

Arrival into Salvador da Bahia - the fleet have to decide whether to play the local winds off the Brazilian coastline or stay offshore for a more regular flux, but the conditions are favourable for the last run into the finish line.

" The Société des Régates du Havre Yacht Club has hoisted on its numerous flagpoles, the flag of each nationality represented by the sailors who have entered the Transat Jacques Vabre, which are the flags of Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Great Britain, Holland, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal Spain and Switzerland.

Giles Paxman, plenipotentiary Minister at the British Embassy in Paris is coming today, invited by Anne de Bagneaux-Savatier, President of the Société des Régates du Havre, to meet and encourage the Australian, British, Irish and New Zealand skippers and crew and their respective teams who are taking part in the Transat Jacques Vabre.
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