Amongst the 82 skippers entered in the Transat event, there are 32 international competitors flying colours from 11 countries outside France: England, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, New Zealand, Switzerland.
This X anniversary edition of the race holds all the records for participation, and in particular the record for the number of international skippers. Starting from humble beginnings with just 13 boats in 1993, and now 10 years later boasting 41 in 2003, the Transat Jacques Vabre is growing at pace as well as internationalizing. The Mayor of Le Havre, Antoine RUFENACHT, has commented with some humour: "We must limit these ambitions though, because the basin is full to brimming this year - there are a maximum number of boats inside."
Within this unprecedented fleet, a large number of skippers come from outside France. Birch, Bourgnon, Golding, MacArthur, Ravussin, Soldini and Stamm are names as well known in France as the French skippers themselves. Emma RICHARDS, the only female skipper of an Open 60 monohull 'Pindar', is delighted to be racing for the third time in the Transat Jacques Vabre: "More sailors from abroad, younger competitors and lots more women - it's fantastic!"
She will be in direct contention with one other female Brit, Sam DAVIES, co-skipper on 'Team Cowes'.
And alongside those competitors who return time and time again are those returning to defend their titles, such as Australian Paul LARSEN, winner of the Open 50 monohull class in 2001: "I always lobby people wherever I go to get them excited about the Transat Jacques Vabre and tell them to have a go too! I'm thrilled to see other Australians around me in a French race."
This time round he is sailing with British round-the-world skipper Conrad HUMPHREY'S on Open 50 'Hellomoto'.
Great Britain is one country heavily represented with a maximum 9 skippers competing in all four classes from Ellen MACARTHUR in the Open 60 multihulls to Ross HOBSON & Andi NEWMAN on 'Mollymawk' in the Open 50 multihulls. Italy is one country with just a single entry. Skipper Giovanni SOLDINI commented: "I am usually the only Italian but really I feel more European than anything else these days."
A nation winning coveted victories in both America's Cup and Around Alone is the land-locked Switzerland. "I don't just sail on the lake!"
Yvan Ravussin joked. Fellow Swiss Bernard STAMM lives in France, but sails his Open 60 monohull with pride under the red and white flag: "My heart is still Swiss!"
The Spaniard is back - Javier SANSO finished just outside the podium in 2001 and has returned to skipper the same Open 60 monohull, now called 'Objectif 3': "I am really determined this time to get on the podium!" He will have stiff competition from the same skippers who kept him out of the top three in 2001, including Brit Mike Golding on a new 'Ecover' and Australian Nick Moloney on 'Team Cowes', who are also back to try for the coveted winner's trophy again.
Lastly, there are two teams forging an Anglo-French 'entente-cordiale': in the Open 60 multihull class Alain GAUTIER sails with Ellen MACARTHUR on 'Foncia', and in the Open 60 monohull class 2001 winner Roland JOURDAIN'S co-skipper is British round-the-world skipper and the new owner of 'Sill', Alex THOMSON. These two British skippers are both sailing with French sailing 'legends', as Thomson says: "This is a golden opportunity to race with 'Bilou' and learn from the master himself on board his winning boat, which I now own. I still hope to bring my own talents to the mix."
These 32 international skippers are not just representing a record, but also a symbol of the evolution of the great offshore races. "The growth of international entries and sponsors is important for all of us, for the races themselves and the sport of sailing in general,"
stated Emma RICHARDS. Nationality is only relegated by the spirit of competition, as every competitor, regardless of origin, will be racing against each other. Paul Larsen concludes this statement: "We are all here to win!"
Full details and further information are on the event website at the address below.