From the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre in Le Havre, Artforms had taken a commanding lead of the seven strong Open 50 fleet until a ripped mainsail in the stormy Bay of Biscay forced them to make a two day pitstop in Lorient overnight between the 7-9 November to replace their mainsail with the old one. Definitely the biggest comeback in the story of this race, Artforms went from first to last place, setting off over 400 miles from new race leaders Gryphon Solo.
Kip and Merf then 'picked off each boat in turn' by taking an early option to position themselves way out West of the Canaries and Cape Verde islands, elongating their route to stay in the strong NE Trades, but avoiding the weather 'potholes' that the boats ahead got stuck in even before the Doldrums.
After tackling the Doldrums ('I never want to go through the Doldrums solo!' declared Merf on the pontoon!), they went on the attack and managed to overhaul the French 50 Vedettes de Bréhat, skippered by 24yr old Servane ESCOFFIER and experienced solo circumnavigator Bertrand DE BROC, and their duel to the finish became the closest match in this race just this morning with only 5.7 miles in it 2 hours before the finish.
'Servane and Bertrand, they were tenacious, they put that boat in places we thought there was no wind last night, we sailed by the book, they didn't and they nearly had us right at the end, my hat goes off to them!' said Kip, with caipirinha in hand. 'Never have I wanted to finish a race in all my life, 'Merf continues, 'I could have kept sailing even after the BT Global Challenge finish, but this time, I really wanted to stop, it's been so hard, so competitive, but also so much fun to do together. I want to do more two-handed racing in the future but definitely not going to go solo!'
Camaraderie and competitiveness were evidently the best motivation for the British and American skippers, who by now had started to finish each other's sentences as they were finally able to look back and laugh about a race that had them gripped for over 20 days round the clock. 'We just got into a good rhythm of watches and sailed like two solo sailors,' said Kip. 'Well, we just ate, slept, sailed, ate, slept sailed!' they laughed in unison. 'We were pretty frazzled mid-way through the race, we'd just gone all out those first few days as we knew we had to reach point X at a certain time or we'd miss the weather window, so we trashed a lot of sails at the start and pushed the boat to the limit. We learnt in this race, you really need two Code 5 sails, tip for the top there!' Merf concluded.
And will they be back to contest the Transat Jacques Vabre again and try to even the score with friendly rivals Joe Harris & Josh Hall? 'We've got 23 months to lick our wounds and then we'll be back, we'll see if we can get it right next time!' Kip smiled.
No sooner than their first caipirinha was downed, their French rivals on Vedettes de Brehat cruised across the finish line 65 minutes later at 17:52:02 GMT to take third place after 20 days, 3 hours, 52 minutes and 2 seconds at sea at an average boat speed of 8.97 knots. The young Servane ESCOFFIER, cousin to Kevin ESCOFFIER, winner of Open 50 Multihull class, and Bertrand DE BROC, finished 18 hours, 46 minutes and 17 seconds behind winners Gryphon Solo. Their goal achieved, 'to enjoy the race and go for a podium place.'
Servane ESCOFFIER was overcome on arriving to such a huge welcome from everyone at the dock - including her uncle Frank-Yves and cousin Kevin ESCOFFIER from Crepes Whaou! 'This race was extremely enriching. My first Transat Jacques Vabre with my Dad was a family 'outing', but this time with Bertrand, it was a real competition 24 hours a day, we never stopped thinking about the boat, the boat, the boat…I learned so much and I got more and more into the rhythm of the race each day. There were highs and lows, that's what I love about sailing, one moment everything is against you, the sea is a monster, the boat is uncomfortable…then the next day you're surfing under spinnaker, and then you know you're doing the best job in the world! I wouldn't change anything that happened in this race, it's hard to explain, but a podium position in the end is a result.'
American co-skipper Ryan FINN celebrated Thanksgiving on Polarity Solo crossing the Equator with his partner British skipper Paul METCALF thanks to Mumm champagne providing the requisite tipple. The Anglo-American skippers are now sailing in the SE Trades towards Salvador, 600 miles and counting, where they hope to finish before the deadline on Monday evening, 28 November. Now 88 miles behind Top 50 Guadeloupe and in fifth, Paul emailed in his latest log yesterday: 'Close hauled for another 750nm - hoping for a wind shift that's for sure! We could duck to the East of the Fernando de Noronha islands but it's an unknown quantity in terms of wind shadow and sea state so we are close hauled to clear the islands and pick up the Easterly (dare we hope North Easterly?) winds closer to the coast. Our competitors Top 50 seem to be heading much further West and it looks like they intend to leave the islands to port, we can't match them for boat speed on that point of sail so rather than cover them we are staying as high as possible to leave the islands to Starboard. Still a wind shift would be nice please Neptune!'
IMOCA Open 60 Update
Brazilian home team of Walter ANTUNES and Raphael COLDEFY finished eleventh in the Open 60 fleet after crossing the line at 1517 local time (18:17:31 GMT) just after the second and third Open 50 monohull arrivals. They covered the course in 20 days, 4 hours, 17 minutes and 31 seconds at an average boat speed of 8.96 knots, arriving 6 days and 18 hours after the winners. Galileo had to make a 3 day pitstop into Vigo, Spain to repair a broken goose-neck, which broke in the Bay of Biscay storm. After deciding to rejoin the race and rally home, the NE Trades were not as well established for them as for their competitors ahead and so their voyage was frustratingly elongated.
A 'braziliant' welcome was nonetheless laid on with a full samba drum band beating away, fireworks and flags flying, and a very emotional family homecoming it was too. No sooner had Walter and Raphael sipped their first caipirinha than they jumped into the water to properly mark their arrival. Walter commented, 'The biggest satisfaction in the whole race is to finish in my home port in Brazil! And also that we managed to repair our damage just the two of us in Vigo. This race was incredibly hard, and frustrating for not having the same wind as everyone else after our pitstop. Now it's time to celebrate with my family as I've missed them so much!'
Open 50 Monohull Class 2
1st - Gryphon Solo (J. Harris / J. Hall) at 23:05:45 GMT after 19 days, 9 hours, 5 mins 45 seconds at an average boatspeed on theoretical route of 4,340m: 9.33 knots
2nd - Artforms (K. Stone / M. Owen) at 16:46:51 GMT after 20 days, 2 hours, 46 minutes and 51 seconds at an average boat speed on the theoretical route of 4,340m: 8.99 knots; 17 hours, 41 minutes 6 seconds behind the winner
3rd - Vedettes de Bréhat (De Broc / S. Escoffier) at 17:52:02 GMT after 20 days, 3 hours, 52 minutes and 2 seconds at an average boat speed on the theoretical route of 4,340m: 8.97 knots; 18 hours 46 minutes 17 seconds behind the winner
The Four Winning Teams in the 2005 Transat Jacques Vabre
Open 60 Multihull: Pascal BIDÉGORRY and Lionel LEMONCHOIS (Banque Populaire)
Open 60 Monohull: Jean-Pierre DICK and Loïck Peyron (Virbac-Paprec)
Open 50 Multihull: Franck-Yves and Kevin ESCOFFIER (Crêpes Whaou !)
Open 50 Monohull: Joe HARRIS and Josh HALL (Gryphon Solo)