A bumpy start seems likely and a certain amount of grinding, epoxying and debate is going on behind the scenes
To use the standard cliché for these occasions, it’s the calm before the storm here in Plymouth. The fleet is basking in unseasonably hot sunshine as the final preparations are made to the monohull and multihull fleet, and it’s weirdly quiet. That won’t last. Hundreds of spectators are expected this weekend, to coincide with the arrival of rain and wind. The tentative forecast for the start on Monday is for headwinds of 30-40 knots.
Most boats look well prepared, but as always there are a few last-minute panics. Anne Liardet’s Quiksilver Edition (a boat with a long history that goes all the way back to the 1989 Vendée, when she was Philippe Poupon’s Fleury Michon) arrived without the necessary certification and will have to do a 90° self-righting test this evening.
Much grinding has been going on this afternoon aboard Philippe Monnet’s trimaran Sopra Group after delamination was found on the inside of the port float. Extra help has arrived from help from France to patch her up again.
But things have been even worse for Jean Le Cam and Roland Jourdain, skippers of the new Lombard-designed sisterships, Bonduelle and Sill. These two Open 60s are conspicuously absent from the docks and earlier today it was announced that Sill had withdrawn from the race.
The designer and race team have been unable to cure a persistent problem with the keel since she was launched last month. The carbon fin is said to have been vibrating or oscillating, and the word is that it either delaminated or cracked at point where it is attached to the lead bulb. A new bulb with a different centre of gravity was reportedly tested last weekend, but according to Sill’s PR, the problem hasn’t been solved and designers and structural engineers are still puzzling over it.
“It’s not a question of minimising the risk,” announced Jourdain. “This transatlantic is already sufficiently difficult, even on a boat that’s working perfectly. To do it in a boat that isn’t 100 per cent doesn’t seem sensible to me. Our objective is to do the Vendée Globe, for which we’re already qualified, so I’d prefer to work in an unpressurised way to resolve the problem.”
But Jean Le Cam is in a very different position with Bonduelle. She has the same keel design and the problem has so far prevented Le Cam carrying out his 1,000 mile qualification for the Transat. No announcement has been made about whether she will race or not, but to do 1,000 miles and be on the start line at lunchtime on Monday looks like an impossibly hard task.
The knock-on effect of that is rising talk among the Open 60 skippers, almost all of them focused on November’s Vendée Globe. For Le Cam, no Transat means no qualification for the Vendée. He still has to do one IMOCA class transoceanic race to be eligible, and this is the last such event before November.
Fatalists – or maybe veterans – of the class don’t doubt a way will be found to accommodate Le Cam in November, and a welling sense of unfairness is just waiting to be tapped. The Transat was always going to have an element of Vendée preparation manoeuvring. Now it could also mark the opening chapter of serious politicking.