The storms of the Transat Jacques Vabre race show these accident-prone boats may just be stronger
When the Transat Jacques Vabre race set off from France I wrote that this might be race that demonstrates whether the latest generation of IMOCA 60s is inherently weaker or stronger – or at least not so calamitously accident-prone.
Now we can see the answer.
In spite of the catastrophic damage to BT, I think by and large they are stronger.
Look at the leading three boats. Safran had keel problems in the Vendée Globe. Groupe Bel was dismasted on day two; Mike Golding in the Southern Ocean. Yet by surviving two successive North Atlantic storms in shape to begin racing full pelt again afterwards they have proven to be properly battle-hardened.
The destruction of BT can’t be excused. Whether the root cause is the design, the engineering or the build, the broken coachroof put the two crew in mortal danger – Seb Josse told me the piece punched through into the cabin stretched from front to back and measured “about 4m by 2m”.
The boat was left, he said: “like a cabriolet”.
The same yacht suffered three cracks in the coachroof on the same side during the Vendée Globe, albeit smaller fissures, so one assumes something is seriously wrong here.
As a whole, though, the fleet has been a little more durable. Their fitness in very extreme weather to come out racing hard on the other side is an enormous credit to the preparations of the teams and the modifications they have made, and the experience and seamanship accrued by the skippers. All have had much more time on the water in their boats.
That augurs well for the next couple of round the world races. Most of these now tried-and-tested designs will remain competitive as sponsorship opportunities have shrunk and the replacement cycle has slowed down. Hopefully the Vendee Globe attrition rate will fall back to the ‘normal’ 30% or so.
But it’s an incredibly brutal ask of any vessel to undergo such a bashing and it raises the question of why the race organisers did not add a waypoint to ensure that the optimum routeing would never lure skippers into this area in November.