One of the premier offshore races in the world, the Transat Jacques Vabre is a great race to follow for anyone with an interest in offshore and shorthanded racing

The Transat Jacques Vabre is one of the ultimate tests of short-handed racing, a double-handed dash from France that sees many of the world’s top racing machines take on the North Atlantic in often brutal winter conditions. The 2023 edition will start on Sunday, 29 October almost exactly 30 years after the first edition of the event back in 1993.

Huge Transat Jacques Vabre fleet

The competitors taking on this gruelling ocean sprint are a true ‘who’s who’ of offshore sailing. The numbers are impressive, 190 sailors, 95 boats, 17 nationalities and 77 race first-timers are set to take part in the event for the first time.

Fleet sizes are similarly massive with fully 40 IMOCA 60s registered and 44 Class 40s. Add in six Multi 50s and an incredible five giant 100ft foiling Ultime trimarans, and you can quickly see that the 2023 Transat Jaques Vabre is a collection of some of the absolute best offshore sailors in the world.

Charlie Dalin onboard his new Macif was once again the stand out performer in the 2023 Fastnet Race

Incredible IMOCA 60 line-up

With just one year to go until the Vendée Globe this race is a key part of many teams’ preparation programme – and with many still to get their full qualifying mileage under their belts it is a vital part of qualification for a good number of sailors. Most of the new IMOCA 60s that have been built to challenge for the 2024 Vendée Globe are now on the water, so this represents a great barometer for where each team sits in the pecking order.

It’s hard to look past Charlie Dalin in the his new Macif IMOCA. The Frenchman, who has dominated much of the racing in this fleet in recent years, won his first big race on the new boat, the Fastnet Race, earlier this year. He will once again be sailing with Pascal Bidégorry and the two have proven a very effective team.

In the Fastnet Dalin and Bidégorry where pushed hard by Yoann Richomme and Yann Elies on Paprec Arkéa and there is little to suggest this will not be the case again with both teams looking very fast, and very sorted.

Elsewhere Thomas Ruyant‘s For People is back on the water having suffered some structural issues on the Fastnet Race and the two-boat team of himself and Sam Goodchild, sailing For the Planet both look set to be contenders. But in truth there’s a plethora of top teams any of which could make a podium. Despite a disappointing Fastnet, it would be foolish to write off Jérémie Beyou and Frank Cammas sailing Charal, for example.

Plus several of the IMOCAs that took on the fully crewed The Ocean Race are now back in their shorthanded racing set ups and with plenty of racing miles under their belts, they should be contenders. Included in this list is Boris Herrmann’s Malizia-Seaexplorer, which took the 24 hour record during the race. He will be sailing alongside Britain’s Will Harris and the pair look a formidable duo.

Tricky conditions for the giant 100ft Ultimes exiting the Solent at the start of the 2023 Rolex Fastnet Race. Photo Rick Tomlinson/RORC

Five foiling Ultims

The Ultim trimarans represent the fastest and most advanced foiling offshore designs ever created, and an astonishing fleet of five will be racing in this month’s Transat Jacques Vabre, all looking to blast across the Atlantic at speeds approaching 40-knot averages.

Fresh from a Fastnet Race win, the fastest man to sail around the world, François Gabart, will be racing his impressive SVR-Lazartigue once again with Tom Leperche, the pair looking to get another win over their rivals, former Vendée winner Armel Le Cléac’h, who will sail with Seb Josse on Banque Populaire XI.

Not taking part in the Fastnet this year, the Gitana entry of Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, will be skippered Charles Cauderlier with Erwan Israel and in a class where results can be up and down, this boat probably has the strongest pedigree of the lot.

Probably the most tried-and-tested of the foiling designs is Sodebo Ultime 3, skippered by round the world record breaker Thomas Coville, and Thomas Rouxel. So far absolute top performances have been somewhat lacking for this boat, but she is fast and will be fighting at the front.

It seems surprising to say it, but the oldest and least technologically advanced boat in the five-boat fleet is Actual Ultim 3, previously designed for Gabart upon which he set his round the world record. Anthony Merchant has taken the reigns of this foiling Ultime and will sail it alongside Thierry Chabagny. It might not be the absolute latest design, but it is a tried and tested foiler with plenty of potential to fight it out at the front of the fleet 

The 7,500-mile Transat Jacques Vabre course

The Transat Jacques Vabre is now 30 years old, having first run in 1993 and every two years since, though the concept of the route is far older – the race course traces the historic coffee trading routes between France and Brazil used by clipper ships in the 19th century.

After starting in Le Harve, this year the finish is now in Martinique in the Caribbean, as opposed to the old finish in South America, with a mid-Atlantic turning mark of Trindade, off Rio de Janeiro, added for the fastest Ultime trimarans bringing their race distance up to 7,500 miles.

Meanwhile the Ocean 50 multihulls and IMOCAs will round a mark off the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, in a nod to the race’s historical destination, covering around 5,800 miles, and the Class 40s pass the Cape Verdes before heading to Martinque, around 4,600 miles.

However, the race is often decided in the opening miles, with the Bay of Biscay in late October/early November often delivering brutal, sometimes boat-breaking conditions.

Plenty of Brits will be cheering on Sam Davies. Photo: Yann Riou – polaRYSE

International line-up

Though the French have been the dominant force in shorthanded offshore racing for as many years as most can remember – and remain the nation with the strongest hold on the sport – international entries have come a long way in recent years. Gone are the days that events like the Transat Jaques Varbe where almost exclusively French event with a handful of international entrants taking part.

The 2023 edition has 17 sailors from different nationalities taking part, with the IMOCA 60 fleet featuring 26 non-French sailors.

For British fans there’s plenty to keep you interested as Pip Hare gets to stretch the legs of her newly relaunched Medallia who will be looking to show what her new-to-her boat can do after a disappointing Fastnet due to damage. She’ll be sailing alongside fellow Brit, Nick Bubb. Sam Davies will also be one to watch in her brand new IMOCA Initiaves Coeur 4.

There will be plenty of people watching Sam Goodchild to see if he and Antoine Koch can back up their impressive early races in Thomas Ruyant’s old IMOCA. If form so far this year is anything to go on he should be right at the sharp end of the fleet, despite only graduating up to the IMOCA 60 in the last year.

Elsewhere, Brit Alan Roberts will be once again sailing alongside Clarisse Cremer as the Frenchwoman looks to qualify for the next Vendée in Charlie Dalin’s old Macif – now rebranded for her title sponsor L’Occitane en Provence – and with extra British incentive on this team as ex-Vendée star, Alex Thomson heads the team behind the scenes.

Long-time followers of British offshore racing will be interested to see Mike Golding back on the water as he takes on this year’s TJV alongside Jingkun Xu on Singchain Team Haikou.

Follow latest race developments, including the live tracker, at:

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