Three fleets got underway in the Transat Jacques Vabre - but the 40s IMOCAs have been held ashore due to a severe Atlantic depression

Yesterday’s scheduled start for the Transat Jacques Vabre – the double-handed race across the Atlantic from Le Havre to Martinique – partially got away on Sunday 29 October, but the IMOCA class have been held ashore and both the Class 40 and Ocean 50 trimarans are racing only as far as Lorient before pausing to restart. The Ultimes were the sole fleet to set off on non-stop transatlantic.

The reason for the disrupted start schedule is a series of low pressure systems forming in the Atlantic. With a particularly strong depression scheduled to cross the fleet on Wednesday, the decision was made early on start day morning to send the Class 40s and Ocean 50s on a 320 mile passage to Lorient on the French Atlantic coast, where they will be able to pause racing and then restart.

However, the 40-boat IMOCA fleet – many of whom now carry large foils – are not so easily accommodated in other ports and so will be held ashore in Le Havre until conditions moderate. Results will be calculated with aggregate race time.

“We were all prepared to go, until the fleet got a message saying the start will be postponed,” explained IMOCA Medallia skipper Pip Hare yesterday. “Unlike the other fleets we’re not going to do a short leg, basically because there’s nowhere for us to go – all the ports are full. So we’re staying here.

“I think we could be here for a week because we’ve got the monster low that’s causing all the problems, and then there’s another one after that.”

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The challenge for the TJV skippers would have been to make sufficient ground to the south in order to avoid the incoming secondary low – but for almost every IMOCA skipper the Transat Jacques Vabre (and the return solo race, Retour a la Base) are key qualifiers for the 2024 Vendée Globe and so many would have been planning a conservative approach to the early stages of this transatlantic.

The giant ultim trimarans, capable of 700-plus miles per day, are capable of outrunning the approaching low pressure system and so have started their race non-stop.

Despite the IMOCAs being held ashore, the start was spectacular, with five giant Ultim, 44 Class 40s, and six Ocean 50s launching out of Le Havre in tough and gusty conditions.


LE HAVRE, FRANCE – OCTOBER 29 : Ultim boats start the Transat Jacques Vabre in Le Havre, France, on October 29, 2023. (photo by Jean-Marie Liot / Alea)

In the challenging seaway there were some early collisions and overnight the Class 40 Crédit Mutuel dismasted off the coast of Guernsey, while two other boats have paused racing, one after colliding with an underwater object.

By this morning the Ultim race leaders were already nearly 200 miles west of Ushant and setting up to cross the first front into the 15-20 knots north-westerly winds which will set them up for some fast sailing southwards.

Furthest to the north-west, Francois Gabart and Tom Laperche on SVR Lazartigue are likely to get into the new wind first, while Armel Le Cléac’h and Seb Josse on Maxi Banque Populaire lead on the tracker by 8.5 miles.

Gabart said this morning, “We wanted to keep things simple with fewer manoeuvres. It wasn’t easy to get well positioned in winds that kept changing direction. In any case, the routings to the north or south of the TSS were fairly close to each other. We now have the wind behind the front and are on a long starboard tack towards Cape Finisterre.”

Transat Jacques Vabre start delayed: The right decision

Despite the last-minute announcements – “I had my boots on!” one skipper joked – there was support among the IMOCA fleet for the race committee decision to delay the Transat Jacques Vabre start.

“At this time of year a weather front coming up the western approaches and into Biscay is relatively normal, but this one that’s coming in Wednesday is particularly aggressive, it will have a big sea state behind it and as it approaches Finisterre where the continental shelf is that means huge breaking waves, damage to boats, damage to people, and its’ just not a good idea to head out into that,” explained Pip Hare.

“I think in general the response among the fleet is this is the correct decision. Those of us that were looking for bail out options realised there were very few.”


IMOCAs held ashore

Yoann Richomme, who is looking to qualify his new Paprec Arkéa for next year’s Vendée Globe, said: “Yesterday evening, I understood we would be heading out into an exceptionally deep low.

“We can cope with 40-50 knot winds, but here we are looking at 80 knots gusting to 100-115 knots with 10-12m high waves. With the danger to life, there is no good reason to be out at sea. It’s not reasonable to send the boats out in this, even cargo vessels.”

One of the early race favourites, Charlie Dalin with his new Macif, had already confirmed that he was not going to compete due to a medical issue.

Dalin planned to cross the start line and then retire due to a health issue, as there is provision within the Vendée Globe rules for a new boat to gain qualification miles even if a medical or technical issue prevents them for completing the course.

However, the majority of IMOCA skippers will be looking to complete two transatlantic in the next few weeks and will be watching the weather forecast carefully.

Regular updates are being posted on the official Transat Jacques Vabre website.