Forecast winds of 55-60 knots force Transat Jacques Vabre organisers to delay start

The weather charts made it quite clear. Had the 35 teams in the TJV fleet started on time earlier today (Sunday 30 Oct) at 1302 CET they would have barrelled headlong into a huge and deep depression that is currently sweeping across the Atlantic.

With a forecast for sustained winds of 45 knots, gusting to 55-60 knots in heavy seas associated with a (8 to 10 m) behind the cold front, due to slam into the fleet by Tuesday and last for 24-48 hours, the decision was taken to postpone the start of the race.

“It’s a decision taken as a sailor,” said race director Jean Maurel, “which takes into account the participation of all three classes. We wanted to maintain the overall integrity of the whole fleet ”

The start is postponed to a date to be announced later depending on the evolution of this depression. But it will not be set before Wednesday.

Click on the picture thumbnails above to see the UK Met Office weather charts showing the depression and its complex array of fronts.

“This is a very big storm that was described to me in a weather routing file as being of ‘historic proportions’ and I think it [the delay] is a wise decision,” said Gamesa’s skipper Mike Golding. “We have got so many boats here, so many different types of boat and we don’t want to divide the fleet, we think it best if we all set out together.”

The Transat Jacques Vabre fleet is divided into three divisions. Ready for the start are 13 IMOCA 60s (60-foot oceanic racing monohulls), 16 of the smaller Class 40s and then six Multi50s, 50-foot long multihulls. The pontoons have been buzzing with chat about the weather conditions, with the IMOCA 60 skippers voting last night to gauge opinion on whether it would be safe to set out for the start today, 30 October 2011.

Golding commented, “The weather pattern has been changing in the last five to six days, but it hasn’t particularly worsened, but I think we were all hoping it would improve and it hasn’t. As a result there is no avoiding the storm, there is no way to escape it, the only way we can route ourselves across the Atlantic through that storm is to sail right through the middle of it. And although that sounds mad, that actually was the only option that was survivable because sailing to the south of it was going to be horrendous.

“We would be looking at very large seas, very strong winds, in excess of 65-70 knots [over 60mph] at times, large seas in excess of 15 metres and ‘confused’ sea conditions because it is quite a tight centre as the storm rolls across. It is boat breaking conditions.

“As a racing sailor, your only option is to slow down completely and just survive it, but of course with the pressure of the race, it is very difficult to do that and there is a great temptation to keep going. It puts all the sailors in an impossible situation. On the one hand they want to compete, but on the other they want to survive. That is not really what yacht racing is all about. It’s about measuring your sailing skills against the other guys’ sailing skills. It is not a war of attrition or a race for survival.”

Golding and his co-skipper onboard Gamesa Sailing Team, Bruno Dubois, went out racing today and competed in a ‘prologue’, a non-point scoring 13 mile race just off the Le Havre in the English Channel. On his way back in through the Le Havre lock system Golding commented, “Gamesa felt good, and everything is working, which is always a good sign. When we were in the zone and we were quick so I think at one point we were last and then ended up taking a few boats and closing up with some pretty good boats like Groupe Bel and Boss but we are obviously not quite as practiced as Safran, Bel and PRB. All in all, a good outing. And now tonight we’ll test our speed around the go-karting track!”