Fleet faces tough conditions during Le Havre to Costa Rica transatlantic race

Wednesday 2nd November

After being held in the docks of Le Havre’s Paul Vatine Basin
for an extra three days or so at 1500hrs on Wednesday 2nd November, the 35 duos of the
Transat Jacques Vabre transatlantic race to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
were unleashed for a fast and furious ride west out of the Channel,
ready to encounter the remainder of the malicious low pressure system
which delayed Sunday’s schedule start.

With nearly 30kts of SE’ly wind blowing on the start line, memories
of the bonus rest period in Le Havre – or at home for some – were blown
immediately away.

A notable change to the weather had the chill of winter’s onset in the
air but the heat of competition was ignited by the start gun.

A rapid transit of the Channel is expected after a fast, wet first night at sea.

Indeed the sun was already low as the fleet passed the General
Metzinger mark, four miles offshore, downwind from the start line and
the excitement of the start was all but gone.

It promises to be a long, dark night as the weeks and months of
anticipation and preparation give way to the intensity of keeping tabs
on the competition in each of the classes on the drag race speed test
which will offer little in the way of big strategic choices before the

There are the busy shipping lanes and the obligatory traffic separation
zones to deal with. The freshening breeze was due to send the fleet
into big, contrary seas from the NW, propagated by the very depression
which held them since Sunday. Key in the early stages is not to break

Early honours count for little on the long passage to Costa Rica. It
is not the first four miles that count but the final metres.

But it was both of the fleet’s multiple class winners which shone on
the headlong downwind dash to the General Metzinger buoy, the only real
mark of the course on this side of the Atlantic. Such is the anticipated
speed over the first week of the course that much of the time lost
waiting since Sunday’s start might be regained before the finish line in
Costa Rica.

Three times running victor in the Multi50 Class Franck-Yves Escoffier on Crepes Whaou! with Antoine Koch was narrowly ahead in the multihull division.

But it was the start of the IMOCA winner in 2003 with Nicolas Abiven
and 2005 with Loïck Peyron – Jean-Pierre Dick, racing with Jérémie Beyou
on Virbac-Paprec 3 which was impressive in their choice of
course to the mark. Under masthead A3 kite and one reef which allowed
them to pass just ahead of the charging PRB of Vincent Riou and Hugues Destremeau which arrived from a higher, slightly slower angle.

On the first position report at 1700hrs CET/Paris the two leaders PRB and Virbac-Paprec 3 had been quickest with a small half mile lead over Kito de Pavant and Yann Regniau on Groupe Bel. Britain’s Alex Thomson, sailing with Spain’s Guilermo Altadill on Hugo Boss – the Farr designed winner of last year’s Route du Rhum – lay fifth, Switzerland’s Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret on Mirabaud seventh and Mike Golding and Bruno Dubois on Gamesa eighth.

The need to keep everything tight and under control was highlighted when both Cheminées Poujoulat and Banque Populaire
suffered gennaker problems in the minutes surrounding the start leaving
both on the back foot. Both had to recover wayward sails from the water
and had to race under genoas until they could sort out their respective

In the tight fought Class 40 Yannick Bestaven and Eric Drouglazet on
their unmistakeable red and white Tyker Evolution 2 design Aquarelle.com
got an early jump from a great start and superb downwind speed which
slingshot them to a lead of over one mile on the first position report,
ahead of the tightly matched Akilara 40 RC2 pair of Comris Pole Santé Elioir of Thierry Bouchard and Gilles Berenger and the young British duo of Ned Collier Wakefield and Sam Goodchild in third place on Concise 2 tussling over second and third with nothing to separate them.

Tonight passing the Cherbourg peninsula there will be a front to
deal with giving winds of around 35/40 knots, heavy rain and big seas,
when the challenge really comes to maintain maximum speed without
jeopardising craft or equipment.

” It will be just a straight boat speed race for the first bit,
the first 36 hours, then a light winds patch, so it will be important to
be near the front. The people who get into the new breeze first will
extend. We have to cross the high pressure in a couple of days, the
4-5th Nov, everything looks quite simple.”
Summarised Alex Thomson, the Hugo Boss skipper.

Our full report on the Transat Jacques Vabre will be in the January issue, on sale 8th December.

For more information visit the TJV site here

Photo © B.Stichelbaut