Seb Josse and Jean Francois lead the TJV Imoca 60 class, but it is tight at the front of the fleet

In the Transat Jacques Vabre, it’s still a very tight match at the front of the fleet, but this morning BT emerged as the leading boat with the unveiling of the first position report.

Getting ready to take a major beating, Seb and Jeff have prepared the storm sails, tidied up the boat and lifted up the collars of their foul weather jackets – so to speak. The North – South divide is starting to be blatant on the race course, but for the moment it’s difficult to foresee the outcome of that first tactical match. “We have to wait a few days to know who made the best choice,” commented Seb, “for the moment the idea is to get through the rough weather safely.”

Things certainly have evolved overnight, and while former leader Foncia was diving South BT managed to claim first place, sailing fast on a NW heading in wet conditions. As Jean-François reported in an email sent early this morning, “Another beautiful starry night, after the front passed, but to be honest it’s not easy to see the sky with all the spray coming on deck, it’s a real high-pressure wash. Today on the menu, downwind conditions, nice!!! Then we’re in for more hairy reaching and back upwind.”

Averaging between 15 and 18 knots yesterday, BT slowed down a bit around midday and but was still noticeably faster than her three closest rivals in terms of distance to the finish – respectively Aviva, Groupe Bel and Veolia Environnement. 1876 has entered Stealth Play, hiding her position from the opposition for 24 hours, and that move hasn’t surprised a lot of people, Yves Parlier being known for his radical options and bold choices.

But as Sébastien pointed out during the official call with the race organisers, at this stage the focus is more on ‘surviving’ the nasty blow that the fleet is about to take. “It’s been demanding, a bit of a struggle with several fronts to deal with, but it’s going to be even tougher during the next 72 hours. We’re expecting a fierce low pressure system, with around 45 knots of wind and oncoming waves. So the plan is to adopt a low profile, and we’ll assess the tactical situation afterwards. For the moment, I don’t see any obvious solution, everyone’s position is pretty much the logical evolution of the way they were placed upon exiting the Channel. We naturally keep an eye on the whole fleet, not only the boats around us but also the extremists. This morning we had Groupe Bel and Veolia in sight, so of course we tend to check what sails they have up, the angles they’re sailing at… but without ever losing sight of the bigger picture.”

Transat Jacques Vabre race Director Jean Maurel stressed this morning that things were indeed still very unclear: ‘I plotted two routings, one from BT’s position and one from Foncia’s, and 6 days from now there is no difference between the two option’, he noted. Unfortunately, the rough weather is a major factor in the few days to come and will probably take its toll on the fleet. Brit Air already paid a high price, wiping out and tearing the mainsail track above the second reef – Le Cléac’h and Troussel are forced to head towards Concarneau in Brittany, and do not know yet if they will resume racing or if the repairs are going to be too costly in terms of time.

Dee Caffari, onboard AVIVA, was wishing for warmer weather: “Yesterday we were sailing downwind under Code 3 with Groupe Bel joining us for breakfast. We gybed away from her to go west with the leading pack and I see this morning we are still together. The downwind conditions are all over for a while for us as, when the darkness descended, the wind direction changed and we are now sailing upwind. Life at an angle, and bouncy too, makes even the simplest of things difficult. The sail changes have been plentiful and we are close to being as small as we dare, three reefs in the mainsail and the staysail up. Walls of water are crashing over the boat. They feel icy to exposed hands. The most wind we have seen has been 40 knots in a squall but the wind is pretty steady at 25 – 30 knots. Today’s big plans are to tack and finally get to head south for a while. I hope the temperatures warm up and also for a little less wind to make conditions pleasurable once more.”

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