It is always comforting for race pundits to come to the start of a yacht race and be able to predict with some ease who is going to win. Sadly here in Le Havre the day the monohulls start of the Transat Jacques Vabre and one day before the multihulls leave this is anything but possible. The fleet in both monohull and multihull classes of this two handed race across the Atlantic to Cartegena, Columbia is looking formidable.

The monohulls

In the Open 60 fleet many eyes are on the new Sill Enterprises, the brand new Marc Lombard designed sistership to Catherine Chabaud’s Whirlpool. Both she and Whirlpool have large cabintops, as is the modern thinking in this class, to ensure boats right from a full capsize, but while Whirlpool has a fixed rig, Sill Enterprises has a rotating wingmast. Controversially she has the same trawler-style booms as boats such as Aquitaine Innovations and Mike Golding’s Team Group 4 – to widen her shroud base and therefore use lighter rigging – but her’s are mounted from the cabintop and not the foot of the mast. In theory under ISAF rules this makes them outriggers and not ‘deck spreaders’ and therefore illegal.

Skipper of Sill Enterprises is Roland Jourdain, a multihull sailor who has competed in two Whitbreads and countless Figaros. Crewing for him is three time Figaro Champion Jean le Cam. The two are among the most experienced short-handed sailors in the fleet.

There are two strong British contenders for line honours in this class. Since he went aground in New Zealand, Mike Golding’s Team Group 4 has been undergoing some intense development with the help of former Whitbread, America’s Cup and ENZA New Zealand crewman, Ed Danby, now Golding’s shore manager. Danby is crewing for Golding in the Transat Jacques Vabre.

Team Group 4’s foils have been moved 2m aft, enlarged and made less asymmetric in order to work in a wider variety of conditions and the shape of the keel bulb has been modified. The mast used in Around Alone has been replaced by their lightweight spare and the diamonds are now in the high tech, lightweight aramid PBO. The team are now using Tom Hutchinson, instead of the French company Chien Noire for their rigging. Much work has been going on with their sails at the Incidences loft in Brest following some wind tunnel testing in New Zealand. They have also replaced their Profurl alloy roller furling gear with a lighter weight one-piece carbon furler. Aquitaine Innovations has had a carbon furler similar to this for some time, and one has recently been fitted to Fila.

Josh Hall entered his sistership Gartmore Investment Managers in the Transat Jacques Vabre at the eleventh hour. Crewing for him is up and coming solo sailor Alex Thomson who recently scored a resounding victory in the Clipper Round the World Race. Thomson has brought along First Call as a sponsor and hopefully this will not be their first and last foray into short-hand sailing. Hall was dismasted in Around Alone and has replaced his spar with a similar, but hopefully better one, from the same builders, Alucarbon. His rigging is once again lightweight PBO, a clear indication that Hall is convinced his dismasting in the Southern Ocean was a failure of the mast rather than the relatively unproved PBO rigging.

Solo sailing starlet Ellen MacArthur is crewing for Yves Parlier on board Aquitaine Innovations while her new Open 60 Kingfisher is under construction at Marten Marine in Auckland. Aquitaine Innovations and GEB (formerly Christophe Auguin’s Groupe Sceta) are the only boats in this fleet from the old generation of beamy, flat decked and small keeled Open 60s of the type which have a tendency to capsize and stay that way in the Southern Ocean. Parlier is unquestionably the most experienced Open 60 sailor in the fleet, but last year suffered a severe parascending accident which nearly cost him his life. Even now he is by no means as mobile as he was. Hopefully MacArthur will