The Brest Atlantiques Race, a new double-handed race for the Ultime giant trimarans, started from the Breton port of Brest this morning on a 14,000-mile around Atlantic loop
The four Ultimes set off in a 30-knot north-westerly wind and heavy sea with 4.5 metres waves, and were rapidly reaching boat speeds of 30 knots plus. The start had been originally scheduled for Sunday, but was postponed due to 40-50 knot winds and 8m waves in Biscay.
Macif, skippered by François Gabart with Gwénolé Gahinet, was the first across the line, closely followed by Maxi Edmond de Rothschild (Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier) the Sodebo Ultim 3 (Thomas Coville and Jean-Luc Nélias) and Actual Leader (Yves Le Blevec and Alex Pella).
The descent into the Bay of Biscay has been fast so far, with the fleet some 90 miles off the start after just three hours of racing. They are expected to cross Cape Finisterre, at the north-western tip of Spain, after about ten hours.
The Brest Atlantiques Race is a new concept: a double-handed race on a non-stop circular loop around the Atlantic. After leaving the west coast of Brittany the four Ultimes will sail a transatlantic course to Brazil. The current routing has the fleet crossing the equator in four to five days.
The first 5,000-mile section takes the fleet to the Brazilian coast where they round the Cagarras Islands in the bay of Rio de Janeiro to port. Then they head on a 3,250-mile leg from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town, dipping into the South Atlantic. Ice migrating north at Gough Island means the race organisation has added an ice limit.
Race director Jacques Carraes explained, “I’ve put them a limit that west of Gough Island they can go under 40 degrees, and after leaving Gough Island to starboard they can go to 43 degrees south, but no more.”
At Cape Town the fleet will round Robben Island, before returning north on a relatively less travelled route, the 7,000 miles return from South Africa to Brest.
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Tactically the route is challenging, particularly rounding the St Helena high. However, for this race the skippers are able to utilise unlimited weather routing, just as for a record attempt. Combined with the fact that the boats are being sailed double-handed, this is likely to keep these phenomenally fast boats sailing at a very high percentage of their potential performance.
The other innovation for this race is that each boat will be sailing with an Onboard Reporter, who will be sending back videos to give a hitherto unseen view of life on the Ultimes, which regularly travel at over 40 knots.
Before the start François Gabart (Macif) commented: “We’re going to have to be careful in the Bay of Biscay with some tough conditions, but it’s good to reach the trade winds quickly. We have to find the right pace from the start for the boat and for us.
“During the first few hours, we will always have one of us listening and not far from the helm to try to go fast without forcing the boat.”
Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3) said: “The first day in the Bay of Biscay will be very busy, you have to be very concentrated straight away; there can be no mistakes, it will take a lot of energy from the start.
“I can see what is at stake in these first few hours of racing, it’s not insignificant, but I don’t have any particular worries. We have to pass this Bay of Biscay fairly quickly, after that it’s going to be an absolutely fabulous ride to Brazil.”
Franck Cammas (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) added: “The start will be windy and tonight it will calm down, so we’ll go fast tonight! Until then, we’ll try to be careful, to get out unharmed past Cape Finisterre, there’s no point in attacking from the start, we’re only at the beginning of the race. We can do more tomorrow morning.”
Yves Le Blevec (Actual Leader) concurred: “The first ten hours will be cautious, it will be necessary to balance the need for speed and competition with that of being safe.”
You can follow the race online, with live tracking at: brestatlantiques.com
We’ll have a full report from Brest with insights into this new event and the incredible Ultimes in the January 2020 issue of Yachting World.