The Transat AG2R La Mondiale race from Concarneau in Brittany to St Barts in the Caribbean is turning into a thrilling test of stamina and nerve with the leading seven crews looking set for a fight to the finish for the podium places.
After 17 days at sea the front of the fleet is still tightly-congested with seven boats separated on a west-east axis by only 47 miles with just over 1,100 miles of trade wind racing still to sail to the finish.
With a split in the front-runners between three boats to the north led by Cercle Vert (Gildas Morvan and Alexis Loison), three in the middle led by AGIR Recouvrement (Adrien Hardy and Vincent Biarnes) and a lone southerly boat, Gedimat (Thierry Chabagny and Erwan Tabarly), the lead is constantly changing hands and it is certainly too early to try to predict a winner.
Yesterday the 33ft Figaro Beneteau II one-designs were surfing downwind at 7-8 knots and their tired crews were starting to think about the endgame in the tropical heat of the mid-Atlantic.
All the crews have commented on the amount of weed in the water, which can slow the boats when caught on the keel and rudder, and some say they have been through patches of rough water where the easterly wind was working against the current. All are aware that gear failure now – especially sail damage – could make the difference between a podium place and an also-ran finish.
On AGIR Recouvrement Adrien Hardy was predicting a very close finish. “One can imagine a finish with four boats contesting it at St Barts,” he said. “We must try to limit our losses compared to the others but the Atlantic at the moment is a real boiling pot.” He said his boat was being stalked by black clouds under which there is usually less breeze.
On Gedimat further south, Erwan Tabarly was hoping to regain lost miles on AGIR Recouvrement and has been dreaming of success in his sleep. “These long voyages are conducive to dreams,” he said.
“You dream that you are going faster than the others; and you dream about the finish and reaching St Barts. The middle weeks of these races are always a bit longer but the last week will go fast.”
On Artemis, the sole British boat in the 15-strong fleet, West Country sailors Sam Matson and Robin Elsey – both alumni of the Cowes-based Artemis Offshore Academy – have been managing a battery charging problem and have had to turn many of their on board systems off for long periods to save on power. They also tore a spinnaker but have now repaired it.
Running in sixth place in the northerly group of boats, 47 miles behind the leader, Matson believes a top-five finish is still possible. “Getting into the top-five is not completely impossible,” he said. “There is still a long way to go and conditions look more and more complex as we approach St Barts.”
At the back of the fleet Stephane Jadaud and Tolga Pamir on Free Dom Services a Domicile in 13th place, more than 900 miles behind the leading group, have just completed an unplanned four-hour stop at Mindelo in the Cape Verde islands where they loaded up with diesel, water and food and were able to give their boat a quick check over. “We had 45 knots of wind in the harbour – when arriving and leaving – which was pretty full-on,” said Jadaud.
When the crews set sail on April 3rd and began heading south across the Bay of Biscay there were predictions that this could be a record-breaking race with the first yachts reaching St Barts in under the existing fastest time of 19 days. This would mean a finish on Friday which is now out of the question with the routing showing the earliest finishers are likely to cross the line on Sunday or Monday.
by Transat AG2R La Mondiale, sail-world.com