The Transat Jacques Vabre fleet, from the leading Ultime to the final Class 40, now spans the Atlantic from the latitude of Lisbon, Portugal to Recife, Brazil. MACIF, the pacemaking Ultime, of Francois Gabart and Pascal Bidégorry made 608 miles in the last 24 hours, averaging 25kts. With 1225 miles to the finish line in Itajaí, Brazil, it might appear that the race track is running out fast for their sole pursuers Sodebo Ultim, Thomas Coville and Jean Luc Nélias who are now over 200 miles behind.
But Transat races to Brazil often save a sting in the tail for the last miles. Complex weather patterns close to the finish can promote an ‘injury time’ re-start. This time the meteo for the next 36 hours looks good. But the final 400 miles may yet resuscitate Coville and Nélias’ hopes of winning.
In fact only the IMOCA class is close at the moment. Otherwise a leading delta of over 200 miles is common now to the Ultimes -chasing each other at high speeds only 15-30 miles off the Brazilian coast, to the Multi 50s – just easing through or out of the Doldrums, FenetreA – Prysmian 190 miles ahead, and in Class 40 where the leaders Le Conservateur are now 130 miles NW of the Cape Verde islands and 258 miles ahead of a chasing trio.
The IMOCA class is the cliffhanger, a thriller which looks set to run for the coming days as they sail into strengthening trade winds. So far, today has not been as promised in terms of breeze. The leaders are still seeing a very unstable, ‘lite’ version of a trade wind, so far just seven – twelve knots, going upwind still. Vincent Riou and Seb Col have made a decent gain on this prolonged exit from the Doldrums, moving out to 25 miles ahead. Their PRB leads Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir, Yann Eliès and Charlie Dalin and Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h the second and third IMOCAs which are 12 miles apart on the exact same latitude.
With more than 200 miles between them and a trade wind that is becoming increasingly favourable for the leader in the Ultime category, logically then MACIF should continue to extend her lead in the next few hours. The next 800 miles, which are likely to be covered at high speed (averaging more than thirty knots) but then Cabo Frio – the promontory east of Rio and the Gulf of Rio is currently experiencing downpours and the thunderstorms which are set to continue until at least Thursday evening. In this area, there is a very tricky transition zone to deal with, with the northerly trade winds off Vitória shifting to the SE off Cabo Frio.
MACIF’s Pascal Bidégorry warned: “On a multihull, we know that things can change very quickly, so François and I aren’t getting too excited just yet: the final stretch isn’t the easiest and there could well be upsets.”
For the remaining international co-skippers progress is still on the upswing. Sam Davies, sailing on Initiatives Coeur with Tanguy de Lamotte, is up to fourth in the IMOCA fleet making 6kts in the grip of the Doldrums. Brazil’s Zetra duo Eduardo Penido and Renato Araujo have speculated to accumulate – putting their faith in an easterly passage through the Canary Islands. That has been to the good of British-South African pair Pip Hare and Philippa Hutton Squire who are now up to sixth in Class 40, but were still snared by the voracious high pressure over the Canary Islands which is giving them very, very light airs. Hopefully not a foretaste of the Doldrums for the Concise 2 duo.
Sam Manuard, co-skipper V and B (Class40): “Things are going well for us. We’ve finally picked up a decent trade wind after coming out of the calms we experienced yesterday and the day before. We were quite worried and while Le Conservateur is quite a way ahead, we got away from TeamWork 40. But we still have the biggest part of the course to come. We have three or four days with the trade winds before reaching the Doldrums. At the moment, we’re thinking about which sail combination to use as the wind is steadily strengthening.”
Charlie Dalin, co-skipper Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir (IMOCA 60’): “We hope we are now out of the Doldrums, as it feels like we’re in the SE’ly trade winds. We were a bit disappointed with our day yesterday: we managed to claw our way back, but we missed the train that took PRB off. We’re doing our utmost to get back up there. We’re sailing upwind. The wind is still not very stable in strength or direction blowing at between seven and eleven knots. We hope it will come around soon, as it’s keeping us away from the direct route and we don’t really want to go too far west. We’re going to be upwind for quite some time. We’re in the part of the race course where you have to find a compromise between speed and bearing. It’s quite likely that Banque Populaire will regain ground: in the coming days, the conditions should suit her… It’s really hot inside the boat and when we touch the hull, you burn your hands: whenever possible, we open the boat up to create a draught through her.”
Pascal Bidegorry, co-skipper MACIF (Ultime): “After reaching the latitude of Recife, we’re able to come around slightly. We’re accelerating a bit, but it’s very noisy. We’re at 90-100° to the wind, which is blowing at 18-20 knots, which means we’re stepping up the pace. The wind is however fairly irregular and not very stable. It’s not looking too bad for us in terms of the weather, as we should be able to extend our lead over our friends on Sodebo Ultim’. Cape Frio has a name that suits it well. It will be a bit cooler, but I don’t think we’ll be working our way through the oil rigs that can be found off the coast of Brazil… On a multihull, we know that things can change very quickly, so François and I aren’t getting too excited just yet: the final stretch isn’t the easiest and there could well be upsets.