Transat Jacques Vabre – International fleet has great expectations.
Ten different nations are represented among the 15 non French skippers who will compete in the 42 boat field for the Transat Jacques Vabre race across the Atlantic from Le Havre to Itajaí, Brazil starting on Sunday at 1330hrs local time. The proportion of non-French skippers remains almost the same compared to the last edition when once again, international racers returned key podium finishes. Indeed the record of non-French skipper in recent editions is good.
In 2011 Britain’s Alex Thomson partnered by Spain’s Guillermo Altadill finished second on Hugo Boss in the white hot IMOCA class, the most recent pre Vendée Globe edition. And in 2013 Spain’s Alex Pella and Pablo Santurde narrowly missed out on winning the highly competitive Class 40 fleet, finishing runners-up to GDF Suez.
This time the fleet includes sailors from the UK, Brazil, Hungary, Spain, the US, Switzerland, South Africa and Italy. For the first time there is an all Brazilian entry, Zetra in Class 40 skippered by gold medallist Eduardo Penido.
The best chances of international success, on paper, probably rest with the Hugo Boss pair Thomson and Altadill who reprise their successful partnership on the brand new VPLP/Verdier design. But while their potential is massive, and Thomson has clearly armed himself with a weapon with which he could win the Vendée Globe, there is nothing to compensate for their lack of time learning the new boat. But they are an exceptional partnership, matured and experienced. Their stated objective is simply to learn and get their boat to Itajaí intact and in good shape.
Correspondingly there is a great chance of the British flagged Concise eight, the Jason Ker design, claiming a podium place in Class 40. Reliability issues with the rudder system have robbed the boat of a good finish in consecutive Transat races, but this has been resolved and tested. This time it is a young British-French alliance which races the boat, highly rated Artemis-Academy alumni Jack Bouttell, best rookie in the 2013 Solitaire du Figaro and 10th in this year’s edition has chosen to sail with France’s fellow Figaro prospect Gildas Mahe to form a very formidable partnership on a renowned reaching rocket ship.
The all girl duo Philippa Hutton-Squire, a native of South Africa originally, and England’s Pip Hare have the older Concise 2. They are a truly experienced duo, Hutton-Squire has 85,000 miles of Class 40 racing on her Resumé including the Global Ocean Race around the world, and Hare has two consecutive Mini Transats. Their 2010 Lombard design is an older generation but they have the skills to finish in the top half of the 14 boat fleet.
The Brazilian duo will be racing ‘home’. Penido won Olympic gold at the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics and is partnered by the less experienced Renate Araujo an entrepreneur whose company are the boat sponsor. They have the 2013 race winning GDF Suez and based themselves out of Lorient training off and on since March with renowned coach Tanguy Legalatin.
Two Swiss co-skipper also make up the Class40 fleet. The first is Alan Roura, skipper of Club 103, who partners Juliette Petres to assist him. After a Route du Rhum which he had to abandon very early, Roura hopes to get to the other side with a boat in good condition. The second Swiss is Nils Palmieri, who is co-skipper with Bertrand Delesne on Team work. Together they combine dinghy and D35 skills with ultra distance and triathlon racing with the holder of the Min 6.50 24hr distance record, 300 miles, a strong partnership.
In the IMOCA class indefatigable Nandor Fa returns to the race for the second time at the age of 63. He finished fourth in 1997 when IMOCA was in its infancy compared to the complex, high tech machines of today. Fa has updated his self designed, self built Spirit of Hungary since a baptism of fire, 11th hour Barcelona World Race. His boat was barely ready pre-start and he and co-skipper Conrad Colman battled technical issues around the globe, sailing the last 6,000 miles with four broken keelbolts not quite knowing if their keel would fall off. Fa described the latter stages of their race ‘like playing Russian Roulette with the boat.
But changes to his daggerboard angles have improved Spirit of Hungary’s performance. His objective is to complete the race with no technical issues at a good speed.
For young Canadians Morgen Watson and Eric Holdon, the Transat will be a baptism of fire whose stated goal is to finish the race first and foremost on their 2006 Owen Clarke. They arrived in La Havre only on Wednesday after their delivery. On a very meagre budget and with next to no real experience as a duo, the pair will draw on their experience winning the last crewed Clipper Round the World Race.
After her Volvo Ocean Race skippering Team SCA, Sam Davies returns to her first love as co-skipper of Initiatives Coeur along with Tanguy Delamotte. Ironically one of their nearest rivals might be her real love, life partner Romain Attainso a French meteo ace and Figarist Romain Attanso. who partners Louis Burton on Bureau Vallée. Both boats are 2006 Farr designs. It will be Sam’s fourth Transat Jacques Vabre.
Two prominent internationals are racing in what might be considered mentoring or coaching roles in the IMOCA class.
The highly experienced and increasingly adaptable American Ryan Breymaier returns to the IMCOA class on Adoptaskipper.net, the Farr designed former Hugo Boss of Vendee Globe hopeful Nicolas Boidevezi. And Briton Sam Goodchild is learning the IMOCA after four years in the Figaro and two Transat Jacques Vabre ABD’s along with adventurer and humanist Eric Bellion who is living out a dream to skipper an IMOCA.
Finally, Giancarlo Pedote remains the only foreigner among the multihulls. The Italian will sail alongside Erwan Leroux on Mulit50 FenêtréA Prysmian. It is a first for Giancarlo who relishes his chance to sail with the twice winner of the Transat Jacques Vabre in 2009 and 2013.
Sam Goodchild, GBR, IMOCA co-skipper Comme Un Seul Homme Stand As One
“I wanted to learn the IMOCA and it was a good way to learn it. We are not at all competitive, but at least you learn the systems and you spend three weeks racing and looking at weather and looking at spares and going offshore and singlehanded learning other stuff but the performance side is not quite what I needed.
Racing wise we are probably in the middle, hopefully, between Canada and Spirit of Hungary and Bureau Vallee. I have no idea how we will do but maybe somewhere in the back five. Eric has no experience on an IMOCA and I have little more so we are learning. And I have not finished two Jacques Vabres so I want to finish one. And Eric is more a humanitarian than a racer and he wants to race.
Jackson Bouttell, GBR/AUS Class 40 Concise 8
“The aim after the start is just to keep the boat in one piece. I think it is: Get out, get into a routine, don’t break the boat in the first few nights. Everyone is going to be all guns blazing at the start line that’s normal and we just have to keep it together for the first bit and just get into a routine and try not to do anything silly. I think if we can get out and we have the conditions we can just let this thing (the boat) do what it does and just let it go.
It is a quick boat for sure but for me it’s a reliability thing this whole race, it’s to keep this thing in one piece and for me I think that’s my goal for this campaign, No-one has actually finished a race in this boat before which is a little bit of a hard thing to get across in your head. It’s the second Jaques Vabres and two years of not finishing races. That has been a really big priority of mine is to make this boat as reliable as possible and I don’t think there is a single part yet that we haven’t pulled off and put back on so we know the boat quite well.
Alex Thomson, GBR IMOCA Hugo Boss
‘We know what we know, but we do not know what we do not know. And now, we need to know! And the best way to find out is to come to the Transat Jacques Vabre and put the boat under some pressure. In terms of performance, we do not even know the boat’s Polars (best speed compared to a wind angle. The boat is three months late. Obviously I would have liked to be at the same point or Edmond de Rothschild Banque Populaire. But it is what it is. We must now learn the performance. “
Nandor Fa (HUN) IMOCA Spirit of Hungary
“Tactically it is difficult to the trade winds. I want to have a fast, reliable race and not to make big mistakes with the weather. We want to keep the boat going at speed and not to be fighting technical problems. The main objective is to finish a race at the speeds the boat is able to do. I think the boat is fast enough. I am not. I am learning still. I don’t want to make big damage to the boat. I think we are good upwind and reaching now, but downwind we have some blanks in our knowledge. The main goal is to learn. I want to race. Peter is a beginner in this kind of race. It would be stupid to put number on it. I was fourth in 1997 but that would be a pink dream.
Philippa Hutton-Squire RSA Class 40 Concise 2
“Our prospects? We would like to finish around eighth. We are a second generation boat. We have not sailed together a huge amount and so we will be learning a bit as we go along. I think we are going to be much faster at the end of the race than at the beginning. We only agreed to do the race at the end of July. We have done about ten or 12 days together on this boat. We did a bit in 2013 and have complementary skills. We don’t bite each heads off, we get on and that is a big thing.”
Eric Holden, IMOCA O Canada. “This is really last minute for us. A couple of months ago we did not have the funds to do this. We did not know if we could or would make it, but it is great to be here. We are the oldest boat in the fleet. We are the least funded boat in the fleet. Expectations are not high but for me it is all about learning for the Vendée Globe. I have not paid my deposit yet but that is the goal.”
“As a duo? Morgan sailed as my watch leader on the Clipper Round the World Race, that was fully crewed. And also we took the boat from Vancouver (west coast Canada) through the Panama Canal up to the East Coast and so we have 15,000 miles on this boat. But two up we just have our qualifying passage. It will be a baptism of fire, definitely. But better to learn with two, than one!”