The early morning (CET) Saturday should see the first Ultime break the finish line off Itajaí, Brasil to take overall line honours in this 12th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre.
With just under 800 miles of racing left the last 24 hours have seen Thomas Coville and Jean Luc Nélias come right back into race leaders Francois Gabart and Pascal Bidégorry, reducing their deficit from a maximum figure of over 250 miles to a margin of 120 miles this Thursday afternoon.
Second-placed Coville and Nélias were on the wrong end of a rich get richer scenario during Tuesday and Wednesday, the leaders on MACIF were scything south into strengthening and lifting breeze. But today the tables turn slightly as the trade winds give way to one final unpredictable, stormy low-pressure system that stands between them and Itajaí.
MACIF were gaining again this afternoon, going slightly quicker, but victory is far from assured for Gabart and Bidégorry, who have 10 Transat Jacques Vabre participations between them.
Bidégorry won the ORMA 60s ten years ago on Banque Populaire while the race has a special significance for Gabart. It is hard to believe that it was only in 2009 that he raced his first big ocean race as co-skipper to Kito de Pavant on Groupe Bel, finishing second in the IMOCA class.
Whichever of the duo do cross the finish line first, the course record for the 5400 miles passage from Le Havre to Itajaí, will not be broken. The 2013 mark 11 days, 5 hours, 3 minutes and 54 seconds of racing set by Sébastien Josse and Charles Caudrélier on the MULTI 70 Edmond de Rothschild expired just after 1700hrs today. Despite being bigger and more powerful than the MULTI 70s the remaining two Ultimes of the four which started, had a slower passage through the Doldrums while the 2013 course was simply a speed, drag race all the way.
Deep disappointment is evident today for the Class 40 duo Thibault Vauchel-Camus and Victorien Erussard whose bottom rudder fitting that attaches the rudder to the hull has broken.
They had only just fought their way up to second place, enjoying a spirited, close battle with Louis Duc and Christophe Lebas on CARAC/Advanced Energies and with Maxime Sorel and Sam Manuard on V and B. Vauchel-Camus and Erussard are due to arrive in the Cape Verde around 1900hrs UTC this evening. But as Vauchel-Camus noted the fitting is not exactly available in the neighbourhood chandlers.
Yannick Bestaven and Pierre Brasseur have a comfortable lead of 260 miles. The seems to be no relief from the light, sticky airs for Philippa Hutton Squier and Pip Hare. They have dropped back to eighth and only made 84 miles in the last 24 hours. Brazilian duo Eduardo Penido and Renato Araujo on Zetra, the class winning boat of 2013, are profiting to the east in better breeze and hold sixth.
The IMOCA 60 leaders seem finally to be emerging out of the Doldrums with a layline for the NE corner of Brazil which remains tight. They have ended up crossing at 32 deg 30 W rather than the usual 27 deg to 30 deg and so will be sailing tighter and higher than they would want to get past this corner. Vincent Rio and Seb Col still lead on PRB by 14 miles.
They did look to be slightly vulnerable to the chasing pack who are more than 180 miles to their east, but Sam Davies and Tanguy de Lamotte on Initiatives Coeur look to have maybe 120 miles of slowed sailing ahead of them and are 220 miles behind the leading triumvirate.
Briton Sam Goodchild and his French co-skipper Eric Bellion continue to profit on Comme un seul homme Stand as 1. They are up to seventh place and have Bertrand de Broc and 2009 race winner Marc Guillemot only 10 miles ahead. That should be an interesting match on two sistership Finot Conq designs – De Broc’s started out as Brit Air, which took second in the 2008-9 Vendée Globe and Bellion’s boat is the ex DCNS.
The capsized 80ft Ultime Prince de Bretagne has been towed upside down to her home port of Lorient, the former submarine base – and will be righted and repaired. From the photos she would seem to have survived the catastrophe, and tow, remarkably well.
From the Boats:
Philippa Hutton Squier (Concise 2): Click here for audio
Giancarlo Pedote (Fenetre A Prysmian, leading Multi50) Click here for audio
Thomas Coville (FRA) co-skipper Sodebo Ultim’: “ There’s brilliant sunshine and we have found some wind again. We’re sailing downwind off Brazil under staysail. Things could be better, but they could be much worse. We’ve been carrying out manoeuvres for an hour and a half and it’s going well. Jean-Luc and I are getting to know each other more and more. We know more about the boat too and are sharing out the jobs. There’s one thing missing. The battle is no longer raging.
‘They made their getaway as they came out of the Doldrums. It was fantastic to go through this duel. We have the impression that we haven’t done badly. We haven’t thrown in the towel. Until one of us has crossed the line, anything is possible, even if the figures don’t look good for us. We’re continuing to fight and we’re enjoying the fact that we’re giving it our all. Early on, the conditions weren’t very strong and we were more at ease than MACIF. In moderate conditions, they have shown themselves to do better. I feared it would be much worse. For a new boat, they still have plenty of things to fine tune and they will probably be faster afterwards.
Our choice coming out of the Doldrums took us further west than planned. It was all down to a gybe off the Cape Verdes when we were in front. We couldn’t have known that we would get stuck for 36 or 48 hours in the Doldrums. When we gybed, MACIF gybed inside the islands some 35 miles behind us, so we found ourselves on the same latitude. They were further east and that proved to be good for them. We decided when to gybe and they reaped the benefit.There’s an area off Cabo Frio where things look light. There may be squalls and a lack of wind. If it stays like that, they could get stuck ahead of us and we could catch up.”
Marc Guillemot (FRA) co-skipper MACSF (IMOCA): “The pressure is on us, as there’s a lot happening here out on the water and in the sky. We’re still racing and are continuing to fight. The conditions are what you expect in the Doldrums. At one moment, everything is fine and then suddenly it’s not. We’re trying to avoid the squalls, so are racing our own way and not following the others. When it’s going well, we are making good headway south and getting closer to the way out. We have suffered a lot since the start. We didn’t have enough time to prepare, so we’ve had to deal with things since – headsails, problems under the water, the fleet antenna that doesn’t work, so we aren’t getting the weather and are sailing like in the old days. The GPS is playing up too. We got hit by so many waves that the antennae really suffered. That’s why on the new boats, they put them inside. We have gradually dealt with all that and have had to work hard to carry out repairs so that now we are in better shape than we were at the start.
There’s a lot of electricity in the air with sparks flying between Bertrand and me. No, I’m only joking! We’re working well together and it’s all going smoothly, which is good, given everything that has had to be sorted out on the boat.”