Banque Populaire XI in charge in the trade winds

After passing Madeira, out of a high pressure ridge and speeding up in the Trade Winds yesterday, the five ULTIMS on the Transat Jacques Vabre race from Le Havre to Martinique are now into good weather with pleasant seas. The leaders are speeding south to the Cape Verde Islands which they are expected to pass today.

Armel Le Cléach and Tom Laperche on Maxi Banque Populaire XI, which gained the lead yesterday off Madeira, is still in front clocking up speeds of around 35 knots and extending their lead. In conditions that are ideal for higher speeds, the duos on are working hard to get the most out of their machines, which continue to impress everyone as they make their rapid passage down through the North Atlantic. In these trade winds, they can rely on the autopilot. The chase is on as they head towards the Doldrums which they should reach tomorrow on their way towards the islands of São Pedro and São Paulo which lie almost exactly in the middle of the Atlantic on the axis between the NE corner of Brazil and Sierra Leone in Africa.

“The sun is coming up. It’s nice, as we are in our T-shirts with the little fan going in the bunk. We have 1.5m high waves with at least 20 knots of wind getting up to 25-27. The boat is speeding along at full pelt, dancing around and slamming down violently, which is her normal behaviour.” Aboard Actual Ultim 3, Anthony Marchand was describing the situation as they approached latitude 20°N. In spite of the relatively straightforward conditions they need to be on high alert.

A bit of stress at high speed

“There is a stressful aspect to this,” confirmed Marchand who has the support of Thierry Chabagny to keep up the pace set by the boats ahead, which are all capable of higher speeds because they are newer than their boat which was previously the first maxi tri Macif. “Just now, we reached a peak speed of 40-45 knots. Everything vibrates and creaks. You can feel that the boat is working hard. She raises herself up on one float from time to time taking us high up on one hull. This means a lot of trimming and quite a bit of stress. We settle into the watch seat. We have a wheel, which we keep turning to control the trim. We are under autopilot and we take care of the altitude we fly at.” 

In third place in the rankings, the pair on SVR Lazartigue, which lost the lead off Madeira, are still hard at work. At this point in the race to Martinique with the gaps widening and narrowing as the ULTIMs advance, it is all down to the little details. In permanent contact with Jean-Yves Bernot and their weather team in Concarneau, François Gabart and Tom Laperche, who are now just over 90 miles behind the leaders on Maxi Banque Populaire XI, they have plenty to do. Particularly as Sodebo Ultim 3 is ready to pounce too, very close in terms of distance to the next waypoint slightly off to the East.

“François and I are seeing each other more often, as the watches are shorter, so that we can stay alert, explained Tom, who admitted that in this race where speed is all, finding a precise trajectory is the key factor. “At the moment, we are having a lot of discussions with the routers. We’re talking about the trade winds, how they vary. People often think that in the trade winds it is easy, and you don’t have to do much, but when they are variable, you need to gybe and manoeuvre,” added the young sailor. The tracker shows that aboard the blue giant, they were busy this morning tacking away to get in line with those in front as they head for the Cape Verde Islands, in order to avoid the wind shadow and stay in the NW’ly winds blowing at around twenty knots.

712 miles in 24 hours for Maxi Banque Populaire XI

The fleet is clearly so much more closely matched than before. And now tactical plays are key, with the crews maintaining speeds of 30-35 knots without any apparent problems. Charles Caudrelier and Erwan Israël would not disagree, as they are keeping up the pace in second place aboard Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. It is now a matter of dealing with attacks from those behind, while trying to cope with Maxi Banque Populaire XI getting away from them after covering 712 miles in the last 24 hours. Chasing and being chased at the same time, they have put their foot down on the gas.

Looking ahead to the Intertropical Convergence Zone that they should all be entering tomorrow more towards the west, this Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre is so far going smoothly for the five ULTIM boats as time slips by with each passing island. After the Cape Verde Islands today, on Sunday they are expected to pass São Pedro and São Paulo, the Brazilian islands in the middle of the Atlantic, which are quite close to the Equator. Yet more proof of just how quickly these flying maxi-multihulls are sailing.

Visit the TJV website for tracker.

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