After ten days in Brest, the four maxi-trimarans of the Ultim Class 32/23 are all set for the start of the double handed Brest Atlantiques race, leaving tomorrow at 11am.
The 14,000-mile non-stop loop, or the equivalent of sailing halfway around the globe, will see the trimarans round an island off Rio de Janeiro and then Cape Town before returning to Brest. Depending on how the teams tackle the strong wind and sea conditions, the descent into the Bay of Biscay could be extremely fast, with the first boats expected to reach Cape Finisterre in just ten hours.
When the sailors arrived at the final skippers briefing on the eve of the start of the race, their faces were a picture of concentration; more serious than they have been over the course of the past ten days in Brest. The four maxi trimarans are expected to complete the race in around thirty days.
On board, the four teams made up of two top sailors (each accompanied by a media man in charge of sharing the day-to-day life on board), have between them achieved 21 round-the-world races, world records, and victories in all the greatest sailing races, ranging from the Vendée Globe and the Route du Rhum, to the Volvo Ocean Race and the Transat.
These extremely experienced sailors are ready, and once they’ve set off will work to find the right balance between the desire to go fast and the need to protect the boats, as the conditions for the first day look set to be tough, explains Race Director Jacques Caraës: “On the starting line, located between the western cardinal of Sein Island and the committee boat Le Rhône, the forecasts give an average wind speed of 24-25 knots in a north to north-westerly direction, with gusts up to 35-39 knots. It’s important to note that the direction of the sea will be at a 120-degree angle. The conditions will be testing but we know that the sailors are strong seafaring competitors, who will have to keep alert for the first eight to ten hours to get through the initial part of the race safely.”
They obviously intend to play it safe, based on what they said on the eve of the start: “We're not going to do anything stupid. We must not forget that we are leaving for a marathon, the Bay of Biscay is only a small 10-hour sprint,” sums up Charles Caudrelier, who teams up with Franck Cammas on the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. “It requires us to be at the top right away, that's what makes the exercise complex, but also very interesting, and that's why we've been training for years,” adds Thomas Coville, who has the latest maxi-trimaran launched with Sodebo Ultim 3 on March 18th (his co-skipper is Jean-Luc Nélias).
This crossing of the Bay of Biscay to Cape Finisterre, in a sea that will gradually become more manageable, should take around ten hours. The rest is likely to be fast surfing, since the four maxi-trimarans should then benefit from ideal conditions to go fast, or even very fast. The current route takes them to the equator in just four and a half days! “Once we get out of the Bay, it's party time!” smiles Yves Le Blévec, skipper of Actual Leader (he teams up with the Spaniard Alex Pella). François Gabart, teamed with Gwénolé Gahinet on the Trimaran Macif, reminds us however that: “The conditions will certainly be easier, but it is far from gentle to sail at over 40 knots..we will also have to be careful.”
Yves Le Blévec (Actual Leader): “We should have an angle of 120 degrees, and a windspeed of 30 knots for the start – super-fast conditions for our boats and on top of that, two additional factors to take into account are that we get gusts of up to 40 knots, and that the sea is going to be particularly rough. We will set off carefully and not push too hard seeing as we have 30 days at sea. We're going to have to be restrained for this short part of the race.”
François Gabart (Trimaran Macif): “Given the conditions announced on Tuesday, we are just focused now. It's going to be a little challenging, so we're going to have to sail intelligently and with care. The good competitor is the one who manages to find the compromise between attacking and preserving his equipment, that’s what ocean racing is all about. Otherwise, I'm quite excited, I like these final moments, they're quite unique, I would sometimes like them to last longer.”
Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3): “We will have to find this delicate balance between speed and safety from the start, it is not easy to slow down our machines. After that, they are big boats capable of passing through rough seas and it's perhaps better to learn straight away than to wait until you're under South Africa to have these conditions. I prefer to see the glass half full.”
Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild): “The state of the sea is going to be particularly rough and sailing into it we are going to have to slow down and not go full throttle. I can't wait to leave, to be in the race on this boat, I've been training for seven months and I've been dreaming about it, I'm really happy.”