A record breaking fleet of 95 boats which is set to start the 16th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre double handed race from Le Havre to Martinique is set to encounter very robust conditions as they leave the English Channel from Sunday afternoon and on the Bay of Biscay Tuesday and Wednesday.
A boisterous late autumn passage across the Bay of Biscay has been part and parcel of the race since the first edition in 1993 when a pioneering group of five solo ORMA multihull skippers and eight solo IMOCA sailors raced to Carthagena in Columbia. Now, three big, successive low pressure systems are set to challenge the 30th anniversary fleet which races in four classes, 32m Ultim and 50ft Ocean 50 Multihulls and the 60ft IMOCA and 40ft Class 40 monohulls.
To avoid Biscay and a potentially brutal passage of the notorious Cape Finisterre off the NW tip of Spain, Race Direction have today modified the course only for the 44 strong Class40 into two stages. After their start tomorrow at 1341hrs local time, the fleet will race directly to an intermediate finish line off Lorient where they will wait until the weather improves enough to complete a second stage to Martinique. Their result will be scored on aggregated time over the two legs.
For the record sized IMOCA fleet of 40 boats, the race is an essential qualifier which will contribute significantly towards qualification for next year’s 2024-5 Vendée Globe which has an entry limited to 40 boats when there are presently 44 active projects seeking selection. This two handed race to Martinique is followed by a return race to France, starting about 10 days later, which carries an even higher points and miles premium.
Due to medical reasons one of the top hopes, French skipper Charlie Dalin who won this race in 2017 in the IMOCA, will only start the race on his new Verdier designed MACIF with his co-skipper Pascal Bidégorry, before returning to the port, thereby satisfying a part of the Vendée Globe qualifying process.
From the remaining 39 strong IMOCA field, there are three most frequently tipped favourites. Jéremie Beyou raced the 2022 launched Manuard designed Charal with outstanding French ace Franck Cammas. Allrounder Cammas could extend his number of Transat Jacques Vabre wins to an unprecedented five, most recently triumphing in 2021 with Charles Caudrelier in the Ultim race on Maxi Edmond de Rothschild.
Defending champions on the course are Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière. They have a new boat in For People, from a new design partnership Koch-Finot Conq, which is relatively untested so far but won the Guyader Bermudes race earlier in the season. Their training time has been compromised as their boat needed time in the yard after additional strengthening was required.
The other dream team partnership, also on a new 2023 launch boat – a sistership to For People – is Yoann Richomme – twice winner of the solo Route du Rhum in Class 40 – who competes with Yann Eliès who is on his ninth Transat Jacques Vabre and who won in 2019 with Dalin. Their new Paprec Arkéa has shown great potential.
British skipper Sam Goodchild tops the IMOCA Globe Series rankings after a string of consistent third places on key races this season. He has an excellent chance of topping the podium, potentially delivering a first British win in the modern era of the IMOCA class, on For The Planet, the boat which won the race to Martinique last year in the hands of Ruyant and Lagravière.
“I am not thinking about winning.” Goodchild emphasizes, “ We will just go out and do our best and see what happens. There are 40 boats and although we have been up there since the start of this year but the new boats with experienced skippers are always at the front.”
Goodchild starts his seventh Transat Jacques Vabre, he highlights “We are well prepared. I want to get a good result and the first part of the year has now put the pressure on a bit because we want to keep on doing what we have been doing but it is obviously all about Vendée Globe qualification. We have to do all that we can. And if we don’t break anything, we will be fine. We do this to race but just because we have a well proven boat nothing is a given. When we turned up at TR Racing to take on the boat the first thing they said was ‘Just because this boat has finished one Vendée Globe it does not mean to say it will finish another!” So we are going to have fun on this Transat but we are not going out saying we have finished third in the races so far, so we have to finish third again. We will just try to sail tidily and not make too many mistakes and see where we are at the line.”
There are nine IMOCAs from outside of France set to compete including two boats skippered by German sailors, including Boris Herrmann sailing with Brit Will Harris on Team Malizia. Three Swiss IMOCAs are in the fleet including Justine Mettraux racing with Juilen Villion on Teamwork.Net, Alan Roura and Simon Koster on Hublot and Oliver Heer and Nils Palmieri on Oliver Heer Ocean Racing.
Britain are strongly represented with Sam Davies and Jack Boutell on Initiatives Coeur, a duo well capable of finishing on the podium, whilst Medallia sailed by Pip Hare and Nick Bubb are focused on learning their boat since winter modifications and enhancing Hare’s Vendée Globe qualification standings. Asia are well represented with Jingkun Xu – who lost his left arm at the elbow at the age of 12 – racing with veteran Brit Mike Golding, and Japan’s Kojiro Shiraishi on DMG MORI.
All four classes race different courses with the objective that they should arrive in Martinique around the same time.
The Ultim fleet race down into the South Atlantic to Asension Island a total of 7,500 nautical miles. Theirs is expected to be the closest race yet between these foiling giants capable of sustained speeds in excess of 40kts. Although Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, Charles Caudrelier and Erwan Israel, sail the Verdier design which has been dominant on ocean races for three years, Banque Populaire sailed by Armel le Cléach and Seb Josse have just won an 24 hour offshore and could break the Maxi Edmond do Rothschild monopoly.
Favourites in Class 40 is the Italian flagged Alla Grande Pirelli (see story on website Forza Italia) and also today’s web story on Ocean 50s.