SVR Lazartigue leading the ULTIMs towards Porto Santo mark

On the 16th Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre as the final Class40 skippers are reaching Lorient, the ULTIMs are continuing to make rapid headway south and this morning were at the latitude of Lisbon.

An amendment made by the Race Directors added the island of Porto Santo (Madeira) to the course. They have to keep this island to starboard, keeping them more to the east and so avoiding the influence of the nasty weather that is moving in with a second front forecast late this morning for the trimarans at the rear. 

Leading the way are Francois Gabart and Tom Laperche on SVR Lazartigue who are keeping the fleet in check with a lead of more than 60 miles over those chasing them. After their westerly option, which enabled the boat to get ahead, the next strategic choice will come as they approach an imminent ridge of high pressure off Gibraltar. There are a lot of uncertainties in this area and it is then likely that the fleet will re-compress, leading to another battle where options are going to come into play.

When Martinique Tchalian (Jean-Yves Aglae and Hervé Jean-Marie) completes the Class40 finishes in Lorient at lunchtime, the five ULTIMs currently sailing off Portugal will be the only boats still at sea in the 16th Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre, as the three other classes are patiently waiting, safely moored up in Lorient and Le Havre. So all eyes will now be on the contest between the ULTIMs.

And what a contest it is going to be! Firstly, because they seem to getting the full potential out of these boats. There has been no damage to the appendages, no structural problems, so the 32m long trimarans are where they were expected to be based on their routing drawn up before the start. 

Conditions are set to improve
The skippers of the four boats that were contacted this morning were pleased “to be able to look forward to getting outside in the coming hours to carry out a check up around the boat,” as Armel Le Cléac’h (Maxi Banque Populaire XI) said. 

It will also give them an opportunity to do a few repair jobs and take care of the deck hardware which has had a pummelling since the start. “Yesterday, we broke the tack line of the J2 and the makeshift repair in the Bay of Biscay was tricky and wet,” explained François Gabart (SVR Lazartigue). “It is holding out, but the crossing through the ridge of high pressure will allow us to improve our repair.” 

Gabart sounded bright this morning and was pleased to see that they were in front, thanks to their westerly option , which allowed them to accelerate earlier than their rivals, who later got back behind them with two changes of tack during the night. “It was a fast crossing of the Bay of Biscay and it was rough. The heavy seas were a hindrance at times stopping us from accelerating, but it’s nice to see where we are this morning.” 

SVR Lazartigue’s 60-mile lead is not that big, considering the speed potential of these ULTIM boats are capable of, and the fact that there are still 6500 miles to race, but this was the first big success story in this Coffee Race. Such a lead was not really expected at this point.

Out in front, the pair formed by Gabart-Laperche is already focusing on the next chapter in the race, which involves crossing the ridge of high pressure. This ridge forms a horizontal strip where there is little wind to allow them to get to the trade winds off Morocco, so is something of a hurdle. “A new race will begin today,” confirmed Armel Le Cléac’h this morning. “We are busy looking at the area of light winds that we will have to cross tonight and tomorrow. This should lead the fleet to bunch up and we need to be among the first out. It is all a bit random and there are no obvious choices” said Charles Caudrelier on Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, who can still see the portholes on Banque Populaire XI, as they have been sailing close together since the start. “The weather models are usually more optimistic than the real situation we find” added François Gabart. “Things can be very different just a few miles away and you need a bit of luck.” 

An area of compression
There is no point in trying to guess exactly where the leaders will enter this new system. Christian Dumard, the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre weather expert confirmed that it was wide open: “Yesterday, it seemed clear that the way through was to the west of the ridge. This morning, it looks like there are ways opening up further east towards Gibraltar.” The routers are all going to have to put their thinking caps on today and it is going to be fascinating to see how each competitor decides where to go.

Further back from the three frontrunners, Sodebo Ultim 3 (140 miles back) and especially Actual Ultim 3 (200 miles back) still have to deal with the bottom of the cold front in the second low, which they should reach at lunchtime before reaching quieter conditions. “We need to remain vigilant in the coming hours, but things should improve after that” said Anthony Marchand this morning. The skipper of Actual Ultim 3 did not hide the fact that the start of the race was difficult, with the stomachs churning in the Alderney Race “It was very tough and you don’t want to hang around in those conditions.

From Lorient to Gibraltar, it is a day of changes for the boats in the Transat Jacques Vabre. The men and their machines will be able to breathe more easily, but it is going to be a short respite with lots of manoeuvres ahead, and how they line up to enter the trade winds in around 36 hours from now could be a decisive moment in this race.

Class 40 into Lorient

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