The 40 IMOCAs are put in a safe mode at the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre docks

Storm Ciaran is set to sweep across the north-west quarter of France, during Wednesday night. It is this huge system which has required the 40 strong IMOCA fleet that was set to start the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre on Sunday tied to the dock in Le Havre. It looks set to be an exceptional storm with winds of over 80-90kts off the coast. And so today the IMOCA fleet were moved and more fully secured ahead of the storm by their skippers, teams and helpers, so that all will be in the best shape to deliver a great show off the start line when they do go.

This Monday morning at the Paul Vatine basin, the IMOCAs were in the middle of moving. “Since the others have left, they left us a little more space,” jokes French skipper Benjamin Dutreux.In reality because of the storm forecast it was necessary to position the boats to moor them side to the docks rather than stern on.

“We all try to point the bows more into the wind,” comments Dutreux skipper of Guyot Environnement – Water Family, “Our boats have a lot of wind resistance so we put them all alongside the dockside”

And the IMOCA community banded together, all helping each other to secure each boat. On board his boat, Maxime Sorel is at the helm while Paul Meilhat (Biotherm) and a technician from MACIF are are helping with the docking procedures.

Such solidarity and teamwork soon secures V & B – Monbana – Mayenne. “Some of the technical teams have already left to rest after 10 days in the village,” confides Sorel, “So we help each other. There is a normal, real solidarity among us sailors. We are used to being friends on land and competitors on the water but there is always a kinship, a solidarity among sailors.”

With the boats secured today everyone now has to wait patiently for the passage of this huge front which is the talk of the maritime world, which has forced the IMOCAs not to take the start yesterday.

A weather bomb

This very deep depression is said to be comparable to the storm that France experienced in 1999 which which caused a lot of damage. “It’s a very explosive depression, with very strong winds and especially heavy seas,” commented Damien Seguin (APICIL) yesterday.

Indeed, gusts of 110 to 120 km/h are expected inland and even more at sea, as Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa) commented this morning: “At sea, forecasts show 80 knots, gusts of more than 100 knots (more than 185 km/hour), in seas with waves of 12 meters. This is unthinkable and no rescue could provide assistance to a sailor in case of need.”

Yesterday, at 7:45 a.m., after studying all possible scenarios to maintain the scheduled start the decision was made to retain the IMOCAs at the dock. If they had been allowed to start the skippers who suffered damage, or found themselves trapped by the conditions, would have had no escape. After searching all night, in vain, for a port capable of accommodating the 40 60 ft monohulls – many of which have foils – (like Lorient for the Class 40s and the Ocean Fifty), race management had to make this difficult choice.

“ The priority today for the race management is to hold the fleet in a safe position  (the ULTIMs will already be off the coast of Portugal when the depression arrives) and now to consider a new, more acceptable and equitable start for these classes.” explained Gildas Gautier, co-director of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre: “In a few hours, 90% of the fleet will be safely docked. We have  the IMOCAs safe in Le Havre, the Ocean Fifty and the Class 40s in Lorient. Today we can refocus on the starts for the entire fleet including a live producing a live broadcast for the IMOCAs, with our partner France Télé from Le Havre. We are carefully monitoring the weather window which will allow us to resume the beautiful spectacle .” 

A full send off will take place for the IMOCAs

For the start of the 40 IMOCAs remaining in Le Havre, the organization are preparing a high quality send off, equivalent to Sunday’s, to provide the media with live images, in two languages and welcome the media in the best conditions.

In the meantime daily monitoring of this fleet on stand-by will allow local visitors to better understand the ins and outs of such a development but also to see the preparation of the skippers and their teams up close. And a big, spectacular send off is still anticipated.

Read interview with Brits Sam Goodchild, Alan Roberts and Will Harris HERE

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