Transat Jacques Vabre: Huusela first Scandinavian IMOCA home

On Friday, Ari Huusela became the first Finnish and Scandinavian IMOCA sailor to finish the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre, as he and Irish co-skipper, Michael Ferguson, forced Ariel II across the finish line in the Bay of All Saints.

“It feels great to be the first ever Scandinavian IMOCA sailor to finish the Transat Jacques Vabre; I’m proud of that,” Huusela said.

“Hopefully someone else from Scandinavia can follow in my footsteps now I’ve shown that it’s possible, even if we’re a bit far away. The Baltic Sea is good training for this.”

On a tiny budget, Huusela was unable to buy a replacement mainsail and make a pit-stop en route as most other IMOCA teams in the race would, so he and Ferguson ploughed on.

Did the A350 pilot for Finnair ever think he wouldn’t make it? “No, no, my friend Tapio (Lehtinen), who raced in the Golden Globe Race (2018), did it with three layers of barnacles on the bottom of his boat in 332 days,” 57-year-old Huusela said.

“I thought, even if it takes 50 days, I’m going to do it. I wasn’t as keen,” Ferguson added laughing.

Figures never tell the whole story of a race, but in this case they do not even come close.

Official records will read: Ari Huusela and Michael Ferguson, on their 60ft monohull, Ariel II, have finished 26th in the IMOCA class of the 14th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre, after crossing the finish line in the Bay of All Saints in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil on Sunday, November 10, 2019 at 11:22:14 (UTC), 18 days, 23 hours 7 minutes and 14 seconds after leaving Le Havre, Normandy, France on Sunday, October 27 at 12:15 (UTC).

Ariel II covered the theoretical course of 4,350 nautical miles at an average speed of 9.56 knots, but actually sailed 4,721 nautical miles at an average speed of 10.37 knots. It finished 5 days 10 hours 59 minutes and 14 seconds behind the winner, Apivia.

What they do not say is that from the first day of the race nearly three weeks ago, when they noticed a hole in the mainsail, it has been delaminating and unravelling.

“The mainsail went (on the first night) when we put a reef in off Guernsey, and that’s when the first hole went in, we noticed it,” Ferguson said. “It was a about the size of your fist. By the time we’d got to Ushant it was the size of a football and it got a lot worse from there.”

It took some of the edge off Huusela’s 57th birthday celebrations on October 28.

The double-handed, biennial Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre is the longest and toughest transatlantic race in the sailing calendar and it does not get much harder than the way Huusela and Ferguson did it.

“If you’d have told us two and a half weeks ago we’d be here, I’d have laughed, but here we are,” Ferguson said.

And somehow they managed to keep one French boat behind them, Vers un monde sans SIDA, although they were almost caught as the wind dropped almost entirely for their finish. They crept past the black and white Barra lighthouse into the turquoise waters of Bay of All Saints, which were as smooth as a lake.

“The hardest thing has been dealing with the light winds,” Ferguson said. The windy stuff has been fine, but as soon as it went light the wind just blows straight through the sails instead of helping.”

Twenty-nine IMOCA’s left Le Havre on October 27, and 27 have made it to Salvador (MACIF and Hugo Boss had to abandon), some lost a keel, some a foil and some their way, but few had to deal with the travails of Ariel II.

The unlikely became the incredible. “It was weird looking at the stars last night through the missing mainsail panels,” Ferguson wrote on November 2. Huusela was increasingly poetic and he waxed lyrical with pictures of the moon blazing directly through their threadbare mainsail.

Class40
The last of the seven Class40, which were always in the lead group, are now safely in Salvador after Made in Midi crossed the line this morning. It is testimony to the endurance, can-do and know-how of Kito de Pavant in his 10th Route du Café that he made the start, let alone the finish.

De Pavant’s Class40, Made in Midi, suffered a broken mast during its stability test at the end of September. He rented Jean Galfione’s boat at the last minute and then broke the boomsprit in delivery. But he and Achille Nebout pushed hard at the front and even lead briefly before the newer generation boats asserted themselves in the trade winds.

Fifteen boats remain out there, with the tail enders still on the approach to Recife.

The last of the seven Class40, which were always in the lead group, are now safely in Salvador after Made in Midi crossed the line this morning.

Fifteen boats remain out there, with the tail enders still on the approach to Recife.

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