Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre IMOCA fleet off and flying

After an impressive start from Le Havre OT 0830HRS utc this morning (Tuesday) in SW’ly winds of 20-25kts, the IMOCA fleet on the 16th Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre double handed race to Martinique were making great speeds westwards towards the entrance to the English Channel, led by one of the pre-race favourites Jéremie Beyou and Franck Cammas on Charal.

After a delay due to huge storms of more than eight days since the original schedule start, the 40 strong IMOCA fleet were finally blessed with ideal conditions to set off on what is now a shortened course of 3750 nautical miles to Martinque which should take between ten and 11 days.

The morning sunshine and brisk winds were accompanied by a rolling, cross seas swell. After such an extended period stuck in Le Havre, there was a definite sense of urgency as the top title contenders all crossed the start line in quick succession with one reef in their mainsails and J3 headsails.

Among the first to cut the line after the gun were the IMOCA 2021 race titleholders Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière on their new For the People, along with Sébastien Simon and Spanish Olympic medal winning ace Iker Martinez on Groupe Dubreuil, the boat which recently won The Ocean Race as 11th Hour Racing.

Sailing with Cammas who has the chance to become the only sailor to win the Transat Jacques Vabre five times, Beyou on the 2022 launched Charal was just under two miles ahead after two hours of racing.

Britain’s Alan Roberts, sailing with his French counterpart Clarisse Crémer on L’Occitaine en Provence was fifth.

Two duos were given 5 hour start line penalties for passing inside, between an inner distance mark and the start boat, Louis Burton and Davy Burton on Bureau Vallée and Britons Pip Hare and Nick Bubb on Medallia.

As for Macif Santé Prévoyance, so as not to get in the way of their rivals, the Verdier designed boat stayed behind the others, and then took the start before retiring from the race. Due to medical reasons, 2019 race winner and one of the pre-start favourites Charlie Dalin is unable to compete in the race, but by crossing the line continues his Vendée Globe qualification process.

Quotes from the skippers last night

Tanguy Le Turquais  (Lazare): “Our routing is not yet established. Everything is clear for today. What happens after the front is something we’ll see tomorrow and at the end of theTransat. This is an interesting weather situation for us, as the leading boats may go for one option, while those behind, like us may choose another, so that’s going to be interesting to watch.”

Sébastien Simon (Groupe Dubreuil):  “The boat is ready with a simple goal, which is to go all the way and clock up points to qualify for theVendée Globe. We don’t have any pressure on us in terms of the result, but we’ll be trying to do our best. The first night is going to be difficult and of course, we’re thinking of the front. This is my 14th or 15th transatlantic crossing. It’s not the same thing passing a front on the first night. We won’t yet have settled in, but we will have to deal with it.”

Violette Dorange and Damien Guillou (DeVenir): Damien: “Getting up at 0230hrs to start a transatlantic race is rather unusual. It may not be great for the sponsors, but it means less stress for us. We’re not in the same mindset as for the initial start that was scheduled, but that is no bad thing. Unless there is a major change in the next 24 hours, our route has been chosen. For our boats, it isn’t looking too bad with light winds, a ridge of high pressure to cross. That requires an agile boat, which is the case for DeVenir. The boats out in front will run into the ridge of high pressure and those behind should catch up. That doesn’t require big foils and a lot of power.” Violette: “During the first couple of days, we’ll be getting quite a lot of wind. We’ll cross a cold front and a warm front, but after that, the wind will drop right off. The wind looks light for the rest of the transatlantic crossing. We prefer the route towards the sunshine.

Pierre Le Roy (Monnoyeur-Duo for a job): “I’d prefer to sail a transatlantic race downwind, as that would be more pleasant aboard these boats. In terms of racing, there are some opportunities upwind and that isn’t that bad for us in comparison with the foilers, as we may be fighting it out longer with them. I don’t like the idea, but it may be the case that the northern option pays off. It’s when the weather charts appear on Tuesday evening that we will have to decide whether behind the front, we should dive towards Cape Finisterre or not.”

Clarisse Crémer (L’Occitane en Provence): “The start is not going to be that pleasant, as it’s been a while since we sailed. We may feel a bit sick! It’s not what we are here for, but you need to get through that to find something which will be more fun. How we deal with the front will depend on our speeds and strategic choices, based around the wind angle afterwards. We should reach that early on Wednesday, perhaps around Ushant, so it is one of the hurdles on our route.”

Lois Berrehar (Fortinet-Best Western): “Conditions are likely to be lively, but over the past ten days, we have had time to prepare for that, so now is the time to go. It looks clear for the first 24 hours. After that, there is the northerly option, which seems a possibility. It looks good on the computer, but in reality, we’ll have to wait and see, as there will be a lot of wind and heavy seas. Our boats can sail upwind, but it’s nicer speeding on calmer seas. I expect various routes to be chosen, as the boats are very different from one another. We hope to finish up there with other boats from our generation. A lot of the newer boats are beyond reach, but if we sail well, we could make it to the top ten.”

Alan Roura and Simon Koster (Hublot): Simon: “It’s going to be a fast start with plenty of wind and a front to cross on our way out of the Channel. We’re going to have to be careful as the seas are heavy and the wind will be unstable. That is the challenge for the first 24/36 hours. After that, there is the choice of route behind the front. Alan: “In the middle of the Bay of Biscay, we’ll need to decide. The charts keep changing. Yesterday, we had until Porto to decide, but now it’s off La Coruna and maybe by this evening, the choice will have to be made even sooner than that. It looks like there are various options. Conditions aren’t simple in the North, while in the South, the weather is finer, but we’ll have to find a way through.”  

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