Mexico bound

We look at the Class 40 fleet heading out tomorrow on the Solidaire du Chocolat

Saturday October 17th 2009, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
Boat Skipper Nat Co-skipper Nat Designer Builder Type
Vale Inco-Nouvelle Calédonie Yves Ecarlat FRA Lionel Regnier FRA Groupe Finot Structures Pogo
Jardin Bio Benoît Parnaudeau FRA Stanislas Maslard FRA Axel de Beaufort Ecole Sup du Bois Nacira
ORBIS Stephen Card GBR Shaun Murphy GBR François Lucas Amateur
Groupe Picoty Jacques Fournier FRA Jean-Edouard Criquioche FRA Groupe Finot Structures Pogo
Crédit Maritime Patrice Carpentier FRA Victor Maldonado MEX Groupe Finot Structures Pogo
Appart City Yvan Noblet FRA Damien Guillou FRA Julien Marin FR Nautisme
Conquérants de Normandie Marc Lepesqueux FRA Jean-Charles Monnet FRA Pierre Rolland Jumbo Composites Jumbo 40
Cargill-MTTM Damien Seguin FRA Armel Tripon FRA Julien Marin FR Nautisme
Initiatives-Novedia Tanguy de Lamotte FRA Adrien Hardy FRA Rogers Yacht Design CMI Bangkok
PHR Pascal Douin FRA Laurent Mermod FRA François Lucas Amateur
Amhas MacKenzie Davies USA Brian A. Harris USA Marc Lombard MC-TEC Akilaria 1
Keysource Mike West GBR Paul Worswick GBR Marc Lombard MC-TEC Akilaria 1
Palanad 2 Tim Wright GBR Nicholas Brennan AUST Marc Lombard MC-TEC Akilaria 1
Telecom Italia Giovanni Soldini ITA Pietro d'Ali ITA Guillaume Verdier FR Nautisme
Cheminées Poujoulat Bruno Jourdren FRA Bernard Stamm SUI Rogers Yacht Design CMI Bangkok
Tales Villa Esperanza Gonzalo Botin SPA Javier de la Plaza SPA Marc Lombard MC-TEC Akilaria 1.5
Plan les enfants changeront le monde Denis Lazat FRA Frédéric Nouel FRA Groupe Finot Structures Pogo
Adriatech David Consorte ITA Arnaud Aubry FRA Groupe Finot Structures Pogo
AXA Atout cœur pour Aides Erik Nigon FRA Marc Jouany FRA Jacques Valer JPK Composites
Desafio Cabo de Hornos Felipe Cubillos CHI Daniel Bravo Silva CHI Guillaume Verdier FR Nautisme
ORCA Richard Tolkien GBR Neal Brewer GBR Humphreys Design Ocean Technologie
Tieto Passion Jouni Romppanen FIN Sam Ohman FIN Marc Lombard MC-TEC Akilaria 1
Pole Santé Elior-Mistral Loisirs Thierry Bouchard FRA Olivier Krauss FRA Marc Lombard MC-TEC Akilaria 2
40 Degrees Peter Harding GBR Miranda Merron GBR Owen Clarke Design Jaz Marine
The second in this autumn’s trio of French trans-Atlantic races gets underway tomorrow with the start of the inaugural doublehanded Solidaires du Chocolat for the Class 40s. The unusual name of the event is down to it having a vaguely similar concept to that of this autumn's third event, the Transat Jacques Vabre/Route du Café, only instead of the route to Columbia/Brazil celebrating the old trade route for coffee, in this case - you guessed it - it is the trade route for cocoa, between St Nazaire on the west coast of France and Progreso on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

Feeling a lack of love from the organisers of the Transat Jacques Vabre two years ago, so the Class 40 have branched out to arrange their own event this year, spearheaded by the former skipper of the Chocolats Montana Class 40, Damien Grimont.

The fleet moored up opposite the monstrous nazi-built concrete submarine silos in St Nazaire is a truly impressive one – 24 boats, only 13 of them French, with sailors competing from ten nations, including Mexico.

The doublehanders include a fine mix of pros and amateurs. Among the former are the likes of Bernard Stamm, Vendee Globe skippers Benoît Parnaudeau and Class 40 founder Patrice Carpentier, Around Alone winner Giovanni Soldini and ex-AC and Figaro sailor Pietro d’Ali, other Figaro sailors such as Marc Lepesqueux, Bruno Jourdren and Olivier Krauss to the UK’s own shorthanded doyenne, Miranda Merron. There are several ex-Mini sailors like Tanguy de LaMotte, Adrian Hardy, Armel Tripon and Australian Nico Brennan, who has trekked all the way up from Sydney to compete. There is a lone boat from the US with ex-Josh Hall crewman Brian Harris on board, Felipe Cubillos, the enthusiastic Chilean from the Portimao Global Ocean Race, plus Jouni Romppanen and Sam Ohman, revitalising Finland’s ocean racing tradition. Then there are other familiar names from UK racing such as Richard Tolkien, Shaun Murphy, Peter Harding and Royal Southampton YC doublehanded veterans Mike West and Paul Worswick.

Among the line up there are probably three clear favourites. Italian stallions Soldini and d’Ali, on their all-conquering Verdier design Telecom Italia, are in our opinion the favourites. Both are hugely experienced, and have complimentary skills - Soldini providing the dogged seamanship and d’Ali, the finesse of a long background racing inshore at the highest level. They are also likely to be best in the knarley conditions expected over the first few days of this race (see below). Soldini has won most of the transoceanic Class 40 events he has sailed in from the TJV two years ago to the Artemis Transat last year.

But who would bet against Bernard Stamm? The double Velux 5 Oceans winner is racing on board Figaro veteran Bruno Jourdren’s Rogers-designed Cheminees Poujoulat. Following yet another disappointing Vendee Globe, when his boat was all but destroyed, Stamm is gagging to get back on the ocean. This duo convincingly won the Class 40’s 1000 Milles Brittany Ferries this summer. Their boat looks good in the light, but how well will it stand up in the opening few days of this race?

Third of our favourites is Tanguy de LaMotte, who has been on fire this year in his Class 40 - another Rogers design - winning the Rolex Fastnet Race. For this race he has the one of the most talented Mini sailors on board with him in Adrien Hardy.

De LaMotte, himself also rates the Spanish duo, Gonzalo Botin and Javier de la Plaza, Botin a former Mini sailor while his co-skipper competed in part of the last Volvo Ocean Race on board Telefonica Blue.

Beyond these three there are plenty of unknowns who could do well for a variety of different reasons. For example there are the Chileans, Felipe Cubillos and Daniel Bravo Silva. Cubillos has raced his red Verdier-designed sistership to Telecom Italia around the world, knows it inside out and having a Cat 0 specced boat could be just the weapon for the first week of this race.

There are two brand new boats taking part – Peter Harding and Miranda Merron have taken delivery of their latest 40 Degrees, a latest generation slab-sided Owen Clarke design freshly built in South Africa, in which they won the recent Class 40 race in La Trinite (check out our guided tour to this beast on the site next week).

“This is my third transat,” Harding told thedailysail yesterday. “We did the TJV two years ago and Miranda did the Transat and I did the Quebec-St Malo coming back. Hopefully we’ll do a bit better than in the last boat. The boat seems quick so far. We did the Morbihan race and we were pleasantly surprised [they won…] But she’s only been out in 25 knots and that’s about it. Monday night looking a bit crunchy at the moment, so we’ll see.”

Similarly old Class 40 hand, Thierry Bouchard who finished third in the Artemis Transat last year, has acquired a new Akilaria Mk2, which he is sailing with young Figaro sailor, Olivier Krauss (read about the Mk2 here).

Then there are the likes of the Aussie/UK former Challenge sailors Nico Brennan and Tim Wright who came fourth in the Class 40 race to the Azores and back or Mike West and Paul Worswick, who finished seventh in that race. West and Worswick have spent a huge amount of time training this year, competed in pretty much every race on the Class 40 calendar. More on them on thedailysail in due course.

There is also a great cross-section of boats. The newest, 40 Degrees and Mistral Loisirs we have already mentioned. The Verdier boats, especially Soldini’s Telecom Italia, have shown the most potential in the class to date, although this is certainly in part down to the calibre of their crews.

Our favourite boat, at least from a rather shallow looks perspective is the Lombard-designed Akilaria, of which there are six competing. One, Mistral Loisirs is the new Mk2 grand prix racer version complete with big chines, kick-up rudders, canting bowsprit and all the latest Gucci features. Four are standard Akilaria Mk1s, while the Spanish boat of Gonzalo Botin and Javier de la Plaza, is an Akilaria Mk1.5 - with the less chined Mk1 hull, but with the deck layout of the Mk2.

The Rogers designs of Tanguy de LaMotte and Bruno Jourdren being two to three years old don’t have the same huge chines and massive righting moment of the newest boats, but have proved fast (or maybe it is the crews…)

After the Akilarias, the Finot-designed Pogos, the original Class 40, are the most prolific with four examples, two being originals and one campaigned in this race by former Vendee and Whitbread competitor and former Course Au Large magazine editor, Patrice Carpentier. However there are two newer Pogo S’s - Plan les enfants changeront le monde of Denis Lazat and Frédéric Nouel, plus Adriatech of David Consorte and Arnaud Aubry (both similar to the prototype version Halvard Mabire sailed to victory in the Quebec-St Malo race last year - read more about this boat here)

Beyond this come in ones and twos. To date the heavily chined Humphreys-designed ORCA 40 hasn’t exactly excelled on the race course but on the first few days of this race it will be interesting how she handles in the big conditions. There is the Class 40 from French manufacturer JPK, AXA Atout Coeur pour Aides of former Figaro sailor Erik Nigon (which Sam Davies was in St Nazaire to christen yesterday evening). Another JPK, Groupe Partouche, has been heavily campaigned on the Class 40 circuit over recent years with some success by Christophe Coatnan.

Among the older boats are two Francois Lucas designs, similar to the one Nick Bubb raced in the Route du Rhum three years ago. One, ORBIS, is being campaigned by British duo Stephen Card and Shaun Murphy. Then there are two of the heavily chined wooden Julien Marin designs, the yellow one raced by Yvan Noblet, who has been in the Class 40 from the outset. Finally there is the beefy Nacira Class 40 of Benoît Parnaudeau, who has also been involved with this class from the beginning. Parnaudeau’s yacht should be another likely to benefit from the big conditions set to be encountered this week.

New ideas

In addition to the prospect of a good yacht race ahead of us, the Solidaire du Chocolat has several other novel features.

Each of the boats must support a charity, mostly in France or Mexico, although 40 Degrees are backing the World Wildlife Fund while the American duo are behind the San Francisco-based charity Summer Search, which MacKenzie Davies’ wife is involved with. Each team must raise or pay their allocated charity 25,000 Euros.

Tanguy de LaMotte says this is nothing new for him as he has been supporting the child cancer charity Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque since he began his Class 40 campaign.

“They [the organisers] gave a charity to the boats which didn’t have one and also for the boats which didn’t have any sponsor or who’s sponsor didn’t want to sponsor the charity, they didn’t force them to sponsor the charity but they found some companies in Nantes and St Nazaire to put the money forwards,” explains de LaMotte, who’s two sponsors already pay a fair amount to Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque every year.

“We have a privilege to find money to go sailing, so it is the minimum we can do to help other people to find money, like for these kids [at Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque] – they want to stay alive,” de laMotte continues. “So for me it has been going on for a bit, so I am used to it and it is good that the whole fleet make this effort. For us it is not a big effort, but it is a big thing for the charities we can help.”

Nantes and the region

Supporting this event is the town of St Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire, and the city of Nantes, 50km inland. While the boats have spent the majority of their time in the basin in St Nazaire, last weekend they ventured up the river to Nantes. While the Tour de France a la Voile has previously stopped there, it was the first occasion that a major transoceanic yacht race has visited France’s sixth largest city. “It was amazing the amount of people in Nantes,” recounts de LaMotte. “So that was a big success for this first race with 24 boats moored in the centre of Nantes.”

Last Sunday the fleet paraded down the Loire following the three masted square rigger, Bellem, one of the original vessels to carry cocoa back from Mexico. All along the banks of the Loire the public turned out to watch the parade. “There were people turning out. In one village, there was a market on the Sunday and there were people cheering, etc” says de LaMotte.

In addition the race is involving schools in the region. Each boat in the race has a class from one of the schools following it and one pupil from each class was allowed to sail down the Loire on their boat in last Sunday’s parade. However on Thursday the 700 or so children from all the classes descended en masse on the docks in St Nazaire to be shown around their boats.

“Their teacher, who organised the whole thing teaches English, so I did all the questions with the kids in English. So that was fun!” says de LaMotte.

Mexico bound

The course from St Nazaire ending up in Mexico is also a first. The route takes the boats to the south of the Azores and then through a scoring gate off the French Caribbean island of St Barts. They then must sail beneath the northern string of Caribbean islands (excluding Jamaica) before they head up around the top of the Yucatan peninsula to the finish in Progreso.

Nico Brennan admits that he has done several transat but never ending up in the Caribbean, let alone Mexico, however he has been working with Jure Jerman, head of the Slovenian Met Office, who has been examining the climatology for this course.

“The downwind nature of it, turns out to be a bit more theory,” says Brennan of what Jerman came up with. "The routing isn’t on consistent trade wind routes that send you south through the trades. There are lot of northerly options that seem to come out, although they are still fairly downwind options.”

At some stage sooner or later the boats will encounter the trade winds that will carry them all the way into the Caribbean Sea. However one reason for the St Barts gate is that the race coincides with hurricane season and if there is any potentially threatening weather ahead, then the organisers have the option to stop the race there. Not such a bad place St Barts.

In addition to the hurricane/tropical storm threat in the western Caribbean there is also the potential for some strong frontal conditions. “I gather we have to watch out for some things called the ‘northers’ which can stretch down from the US into the Caribbean which are likely to be pretty nasty, because of the sort of places you are likely to run into them. Running through the Yucatan Channel round the top of Mexico where you have 3 knots of current with you, from the south - if you have 30 knots of wind from the north there, I gather the place is totally crazy,” warns Brennan.

Back to the start of the race and obviously a lot comes down to the position of the Azores high, as to whether it the Trades are blowing and it will pay to go south. For given the forecast this doesn’t seem to be a particularly likely option.

With an area of high pressure situated over the English Channel, tomorrow’s start off St Nazaire looks set to be in pleasant easterly conditions blowing the fleet out into the Bay of Biscay. But this is pretty much the end of the good news.

Into Monday morning this high moves across northern France, causing the wind to veer southeast, but this is rapidly kicked into touch by a giant depression thundering its way across the north Atlantic along the latitude of Scotland. As a result the latest forecast shows the wind turning southerly come midday on Monday, veering further southwest on to the nose over the course of Monday afternoon. Come midnight Tuesday the depression is centred off the west coast of Ireland and its centre is 960 something mBs (ie quite deep) and there is a mean looking front associated with it, that could well swipe the boats are they are close to Cape Finisterre in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Which will be unpleasant in the extreme.

It seems most likely that once the wind gets into the south the boats will lift east on port only tacking when the wind veers northwest on the rear side of the front. However another feature of this front is that it isn’t moving very quickly so with it will come the opportunity for it to build up some serious waves. Fortunately the boats should be well beyond the continental shelf by the time they encounter this.

So will it pay to go south at this stage? Probably not for come Wednesday-Thursday another depression is rolling through at a lower latitude (around about that of northern France) and this shoves the centre of the ‘Azores’ high down to somewhere between the Canaries and the Cape Verdes, putting the conventional trade winds virtually out of reach. However Wednesday afternoon and there are 40 knot headwinds forecast on the great circle route, so this is an option plainly to be avoided at all costs. This leaves a northerly option. So the scenario might be head through the first front, keep going east, and attempt to skirt around the north side of the second depression – only this option might work in an ORMA 60, but the Class 40s probably won’t make it as the present forecast shows the depression moving northeast on Wednesday night. However the bonus of going due west out to sea over the first few days will mean that those that survive the twin depressions will find themselves on a better angle to make use of the thousands of miles of northwesterlies left in the wake of the second depression. That is until the Azores high tries to reform towards the end of the week....

Weather charts for the first half of next week can be found on page 2...

In short it looks like neither north, south or down the middle is an obvious choice so the outcome of the first week of the Solidaire du Chocolat is likely to turn into something of a lottery with boats probably heading to all four corners of the wind. We hope they don’t get too heavily pasted.

In the meantime - let's enjoy the chocolat.

Stern to photos of the boats can be seen on page 3 and other images from yesterday rather light and grey prologue are after that.

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