Vendee Globe qualifier

Eight IMOCA 60s are to set sail on the singlehanded Transat B to B on Monday

Friday December 2nd 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

With the Transat Jacques Vabre recently finished and a superb victory for Jean-Pierre Dick and Jeremie Beyou on Virbac Paprec 3, followed by Alex Thomson and Guillermo Altadill on Hugo Boss, so the no-less important Transat B to B sets sail on Monday for IMOCA 60s.

This race, 3387 miles from the French Caribbean island of St Barts east across the North Atlantic to Lorient, France, is significant because, unlike the Transat Jacques Vabre, it is singlehanded and is also an early opportunity for competitors to qualify for next autumn’s Vendee Globe.

As the map above indicates, the course takes the boats north of the Azores, but it is likely that competitors will err to the left of the course in order to be first to pick up the favourable easterlies.

As Race Director Jacques Caraës explains: “With the passage of some complex systems it’s a very selective course, with initially trade winds on the nose, then into the Atlantic depressions, the Azores High, and finally the Bay of Biscay in the depths of winter. On paper, the B to B has all the ingredients of a major solo race for IMOCA monohull. Added to that, the Transat Jacques will have left its mark on the skippers and the boats, with a very short rest before starting with this revenge match.”

Eight competitors are due to take part.

Favourite probably is Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac Paprec 3. Having been in the IMOCA 60 class for ten years now Dick is preparing for his third Vendee Globe and his VPLP-Verdier has already this year won the Barcelona World Race and the TJV.

2004 Vendee Globe winner Vincent Riou has made it to the start line aboard his latest generation VPLP-Verdier design PRB. In the Transat Jacques Vabre he was forced to put into the Azores after breaking a bulkhead in lumpy conditions to the north of the Azores.

“We've redone the bulkhead just as it was before, though naturally we've beefed it up a bit,” commented Riou before leaving Horta on the delivery to St Barts. “I'm satisfied, it appears to be a lot more solid than it was before. Things went pretty well in Horta and working conditions were good. Obviously due to our technical issues in the Transat Jacques Vabre we didn't really learn any lessons from it, which was a shame, but until we retired we were happy with our performance despite messing up on our first option out of the starting blocks.”

Hugo Boss skipper Alex Thomson will be hoping to repeat his success from the TJV, when he performed beyond expectations in his latest Farr-designed 60 (the former Estrella Damm/BT/Veolia Environnement).

Armel le Cleac’h is the dark horse of the fleet. His boat, Banque Populaire, was originally Michel Desjoyeaux’s 2010 generation Foncia and le Cleac’h, a former Solitaire du Figaro winner is clearly capable of driving an IMOCA singlehanded, having finished second in the last Vendee Globe aboard his previous Finot-Conq design, BritAir.

Sailing his recently modified Owen-Clarke design, Gamesa, Mike Golding will be looking to make amends for his disappointing result in the Transat Jacques Vabre. The British skipper is the most capped IMOCA 60 skipper in the fleet and with the TJV under his belt he will be back in his stride after a two year absence from the class.

Since the end of the TJV, Golding and his team have been busy. “The job list isn't massive – only three priority jobs – replacing the Fleet Broadband system, fixing the wind instruments and repairing the port daggerboard. Naturally we will be checking the mast and rigging and the whole boat but from our inspection in Costa Rica we expect no serious problems.

“Monday 5 December will mark my return to solo sailing for the first time since the Vendée Globe in 2008. The Transat B to B is another big challenge, but right now I am relishing the prospect. It is a different rhythm and routine on your own. I sleep when I am tired and there is the opportunity to do so, but the days are longer, harder and no 24 hours is the same as the last one, or the next. I have the opportunity with this Transat BtoB to set the record straight before Christmas. My focus will be on finishing the race and learning as much as I can rather than just going for it. The quality of the line-up has never been so high, so this race will be a great opportunity to really gauge what I'll be up against in solo configuration in the Vendee Globe. Before the boat's refit she was much more versatile, but now she's uncompromisingly geared solely for the Vendee Globe. This BtoB will enable us to see if we're on the right track to perform well in it.”

As to the course Golding predicts “”Out of here it could be a bit Doldrums-y to begin with, but quite quickly we should join the Atlantic circulation which will speed us back towards the much colder weather as you get back to Europe and the winter! After not a great TJV, due to weather choices and wanting to ensure we made it to the finish and learn as much as we could from the race, we are keen not to crash and burn. For me it looks like a soft start with everyone rushing north to hook onto the next weather system. Jean-Pierre Dick is going to be my toughest competition I think but the question is whether solo sailing is really his game or not. Vincent Riou on PRB is obviously a big player and the boat has less wear and tear and is the best prepared, while Armel Le Cleac'h cannot be ruled out either."

Like Golding, shorthanded sailing veteran, Marc Guillemot will be attempting to do better than his result in the Transat Jacques Vabre aboard his newly titanium-keeled Safran.

For Francois Gabart, it will be his first solo race in an IMOCA 60, sailing his brand new boat MACIF, a sistership to Banque Populaire. An experienced Figaro sailor, Gabart’s result from the Transat Jacques Vabre, when he also came home in third, will no doubt have buoyed his confidence.

"I know the limits of each sail better and the crossovers and I've got a better understanding of the general behavior of MACIF. Even the hard times, such as the blackout (power failure) we experienced before the finish are instructive."

However according to Gabart, MACIF has developed a similar bulkhead issue to PRB, albeit not as serious. However this has to be fixed. "We will do everything to start as soon as possible, hopefully with other boats. But the challenge of the Vendée Globe qualification is enormous."

Amateur sailor Louis Burton is likely to be bringing up the rear on Bureau Vallee, the Farr-designed former Delta Dore.

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