Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI / TJV

Transat Jacques Vabre preview

We look at the MOD70, Multi50 and IMOCA 60 line-up in the 20th anniversary Transat Jacques Vabre

Sunday November 3rd 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

The Transat Jacques Vabre is 20 years old this year, having started out as the Route du Café when it ran from Le Havre to Cartagena, Columbia and was sailed singlehanded for just the ORMA and IMOCA 60 fleets. Since the second race in 1995 it has been sail doublehanded and over the intervening year has become a fixture in the French approaching the same stature as the Route du Rhum and Vendee Globe.

This year the biennial race has many new features, plus the usual highly competitive line-up across all four classes, but particularly in the giant 26-strong Class40.

As usual leaving Europe at the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere, the crews can expect robust conditions for the first few days, but with the Class40, IMOCA 60 and Multi 50 starts having being delayed by 24 hours to Monday, hopefully the race in bigger boats won’t result in the same catastrophe that has beset the Mini Transat this year (where three weeks on from when they were supposed to have started, the fleet remains storm bound across two ports in northern Spain).

New course

This year the Transat Jacques Vabre course has changed. After the last two races finished in Costa Rica, the 2013 event will return to Brazil, finishing in Itajaí, familiar for being a stopover port in the last Volvo Ocean Race. The race last finished in Brazil in 2007 but then went to Salvador de Bahia, to the north of Rio. Going to Itajai is a big deal as it adds another 1,100 miles to the race track making this, at 5,400 miles, the longest ever Transat Jacques Vabre.

As ever this year the course will require the competitors to get through the first and most challenging phase of the race – exiting the English Channel and all its numerous navigational obstacles, not least the large amount of commercial traffic, strong tides all at a time of year when there is a seemingly endless stream of depressions cruising east across the North Atlantic. With the depressions come a series of fronts that the competitors will have to negotiate with the winds southwesterly veering into the NNW as each one passes.

The forecast indicates that the boats will first face a beat exiting the Channel and then will be on the wind on starboard once they turn the corner at Ushant. Despite the delay, the forecast at present look like the boats are going to have an unpleasant time with the wind building from the west on Monday night and 35 knots showing on the GRIBs (ie in practice it will be more) come Tuesday. Being slower the Class40s will have the big upwind conditions for longer with the wind backing into the southwest as they cross the Bay of Biscay before the front passes them on Thursday morning. So it is safe to say we can expect some attrition.

These conditions will affect the boats until they are through the Bay of Biscay and past Cape Finisterre. Then there is the dive south in search of the northeasterly trades. Typically there is a transition zone that depends on the positioning of eastern side of the Azores high. The present forecast has this at the latitude of Gibraltar come Thursday and will benefit the slower boats with the high filling in behind the front allowing favourable northeasterlies to build further north on Friday.

Once into the Trades it is then a case of deciding how far east or west to go when entering the Doldrums (crossing typically at 5-10°N) and then getting into the trade winds of the south Atlantic. These are usually initially from the east backing into the northeast and north the further south the boats sail - although the strength and direction of the trades depend on the position and scale of the St Helena high.

A new feature of the course is the last sprint from Capo Freo to the east of Rio. While the old course to Salvador would usually see the boats finishing in trade wind conditions, the last part to Itajaí is much more likely to be affected by the phase of the depressions, and the associated fronts, emanating from Plate estuary between Argentina and Urugary. While the old course to Salvador was a little processional from the Doldrums on, the final 500 miles this time is likely to provide a last roll of the dice for competitors.

New format

The race has new management this year with Manfred Ramspacher's company Sirius Events (who organise the Normandy Channel Race for the Class40s and Normandy Sailing Week) taking over from long term organiser, Pen Duick.

With this comes a new race format. Back in the old days when the race was contested by just 60ft monohulls and multihulls, the multis would arrive first followed a few days later by the monohulls (although the tris were often sent on a longer course to minimise the difference between their arrival times still further). Now with the smaller, slower Class40s joining the fleet, they look set to take 24-25 days to complete the course this year, possibly longer, while the MOD70s are expecting to romp down the 5400 miles in almost half time.

To resolve this, an attempt was made to turn this Transat Jacques Vabre into a pursuit race, where under the original plan the monohulls were to start today (Sunday), followed by the Multi50s leaving on Tuesday and the MOD 70s on Friday. In fact thanks to the inclement forecast all the boats are leaving on Monday with the exception of the two MOD 70s which are now departing on Wednesday, the schedule now determined by the available weather windows.


This year four classes are competing.

Leading the charge, once they have cruised through the rest of the fleet, will be the two MOD70s. This was supposed to have been three until the sad capsize of Jean Pierre Dick’s Virbac Paprec 70, but now will come down to a match race between Seb Josse and Charles Caudrelier on Edmond de Rothschild and Oman Air sailed by Sidney Gavignet and Damian Foxall. Two of France’s best crews on two identical trimarans – this should be an almighty dust-up. Read more about this here.

Boat Crew Design Built Notes
Actual Yves le Blévec/Kito de Pavant Verdier Various 2009  
Arkema-Région Aquitaine Lalou Roucayrol/Mayeul Riffet Neyhousser/Verdier 2013  
FenêtréA Cardinal Erwan Le Roux/Yann Elies VPLP CDK 2009 ex Crepes Whaou! 3
Maître Jacques Loïc Féquet/Loic Escoffier VPLP CDK 2005 ex Crepes Whaou! 2
Rennes Metropole/Saint-Malo Agglomeration Gilles Lamiré/Andrea Mura Irens/Cabaret 2009 ex Prince de Bretagne
Vers un monde sans SIDA Erik Nigon/Samy Villeneuve Irens 1988  

Six Multi 50s are competing. For those unfamiliar with this slightly discreet, entirely French class, we ran a full feature on it in 2009 (read this here) when three new boats had been launched from three different designers – the VPLP-penned Crepes Whaou 3! for Franck-Yves Escoffier (now FenêtréA Cardinal), the Guillaume Verdier-designed Actual and Irens/Cabaret’s Prince de Bretagne (now Rennes Metropole/Saint Malo Agglomeration).

Since then only one new Multi 50 has been built - Arkema–Région Aquitaine, launched this year to a design by Romaric Neyhousser and his colleagues within Guillaume Verdier’s team (we’ll be publishing a full report on this boat imminently). She seems to have legs, as with ex-Banque Populaire ORMA 60 skipper Lalou Roucayrol in charge she won this summer’s Route des Princes.

Read more about the Multi 50 race here.


Boat Crew Design Built Notes
Bureau Vallée
Louis Burton/Guillaume Le Brec Farr JMV 2009 ex Delta Dore
Cheminées Poujoulat
Bernard Stamm/Philippe Legros Juan K Decision 2011  
Zbigniew Gutkowski /Maciej Marczewski Finot/Conq Green/Hutton 2009 ex Hugo Boss
Tanguy de Lamotte/François Damiens Lombard MAG 1998 ex Whirlpool, etc etc
François Gabart/Michel Desjoyeaux VPLP/Verdier Green/CDK 2011  
Maitre CoQ
Jérémie Beyou/Christopher Pratt VPLP/Verdier Green/CDK 2010 ex Banque Populaire
Vincent Riou/Jean Le Cam VPLP/Verdier CDK 2010  
Marc Guillemot/Pascal Bidégorry VPLP/Verdier Larros 2007  
Team Plastique
Alessandro Di Benedetto/Alberto Monaco Finot/Conq Kirie 1998 ex Sodebo, VMI, etc
Votre Nom Autour du Monde
Bertrand de Broc/Arnaud Boissières Finot/Conq Multiplast 2007 ex BritAir

The most high profile fleet remains the IMOCA 60, with ten entries – a respectable line-up considering this is a post-Vendee Globe year, although this is the smallest IMOCA turn-out since 1999, for example it is four less than in the last post-Vendee TJV in 2009 (the record was 17 in 2007 and 2003).

In this fleet there is one clear favourite, Francois Gabart and Michel Desjoyeaux on MACIF, who between them have won three of the last four Vendee Globes along with the Rolex Fastnet Race this year (and the Artemis Challenge...obviously...more here).

Since the Vendee Globe, MACIF's mast has been replaced by her spare and the daggerboards have also been changed to newer ones that are substantially lighter and more like the Groupama and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing VO70 boards with a bulb at their end that closes the bottom of the daggerboard case when the board is fully raised.

MACIF’s main competition is likely to come from her sistership, Maître CoQ, that, as Banque Populaire, carried Armel le Cleac’h to second place in the Vendee Globe earlier this year. Unlike MACIF, the boat has had no mods made to her since the Vendee, other than the addition of a couple of new kites. She is now being sailed by her new owner, double Solitaire du Figaro winner Jérémie Beyou and another experienced IMOCA 60 and Figaro sailor, Christopher Pratt.

Beyond this, boat-wise, the competition for the front of the fleet is in fact very similar to that of the last Vendee Globe, between the four last generation IMOCA 60s and the continually upgraded Safran, which won the 2009 Transat Jacques Vabre, skipper Marc Guillemot accompanied on that occasion by the talented Charlies Caudrelier. This time he has with him the equally quick former Banque Populaire maxi-trimaran skipper Pascal Bidegorry.

Since losing the titanium keel, the ‘piece of jewellery’ as Mike Golding described it before it parted company from the boat within 24 hours of the start of the last Vendee Globe, Safran has reverted to her original keel, although substantially tweaked with the aim of making it ultra-reliable. In fact with her fixed mast and spreader configuration, Safran could be the boat best equipped to deal with the lively conditions expected over the first three to four days of the race.

The dazzling orange PRB is back with 2004 Vendee Globe winner Vincent Riou at the helm and the legend, Jean le Cam, as co-skipper. Riou famously rescued le Cam when his boat capsized off Cape Horn in the 2008 Vendee Globe. The PRB team optimised their boat's rig, reducing weight aloft, prior to the Vendee Globe, so it is thought that she might be the least well suited to the near gale force upwind conditions the boats are likely to experience en route to Cape Finisterre.

Bernard Stamm’s Juan K-designed Cheminees Poujoulat has yet to come to her own and within IMOCA 60 circles is believed to be further proof that heavy powerful boats might kick butt in the Volvo Ocean Race, but not shorthanded. However the boat is a masterpiece of construction, Stamm a talented sailor who has been working hard to improve the boat’s performance since it was a step away from being totalled to the north of the Azores in the race two years ago, when Stamm and co-skipper Jef Cuzon had to abandon her after she suffered a collision and started taking on water (the north of the Azores seems unlucky for this race – a similar fate befell Seb Josse and BT two years earlier, ironically when Cuzon was also co-skipper on board. This race Cuzon is understandably staying ashore to route Oman Air.)

Poles Zbigniew Gutkowski and Maciej Marczewski on Energa and Bertrand de Broc and Arnaud Boissières on Votre Nom Autour du Monde should have a good race, both sailing 2008 generation Finot-Conq sisterships, but are thought unlikely to make an impression on the 2012 generation boats.

Our look at the Class40 coming up...

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