Photo: Olivier Blanchet / DPPI

The longest Transat

Looking at the course for this Sunday's Transat Jacques Vabre

Wednesday October 21st 2015, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: France

At 5400 nautical miles, the Transat Jacques Vabre race course from Le Havre on the Channel coast of France southwest across the Atlantic to Itajaí, Brazil, some 1000 km south of Rio de Janeiro, is the longest Transat race course there is.

For the 42 doublehanded crews in the race’s three different classes, this long course offers varied and different challenges all the way, from the difficult exit from the Channel to the often fickle and unsettled breezes on the way into the finish line.

It is a course which delivers a welcomed mix of meteorological features – strategic choices can yield gains, potholes which may develop losses – but so too there are many hundreds of miles of sustained, Trade Winds sailing, a speed test as unrelenting, and as rewarding as any Transat.

For the sailors who are seeking to race in the 2016-17 Vendee Globe, this course across the Atlantic represents a great chance to rehearse, to learn the lines of  the outbound, first 20% of the that circumnavigation's course. For the IMOCA 60s the course is sailed in around 17 days. The Ultimes should be home in just under 11 while the Class 40s will take around 21 to 25 days.

It is the second time that the Transat Jacques Vabre has headed to Itajaí after a successful race in 2013. Previously the coffee route race went to the Cartagena, Columbia between 1992 and 1999. From 2001 to 2007 it finished in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil before two editions which went to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

Once more the race course is completely open, free of any restrictions and turning marks beyond the Traffic Separation Schemes and Restricted Zones. From a strategy point of view there are three zones which shape the race, the exit from the Channel and choices made to pass the TSSs by Alderney and Ushant. Then they cross the Bay of Biscay which more often than not delivers the first big low pressure system.

At Cape Finisterre there is the choice to stay east and try to hook into the Portuguese trade winds down the coast or head west to meet a front first and get a better, faster wind angle for a longer term gain. The first to get south into the real northeasterly trade winds often gains the best, early advantage down the Cape Verde islands. Then there is the Doldrums, which can be anything from 200 to 600 miles of very unsettled, light winds.

The southeastly trades blow after the Doldrums until about Cape Frio, just to the north of Rio de Janeiro. From here to the finish at Itajaí it can be a minefield of varying weather situations, depending on the position of the St Helena high and the timing of the depressions passing east through the Southern Ocean. Inshore on the Brazilian coast there are fishing boats and drift nets which have been a problem for tired skippers before. There is no let up at all on the course. And there can be a considerable difference in the weather situations down the track for the slower Class 40 from those experienced by the Ultimes. Indeed when the first boat is finishing, the Class 40s are often just passing the Cape Verdes.

Ryan Breymaier co-skipper on said: “Getting out of here, the English Channel, is always the main worry to start with. You have getting out of here and then getting around the first low pressure because there will be one. And you are going upwind into it or downwind over the top of it which is how it looks like just now. That is the first big things. Then do you have to go through a front, that is always a horror show when people break their boats. These aspects are the key to the beginning. Then how and when to hook into the trade winds, how far west do you go? Do you get west before you even hook into the trade winds so that you have a closet angle and can sail faster. Positioning yourself to get into the tradewinds and then to positioning to get through the Doldrums. After that I have a bit less experience. The SW trades are slightly more irregular and slightly lighter, if you can get through these key gates then the pecking order, the hierarchy is kind of set. And from there it is pretty much a speed race to Itajaí. I think along the Brazilian coast there are some messy holes to fall into. You can’t let down your guard until the very end until you absolutely have to turn right and head in to the finish.”

 After a period chasing records this summer on the maxi-trimaran Lending Club (now IDEC Sport), American co-skipper Ryan Breymaier is enjoying a return to the IMOCA class, getting set to take on the Transat Jacques Vabre for his first time. He will sail with young French skipper Nicolas Boidevezi on the 2007 Farr design Breymaier has a history with the boat, working on Roland Jourdain’s shore team and pushing the boat in the colours of Véolia Environnement off the dock in Saint Malo in 2010 as ‘Bilou’ headed out to win the solo Route du Rhum. Since then Breymaier has completed in the Barcelona World Race to take fifth place, doublehanded, and won the New York Barcelona two up with Spain’s Pepe Ribes.

Preparations and training has been short and sweet. Boidevezi has a small budget and is fighting his way to the start of the Vendée Globe next year, seeking sponsor support to get there. He has five or six years of Mini 6.5 class experience but Breymaier is on board to fast track his IMOCA learning.

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