Mark Lloyd / Transat bakerly

How the 'Transat Anglais' become the 'Transat Francais'

We look at why there are only two British competitors in The Transat bakerly

Sunday May 1st 2016, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

A guide to the British competitors in The Transat bakerly 2016? Sadly this would be a fairly short article.

For the 2016 singlehanded east to west transatlantic race, there are just two British competitors: Richard Tolkien among the IMOCA 60s and, the best British hope for the race, 2006 Route du Rhum Class 40 winner, Phil Sharp back in the 40 footers aboard Imerys.

There’s no Alex Thomson, who is at present delivering his new Hugo Boss IMOCA 60 to the US ready for the singlehanded IMOCA Ocean Masters New York to Vendee (Les Sables d’Olonne) race which starts on 29 May.

There’s no Miranda Merron, whose brand spanking new Class40, designed by her partner Halvard Mabire, is sorely anticipated but not yet launched. The likes of Mike Golding, Dee Caffari, Josh Hall, Sam Davies and Brian Thompson no longer have IMOCA programs or other campaigns suitable for this race. Steve White, hero of the 2008 Vendée Globe, has the right spirit but the wrong boat (a VO70), in which he plans to tackle the singlehanded around the world westabout record. The Artemis Offshore Academy graduates haven’t quite made it into these classes yet. And other than Phil Sharp and Miranda, there seem to be no other Brits willing to take on what, short of a round the world race, is the toughest race in the Class40 calendar.

Richard Tolkien, a life-long fan of this race, has views on this: “I feel strongly that the sea and sailing are a great thing and more young sailors should get out there, but I would like to see more young sailors sailing in the great classic races, like the Challenge created by Chay Blyth or the Round Britain and the OSTAR created by the Royal Western and the Route du Rhum.

“Here we are in Plymouth and there are two English boats and we need to ask why that is… It isn’t that there aren’t good English sailors. A lot of people now are beginning to hear about Sam Goodchild and there’s Sam Matson and Henry Bomby - there are good English sailors and those people in the UK who care about sailing, the more senior people, need to think about what has gone wrong and how we get these younger guys into older boats on to the water.”

Tolkien reckons that the present promising crop of Figaro sailors born of the extremely worthy Artemis Offshore Academy are being held up trying to make the huge leap into the IMOCA 60 and should instead contemplate the Class40 or racing older IMOCA 60s. “People have got to be willing to serve their apprenticeship and not to immediately go in to a winning boat. A Class40 is much more manageable and sensible.”

While Brits are thin on the ground in Plymouth’s Sutton Harbour, they are too within the event’s organisers. While The Transat bakerly starts in Plymouth, has always been a ‘British event’ and is run by OC, which we still think of a British company with its HQ in Cowes, in fact today OC is, for the most part, French, with Télégramme Group its major shareholder. The Group also owns Pen Duick, which runs La Solitaire du Figaro and the Route du Rhum.

With former OC boss Mark Turner Alicante-bound and former OC media guru Lou Newlands getting herself a new job on the opposite end of the Cowes chain ferry, the management of The Transat bakerly is now exclusively French – be it Event Director Herve Favre, or Race Director Gilles Chiorri. The three hour long skippers’ briefing, ironically held in the Royal Western Yacht Club, the original organiser of the OSTAR, was held in French (but then, all but four of the 24 entries are French, so why would it be in any other language?)

This is in no way a criticism, merely an observation and we don't believe has any bearing on the lack of British entries – but without question the ‘Transat Anglais’ has become the 'Transat Francais'. Nelson would have had a hot flush.

In reality the French commandeering the Transat is no sudden thing and the event has held out for way longer than the Mini Transat managed. Thanks to Eric Tabarly, French boats have overwhelmed OSTAR entry lists ever since the early 1970s. The event hasn’t been won outright by a Brit since Geoffrey Williams back in 1968.

Nick Keig and his 53ft Kelsall tri Three Legs of Mann III were second in 1980. Exeter policeman Peter Philips and his much touted Shuttleworth 60 tri Travacrest Seaway led for a few days of the 1984 race before the French onslaught prevailed. After losing the 1984 race to Yvon Fauconnier, who had been awarded a controversial time bonus, Philippe Poupon (the most successful French sailor of the decade) won the 1988 race, before the ‘Loick Peyron era’ of the 1990s (winner of the 1992 and 1996 races and also winner the last race, The Artemis Transat in 2008 on the Gitana Eighty IMOCA 60). Peyron is back this time but, in order to give the others a chance (!), is racing Tabarly’s 1964 winner Pen Duick II.

In our personal favourite of these races, 2000 saw the truly delightful victory of Francis Joyon, the rudely deposed former skipper of Banque Populaire, who started the race as complete underdog up against more spangly, higher profile and better resourced ORMA 60 trimaran competition. However for the 2000 and 2004 races, the monohull division was separated out and did see British success. The former was won by, at the time, newbie IMOCA 60 Ellen MacArthur on her new Kingfisher, much surprising even some of her own team, while race veteran Mike Golding on Ecover claimed monohull honours four years later.

French companies have backed the event for decades with radio station Europe 1 supporting it for many editions (initially for example paying for the then new-fangled ARGOS beacons that were used to track entries in the 1984 race.)

Present sponsor of the race is the French Norac Group that is using the event to push its new brand ‘bakerly’. The company recently set up subsidiaries in the UK (HQ in Islington) and the US to sell ‘French-inspired products’ in these marketplaces. If Norac Group is unfamiliar , the company also owns the Crêpes Whaou! brand which followers of French offshore races will recognise as having for many years supported St Malo-based sailor Franck-Yves Escoffier in his highly successful Multi 50 campaigns. This weekend, if you fancy a ready made and filled crepe – Plymouth is the place to come as they are being handed out on the dock.

Anyway Transat Anglais or Francais, it is great that the Transat is back after an eight year hiatus and that the cream of the French offshore racing fleets is on our side of La Manche this week. This hardware, from Francois Gabart's Ultime trimaran MACIF to the latest Class40s via the state of the art foiling IMOCA 60s such as Banque Populaire and Gitana 16 and the relatively unknown mini ORMA 60s, the Multi 50s, represent some of the most interesting yachting weaponry on the planet. It is truly a rare gathering.


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