Transat the pretty way

Leaders take the 'Tom Follett' route for the sun in the Transat bakerly

Tuesday May 3rd 2016, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

After their first night at sea the 25 boats in The Transat bakerly solo transatlantic race from Plymouth to New York are spread out over 100 miles of ocean, however rather following the traditional route north, almost all the boats have made use of the northwesterly winds that filled in at around start time yesterday to head south.

Since then, with a lobe of the Azores poking up northeast, the majority have keyed into the northeasterly flow to the south of this. At present this is strong benefitting the southerly boats. The lead Ultimes for example will be passing Cape Finisterre early this afternoon while the boats behind look set to get caught in the high that's forecast to fill in over the Bay of Biscay over the course of today.

At the front of the fleet, race favourite Francois Gabart on MACIF has pulled ahead of Thomas Coville on Sodebo having crossed gybes this morning. With the onset of the high, their speeds are dropping to the mid-teens at present, but they should escape its clutches.

Image courtesy of Expedition and PredictWind

On board Sodebo early this morning, skipper Thomas Coville was in good spirits and said he had no doubt that south was the best option in a race more usually associated with the shorter, but more brutal, northern route: “In fact, in recent days, we see that the southern route is somewhat less exposed than the northern route. With the north affected by the ice gate, which will force people to turn south, this southern route has advantages.”

Looking back at yesterday's start Coville said it had been a tricky getaway close to the breakwater as a cold front passed overhead. “We had to make the right sail choice before leaving and there was lots to think about – I did not want to take too much risk; I wanted to do it properly,” he said. “Francois (Gabart) was a little early on the startline and had to bear away and then we were next to each other just like a classic race – it was magical. He gradually pulled away but it was nothing dramatic,” added Coville. The two giant trimarans raced on in sight of each other into Monday evening until they lost touch passing the island of Ushant off the French coast.

Behind the Ultimes, Erwan Le Roux on Fenetrea-Cardinal is leading the charge south ahead of Lalou Roucayrol on board Arkema, however they are both so far 'off course' relative to the great circle to New York, that technically Pierre Antoine on board Olmix is leading (he isn't), having chosen a 'proper' OSTAR course out into the Western Approaches.

Some 50 miles astern of the south-bound Multi50s are the pack of IMOCA 60. The leaders have recently gybed south with the new generation race favourites Banque Populaire and Edmond de Rothschild ahead sailed by Armel le Cleac'h and Seb Josse respectively. Vincent Riou on the 'conventionally foiled' PRB is second in terms of DTF but is in fact third in the race south. The leaders are currently making 8 knots, conditions when Riou's non-foiler should be quicker.

At one point last night Brit boats were technically leading both the IMOCA 60 and Class40s, but this was by virtue of Richard Tolkien on i and Phil Sharp on Imerys having headed further west than their opponents. Last night Tolkien was the only IMOCA 60 to leave the TSS off Ushant to port and this morning he's currently at the latitude of Brest while the IMOCA 60 leaders at approaching the latitude of Les Sables d'Olonne.

However in the Class40s, Phil Sharp genuinely is leading with the youngest competitor in the race, Maxime Sorel on V&B immediately astern of him while former Mini Transat winner Armel Tripon on Blackpepper is furthest south but way off on the right side of the race track. Sadly with the on set of the high, it looks like Tripon should be in a better position to skirt the high. At present though there is no much evidence of either side having an advantage with boats on both sides of the course making 8-9 knots.

Sorel said he had seen 35 knots of wind overnight but conditions were moderating. He joked that he was following the same course as he had taken in the Route du Rhum in 2014 – a predominantly downwind race – as he surfed before a fresh northerly wind, even though it is a bit colder and wetter this time.

“The sea has calmed down a bit compared with the beginning of night,” he said. “All is well on board at this time but I have a couple of hours ahead when conditions will not be easy but then it should settle again. I haven’t eaten too much but I have been drinking lots and managed to get some rest.”

At the back of the fleet, meanwhile, Loick Peyron on board the 1960s-vintage 44ft ketch Pen Duick II is ploughing a lonely furrow due south of the Isles of Scilly, on a similar course to Antoine. This morning Peyron was making just over five knots.

Positions as 0400 (GMT+1)

1. Yves Le Blevec (Actual) – 2908nm to the finish
2. Thomas Coville (Sodebo) – 2nm behind the leader
3. François Gabart (Macif) – 2.18nm behind the leader

1. Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) – 2938nm from the finish
2. Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) – 6.52nm behind the leader
3. Richard Tolkien (44) – 21nm behind the leader

1. Pierre Antoine (Olmix) – 2922nm to the finish
2. Lalou Roucayrol (Arkema) – 25nm behind the leader
3. Erwan Le Roux (FenetréA Cardinal) – 36nm behind the leader

1. Phil Sharp (Phil Sharp Racing) – 2979nm to the finish
2. Maxime Sorel (V&B) – 1.40nm behind the leader
3. Edouard Golbery (Région Normandie) – 11.96nm behind the leader

Own course:
Loïck Peyron (Pen Duick II) – 2972nm to the finish

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