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Transat Jacques Vabre: Battling it out to the Bitter End

© Eloi Stichelbaut / Sea & Co
© Eloi Stichelbaut / Sea & Co

Just days from the Transat Jacques Vabre finish, yet everything is still possible. Under constant threat from runners-up Armel Le Cléac’h and Erwan Tabarly on Banque Populaire VIII, Vincent Riou and Sébastien Col aboard PRB are just managing to keep ahead. And no letting up for Armel and Erwan either, with Quéguiner/Leucémie Espoir hot on their heels. Can PRB keep it up to victory in Itajai?

After the first incredibly harsh week took its toll on some of the fleet, the survivors hooked onto the tradewinds and really got their teeth into the race. With the low pressure behind them and a steady north-westerly wind, Banque Populaire VIII pipped PRB and Quéguiner/Leucémie Espoir to the post. And the foils swooshed Armel Le Cléac’h and Erwan Tabarly ahead to a nearly 40-mile lead as they entered the Doldrums – a lead they were to lose within their first day there and they slipped into in third position before reaching the southern hemisphere. But then an unsettled tradewind finally forced the three leaders round the horn of Brazil close to the wind, a sailing position particularly favourable to foilers allowing Armel and Erwan to make up the lost ground on Yann Elies and Charlie Dalin, but they couldn’t quite catch Vincent Riou and Sébastien Col. With some 600 miles to the finish, PRB is holding the inside track, but they’ll be under pressure to the end.

Chasers chasing

Meanwhile a battle is raging amongst the chasing pack of older generation boats, where Le Souffle du Nord with Thomas Ruyant and Adrien Hardy, and Initiatives Cœur skippered by Tanguy de Lamotte and Sam Davies have been keeping steady pace from the outset. Just a few miles of each other, the two crews are struggling for fourth place. Further east, Thomas and Adrien have negotiated a better angle out of the Doldrums and into the southern hemisphere tradewinds, and close behind, Bertrand de Broc and Marc Guillemot (MACSF) and their wealth of experience has got them sixth place in front of Eric Bellion and Sam Goodchild (Comme un Seul Homme) and Fabrice Amedeo and Eric Péron (Newrest/MatMut). Taking up the rear, Bureau Vallée were out of power – and routing files – for days, forcing Louis Burton and Romain Attanasio to helm constantly. But the 2 MacGyvers’ nifty DIY work has fixed the electricity converter on the hydrogenerators and are now back with full energy.

Tough decisions

Amongst the crews who have had to cut short their race to Brazil, Paul Meilhat and Michel Desjoyeaux aboard SMA have discovered some delamination on the keel, most likely as a result of impact. To be ready for the next race in the Ocean Masters World Championship – the Transat St-Barth–Port-la-Forêt – and an essential step in Paul’s journey to the Vendée Globe, the crew have set a course for Guadeloupe. St-Michel/Virbac are still in Madeira after breaks to structural framing in the forward compartment, and a breakage to a lower runner has ended the race for Nicolas Boidevezi and Ryan Breymaier (adopteunskipper.com) – a particularly tough decision given how skilfully they had negotiated the lows of the first week and that they were on the point of reaping the benefits from their option. Whatever the outcome however, Nicolas Boidevezi has proved that he’s very much ready for the IMOCA Class and its World Championship.

Quotes from the boats:

Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII):

Tough night last night due to a storm cloud that stuck to us like glue. We had made up good ground on PRB, but our efforts were destroyed in a matter of minutes! Our hopes for more bracing tradewinds haven’t materialised but we’re still in battle mode, and watching our backs with the Elies – Dalin duo hounding us.”

Vincent Riou (PRB):

Things are not too bad. We’re running down towards Cabo Frio and tacking right tomorrow. Banque Populaire have made great progress on a reach, but we couldn’t use the same sails. Now that we’re sailing more downwind, they shouldn’t really worry us, but there are still a fair few manœuvres ahead and mistakes are easily made. It won’t be plain sailing – there will be no letting up!”

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