After seventeen days of racing, Vincent Riou and Sébastien Col have secured a convincing victory in the IMOCA category of the Transat Jacques Vabre. It’s the second consecutive win for Vincent, who also took line honours in this event in 2013 with Jean Le Cam. PRB finally managed to hold off Banque Populaire and Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir, who complete this supreme podium.
Perseverare diabolicum est? Vincent Riou is certainly no devil, but he etched a diabolically perfect trajectory between Le Havre and Itajai alongside Sébastien Col, securing him this second victory. Yesterday, Wednesday 11 November at 12:52 GMT, the two men crossed the finish line in Brazil after 17 days, 22 minutes and 24 seconds of racing. Over the theoretical 5,400-mile course, this translates as an average speed of 13.22 knots. Over the water, PRB actually covered 6,034 miles, which equates to a true average speed of nearly 15 knots (14.78).
No wind indicators from the first night!
Vincent Riou and Sébastien Col have a lot to celebrate on the finish line. Forgotten is the first week of racing, its relentless storms and retirements which hit half the IMOCA fleet in these particularly brutal conditions. Almost forgotten too is the damage to the instruments, which forced them to sail the old-fashioned way without wind indicators “guided only by the course and groundspeed”! Very well prepared and already dominating this season’s action, PRB was clearly not going to take a back seat in this race. Even the threat of a small zone of light winds in front of the finish line failed to materialise in the end, enabling them to secure victory in Itajai with an 8 and 10-hour lead over the other two major players in this race: the brand new Banque Populaire VIII skippered by Armel Le Cléac’h and Erwan Tabarly and the Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir skippered by Yann Eliès and Charlie Dalin. It’s worth noting that with three boats from three different generations on the podium, the IMOCA class and sporting equity are one and the same. A fact that augurs well for the Vendée Globe too, where these three boats and their skippers are sure to rank among the favourites.
The hellish trio
On exiting the English Channel, PRB settled into position in the leading pack, sailing in drastic conditions closest to the eye of the storm in order to pick up the favourable change in wind direction to the west as early as possible. With peaks of speed of over 25 knots at times, Vincent Riou and Sébastien Col’s monohull made a break for it around three days into the race… but they were not alone. Indeed, PRB “enjoyed” the company of three other IMOCAs in close proximity: SMA helmed by Paul Meilhat and Michel Desjoyeaux; Banque Populaire; and Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir. SMA’s retirement due to damage quickly transformed the quartet into a hellish trio. So much so that from the Canary Islands, it was hard to imagine the rest of the fleet catching up with them, the fourth boat already 200 miles astern of them. Jockeying for position, Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir, Banque Populaire and finally PRB all took a turn in pole position. For a moment, it appeared that the brand new Banque Populaire VIII with her foils was going to make good her escape. However, complex conditions in the Doldrums had other plans for her. We were even treated to a totally unique action snapshot just before the Equator, with the three leading boats forced to sail upwind in a bid to make some sort of headway!
On 3 November, some 2,300 miles from the finish, PRB managed to snatch back the race lead from Banque Populaire, right in the middle of the Atlantic. It was a position Vincent Riou and Sébastien Col would hold onto for the rest of the race. For the last eight days of this Transat Jacques Vabre, they would relentlessly cover their two adversaries, even managing to eke out a 30-mile lead at the horn of Brazil. The final vagaries of the weather were also swallowed up without incident. As was the case two years ago, PRB went on to secure victory in 17 days. Banque Populaire and Quéguiner crossed the finish line a few hours later, the wind having died away for them in the closing miles. Armel Le Cléac’h and Erwan Tabarly took second place shortly before 21:00 GMT, Yann Eliès and Charie Dalin taking third at 22:31 GMT. On the podium, two boats with classic ‘straight’ foils on either side of a brand new foiling machine – and three IMOCAs launched in 2010, 2015 and 2007 respectively in what proved to be an incredibly close-fought, thrilling battle from beginning to end. Diabolicum!
Quotes from the Boats
“We’re happy. Two and a half weeks ago in Le Havre, we were keeping a low profile. We knew that we were setting sail for a full-on race and the aim was to get through it safely and be in the leading group at the Azores. It was a great contest and the lead between 1st and 2nd place didn’t stretch over 35 miles until the day before yesterday. There were a great many changes of leader. The Doldrums were strange, but I manage to come through it well every time and I’ll end up loving it! We needed nerves of steel as there was very little separating us all in terms of performance. The latest generation IMOCA is in a phase of learning and discovery, whilst we have a tried and tested boat we’re familiar with. Foils are certainly the future of sailing; we’ll all have them one day. Aside from that, we really followed our gut feelings in this Transat Jacques Vabre: from the first night the wind instruments cut out and we no longer had any indicators for wind strength, direction or angle. All we had was the course and speed over the ground. We even considered putting ribbons on the shrouds, like we did when we were kids on a 420. If someone had told me that’s how it was going to be before the start, I’d have said no way, it cannot possibly work! We did it all by feeling.”
“It was a real pleasure. It was impressive seeing how Vincent operates. He’s a great all-rounder and masters a great many things, technical and navigational. Ultimately, our electronics issue has been a good lesson: you realise that we’re increasingly assisted in our everyday life, whilst the human being is actually capable of doing great things and can operate just on feeling.”
Armel Le Cléac’h
“Erwan (Tabarly) and I formed a fantastic duo on what is certainly a boat we’re still breaking in, with a fair amount of tweaking ahead. We were leading when we went into the Doldrums, but unfortunately some of the clouds weren’t very kind to us. One storm caused us a loss of 35 miles! We had lots of upwind sailing too, which isn’t a point of sail favoured by the foils. There’s an element of disappointment because obviously we’d love to have won, but we’re very happy to have completed the race and been in with a chance of winning throughout. We weren’t crowned with success this time, but we’ll be keeping our foils! There are moments where they work well (Erwan Tabarly talks of peak speeds of 29 knots) and others where we’re less at ease… Banque Populaire VIII was launched just 6 months ago, whilst PRB has been sailing for 5 years. We have substantial room for improvement.”
“This third place caps what has been a great year for all the team after the victory in the Solitaire du Figaro. This winter we’ll have a lot of work getting the boat ready with a view to the Vendée Globe: everything requires millimetre precision when you’re making headway at 25 knots! This transatlantic has been very complex, not just due to the rough conditions but also in the Doldrums, and yet we took the same amount of time over the course as in the last race. That means we really pushed the machines hard and that we’ve made good progress.”
The podium for the Transat Jacques Vabre 2015
1. PRB - Vincent Riou and Sébastien Col in 17 days 00h 22 minutes and 24 seconds
2. Banque Populaire - Armel Le Cléac’h and Erwan Tabarly in 17 days 08h 29 mn and 09 sc
3. Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir - Yann Eliès and Charlie Dalin in 17 days 10h 01 mn and 23 sc