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Final tacks in the tropics before the great winter

© Brian Carlin
© Brian Carlin

In Gustavia, the port of St Barths, the pressure is gradually rising. Little by little, the fleet is being fleshed out as the different delivery trips from Brazil and the coasts of Europe make landfall. The first to arrive in St Barths from Itajai, the team aboard Souffle du Nord has demonstrated a degree of professionalism that is worthy of the greatest teams. For skipper Thomas Ruyant, this will be the third official event on the IMOCA circuit following on from his fourth place won after a brave fight in the Transat Jacques Vabre, a sign that projects undertaken with intelligence albeit with little means at their disposal can still be very much on their A game. Friday will host the prologue, a fine way to share the magic of sailing in IMOCA60 with the on-board guests.

The prologue, Friday 4 December

A tour of St Barths is obviously a must for this foretaste of the race. It is an opportunity for the competing teams to enjoy the unique setting of St Barths and its landscapes, where the steep cliffs alternate with long beaches of white sand. The prologue is also an opportunity to thank all those on the island, who have been going to great lengths to offer both the racers and the organisation the very warmest of welcomes.

Everyone at their stations for Friday

Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord) and Eric Holden (O Canada) are already in position in Gustavia. They’ve been joined by Morgan Lagravière, who has chartered Nicolas Boidevézi’s boat Adopteunskipper.net for the event. With Safran already in refit following the Transat Jacques Vabre, Morgan was determined to take part in the race so as to validate his qualification for the Vendée Globe and continue to gain experience in solo configuration. Demonstrating unwavering determination and unquestionable talent, Morgan is proving just how much he deserves Safran’s support in his undertaking. The fact that Morgan can step aboard Nicolas Boidevézi’s boat is also a reflection of the mutual aid and solidarity that reigns in the offshore racing world. In this way, Nicolas Boidevézi is helping Morgan follow through on his plans whilst he continues to work flat out to secure the necessary funding that will enable him to take the start of the upcoming events in the World IMOCA Ocean Masters Championship at the helm of his own boat.

The organisation team ready to accommodate the rest of the fleet

SMA left Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe this lunchtime (GMT) and will take around twelve hours to reach Gustavia following the shore crew’s completion of work on the keel fin that was damaged during the Transat Jacques Vabre.

Newrest-Matmut, having left Itajai the day after the crew on Souffle du Nord, will round off their gruelling delivery early this evening.

They will be preceded by Kilcullen Voyager over the course of the afternoon. It’s worth noting that the skipper Enda O’Coineen is the first Irish sailor to launch a Vendée Globe project and he’s very much hoping that his initiative gains widespread acceptance.

Edmond De Rothschild, after an express refit in Lorient following damage in the Transat Jacques Vabre, is expected into Gustavia early Thursday night (local time).

Managing to configure such demanding machines as IMOCAs with such a short turnaround time between two transatlantic races testifies to the very high level of expertise and hard work the shore teams are capable of. Whether it relates to a delivery trip from Brazil, crossing back over the Atlantic, or ensuring that the machine is in tip-top condition to take the start of a singlehanded race requiring such high standards, everyone has stepped up to the plate and spared no effort in trying to achieve their goals. Such is the price to pay for a championship like the IMOCA Ocean Masters to be able to offer a race programme that is as intense as it is enticing.

Solo rookies

Ultimately, there will be just two sailors, Yann Eliès (Quéguiner / Leucémie Espoir) and Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) who can boast experience of racing an IMOCA singlehanded. For all the others, this Transat Saint-Barth / Port-la-Forêt will be a genuine baptism of fire. Suffice to say that the tension is likely to rise on the pontoons of Gustavia from Saturday.

Live with the skippers prior to start day

On Sunday 6 December at 15:00 GMT (11:00am in Gustavia), the eight solo sailors in the Transat Saint-Barth / Port-la-Forêt will take the start of what promises to be around twelve to fourteen days at sea bound for Brittany. The race is likely to involve a first tack punching due North towards Bermuda and the eastern seaboard of the United States before beginning to hook onto the westerly winds, that will enable them to barrel across to Europe at full speed. On the cards are strong winds, an increasingly omnipotent chill and some particularly long nights…

To discuss what lies ahead of them, the skippers have an appointment on Saturday 5 December at 16:00 GMT for a live link-up with French radio legend Pierre-Louis Castelli on the Brittany stand at the Nautic Paris Boat Show. Needless to say it should not be missed on any account!

Quotes from the Boats:

Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest / Matmut):I opted not to do the delivery trip, which pretty much equates to another transatlantic and instead I spent a few days with family to recharge my batteries. I have remained in permanent contact with the team however. The Transat Jacques Vabre proved to be particularly educational, but I’m really keen to get going on the Transat Saint-Barth / Port-la-Forêt, which will be my real solo baptism. Together with Éric Péron, we’ve worked a great deal on what solo sailing entails in relation to sailing double-handed. With this race, I’m clearly stepping things up a gear and it’s a significant challenge. I’m looking forward to taking up the gauntlet.”

Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord):I’ve just spent a fortnight with family in Brazil before coming here. It was much needed; you wouldn’t think it but we’ve been working full-on with this project since February-March. Given the intensity of the Transat Jacques Vabre, taking a break was essential. Right now I’m in a good space, ready to get back on it and I’m eager to hit the start. Beyond qualifying for the Vendée Globe, my primary objective is to rack up some experience before the winter refit. It’s going to be my first solo race! A transatlantic race usually involves leaving the winter behind us and heading towards the fine weather. This time around, it’s the reverse of that. It’s exciting, though I know it’s likely to be tough…”

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