Charal is one of the most focused and well-resourced teams in the ever-growing IMOCA ranks led by two of the best offshore ocean racing sailors, in Jérémie Beyou and Franck Cammas, and in the Défi Azimut-Lorient Agglomération 48-Hours that proved an overwhelming combination.

Relishing a 600-mile course in fresh westerly and northwesterly winds in the northeastern Bay of Biscay, Charal was always in the mix, duking it out with Charlie Dalin and Pascal Bidégorry’s MACIF Santé Prévoyance and Sam Goodchild and Thomas Ruyant’s For the Planet.

Beyou’s much-tweaked Sam Manuard design from 2022 was competitive on all points of sail, and never more so than upwind when her rivals struggled to live with her.

In the end, after one day, 17 hours and 46 minutes at sea, the red and black IMOCA, sponsored by a French meat products company, crossed the finish line off Lorient at the head of the 33-strong fleet. She was just under two hours ahead of MACIF Santé Prévoyance and nearly two-and-a-half hours ahead of For The Planet.

This was Beyou’s first win of the 2023 season – his best previous result was second in the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race – and he was delighted to have prevailed in this event for the third time, and to have achieved his first victory alongside Cammas. The key points, he said, were a good start on Thursday and his and Cammas’s ability to recover from small mistakes.

© Jean-Louis Carli

“There’s a high level of competition in the fleet so when you win such intense races you’re doing pretty well,” said Beyou on the dockside in Lorient. “After that, this result is good psychologically. I’ve been waiting for this for some time, especially with Franck.”

Cammas highlighted the difficult wind conditions throughout a race that saw squalls all over the course, featuring sudden changes in wind direction and velocity. “Everything was pretty complicated,”he said. “The sea was pretty rough. It was very unstable and yesterday afternoon we had another squall at 40 knots when we really weren’t expecting it. The Défi Azimut-Lorient Agglomération is always a complete race, with a course that allows you to do all the different points of sail. It’s reassuring to finish ahead, because it means that in terms of speed we’re not out of our depth – far from it.”

This race, which saw three retirements, including a dismasting for CORUM L’Epargne skipped by Nicolas Troussel and Benjamin Schwartz, proved another spectacular step in the early life of Dalin’s new Guillaume Verdier-designed MACIF Santé Prévoyance. It came straight out of the box to win the Rolex Fastnet Race in July and was always in contention in this contest, despite injuries to Bidégorry who broke a finger and damaged a shoulder when being thrown across the cockpit.

© Jean-Louis Carli

The understated Dalin, who is among the most consistent of the top IMOCA skippers, said he could see plenty of positives from this most recent outing ahead of the Transat Jacques Vabre. “We’re happy with our race,”said the 39-year-old from Le Havre. “It was intense and interesting. On the face of it, everything’s going well aboard the boat. The team did a quick check-up and everything’s fine, even if there were a few phases when things were really hard. That bodes well for the future – the structure seems to be up to our expectations.”

While Dalin emerged happy enough, the same could be said of Goodchild sailing with Ruyant for the first time while his teammates’ new boat is being repaired. The two skippers seem to have got on really well. “He wasn’t intense at all – he’s intense in a very calm way!” said Goodchild when asked how the personalities gelled offshore. “Thomas is intense about the right things and not just for the sake of it. I don’t like shouting and sailing angry and we didn’t shout and sail angry. It was just cool – cool, calm and collected,” he added.

© Jean-Louis Carli

This outing proved a useful opportunity for the Englishman to see how Ruyant got the most out of a boat in which he enjoyed great success including two transatlantic race wins. The old LinkedOut now struggles a bit against the new boats in the early foiling transitions and when cutting through a rough seaway, but Goodchild knows he has a contender for the Vendée Globe podium in his hands.

“There are definitely moments when we are missing performance, when we can’t go as fast as the others,”he reflected. “But, at the same time, I’ve got a boat that has worked for four years and I know it works and I can trust it. And now, having sailed with Thomas and working with his team for six months, we have learnt its limits much quicker than you would do with a new boat.”

This Azimut 48-Hours, which many skippers were completing as part of their qualification process for the 2024 Vendée Globe, saw competitive racing throughout the fleet. Not least was the battle to be first female skipper at the line between Sam Davies of Great Britain and Justine Mettraux of Switzerland. They finished fifth and sixth respectively, just five minutes apart, with Davies sailing with Jack Bouttell on Initiatives-Coeur and Mettraux on Teamwork racing alongside Julien Villion.

© Jean-Louis Carli

Davies admitted fifth place was beyond her pre-start expectations at the and of a race which saw her and Bouttell break a jib sheet and have to contend with a leaking diesel tank which emptied inside the boat. “We learned a lot – we learned how to sail together and it went really well,” said Davies at the finish. “I was glad to have Jack with me because he’s solid,” she added. She also paid tribute Mettraux and Villion: “They were always there and did a great job of moving up the fleet, but we knew that the lighter winds (would favour) us,” she said.

While Charal enjoyed reasonable breeze all the way to the finish, all those following in her wake had to contend with ever lighter conditions over the final 150 miles, making for an unusually large spread in the field. Among those making their way slowly to the line, northeast of the Île-de-Groix, was Violette Dorange, sailing with Damien Guillou on DeVenir, who were on course to finish outside the top-10 but as first non-foiling boat on Dorange’s first outing in the IMOCA fleet.

Ed Gorman