It’s good to see Charlie Dalin back where he belongs, at the helm of his almost brand new Guillaume Verdier IMOCA, Macif Santé Prévoyance, ready to take on the north Atlantic in The Transat CIC.

For Dalin this 3,500-mile race, which starts from Lorient for New York on Sunday, marks his comeback after illness last year derailed his build-up to the Vendée Globe, forcing him to miss out on the Transat Jacques Vabre and the Retour à la Base.

As you might imagine, the multiple race winner in the Class, and holder of line honours in the last Vendée Globe – he finished second on corrected time – is raring to get back out on the ocean.

“I’m really happy to be back,”Dalin said in his understated way, sitting in the cockpit of his blue, white and yellow foiler at La Base marina, while his shore team completed last minute preparations. 

“It was a bit difficult to see everyone race at the end of last year and not be able to join them. So I’m really happy to be racing again and to sail on the boat,” he added.

Dalin is well aware of the historical significance of a race which he is taking on for the first time. “I’m really happy to sail in this, the original historical Transat, on the 60th anniversary of Eric Tabarly’s victory in 1964,” he said. “This race is part of the legend of single-handed offshore sailing. And the finish is going to be something you don’t do everyday. Arriving in New York with its famous skyline and the Statue of Liberty is something I can’t wait to see.”

But Dalin – a born racer – is going to have to pace himself because one consequence of missing out on two Transatlantics last year is that he must start and finish either this race or the return Transat – the New York Vendée-Les Sables d’Olonne – to ensure his qualification for the Vendée Globe. And you can tell the 39-year-old sailor originally from Le Havre is struggling with this.

“Normally I would say my number one goal, when I take part in a race, is to win. But this time I cannot, you know,”he explained. “My number one goal is to qualify for the Vendée Globe – that’s why we built this boat and that’s why this sponsorship exists. So that’s the reality. But I spend a lot of time thinking about this because it’s not easy to deal with and it’s not in my nature.”So Dalin “will do the maximum” as he heads west out of the English Channel, but “will be careful” too. 

As for the racecourse itself, the Macif Santé Prévoyance skipper does not underestimate its challenges. “It’s a hard race, spending the whole of it in the north Atlantic. It’s not like the Route du Rhum where, after four days, you are in the trade winds. In this race you’ve got the Labrador Current, the Newfoundland Banks with all the fog and you’ve got the Gulf Stream which makes things complicated. And weatherwise, there are big low pressures just east of New York so there are definite difficulties to tackle,” he said.

In terms of the weather for the early part of the race, Dalin says it looks like the start on Sunday will be a reasonably straightforward affair, featuring light to medium winds from the southwest or northwest. That will be followed by quite a lightwind first night. His big focus early on is Tuesday, however, when things are likely to get breezy and cold too.

“On Tuesday, we will have some pretty cold wind coming from the Arctic with very squally and pretty strong conditions. The wind could be more than 30 knots in the squalls and probably with hail and thunderstorms and a very big sea. So it looks pretty tricky, and we’ll be reaching fast, which is not necessarily a good thing,”said Dalin.

After that the leaders will likely encounter what Dalin called a “no-wind-wall” as they tackle a big high pressure ridge which will take some time to cross. Dalin’s assessment is that, from then on, the forecast looks pretty unclear, but he’s expecting a complex pattern that will require multiple manoeuvres all the way to New York, on a route that will take them north of the Azores.

An interesting feature of Dalin’s campaign in this boat, in which he won last year’s Rolex Fastnet Race on debut, is the intensity of the optimisation programme. 

Although the boat missed two Transatlantics last year, so on-the-water data is not as comprehensive as originally planned, it has still undergone significant updates during the winter re-fit. These included structural strengthening of the hull, new deck layout elements, new foils and refinements of the electrical package. What’s more, Dalin is not ruling out further pre-Vendée Globe optimisation of the boat in the summer re-fit, once he gets back from the US. 

A key influence on the boat’s development has been the team’s Performance Director Pascal Bidégorry who, Dalin says, has been instrumental in driving refinements in sail design and sailing technique to get the best out of the boat. 

“Pascal has been doing all of the sailing we’ve been doing, all of the offshore stuff,” said Dalin. “He's very good on the sail aspects and very good at finding ideas and ways to tune the boat to go fast.”


Ed Gorman