Sometimes in IMOCA racing, the simple joy of sailing, on what are unbelievable racing machines, gets a bit lost in the focus on the design race, on finishing places, on discomfort on board and technical issues.

So it was refreshing to hear Louis Duc talking about how much he loves his 60-footer at the finish of the Transat Jacques Vabre-Normandie Le Havre today. It’s a Farr Yacht design from 2006 that Duc restored after a catastrophic fire on board before the start of this race in 2019.

Racing with the sailmaker Rémi Aubrun, Duc had just finished in 14th position at Fort-de-France, less than four hours after the first of the daggerboard boats, Monnoyeur-Duo For A Job, skippered by Benjamin Ferré and Pierre Le Roy.

© © Jean-Marie Liot / Alea

“We’re extremely lucky,” enthused Duc after a voyage that saw him in the thick of the daggerboard contest on the northerly flank of the course with Ferré and with Guirec Soudée’s

“We forget it a lot, but we’re extremely lucky to be sailing on this type of craft. They’re crazy boats. She accelerates – she’s magical, she’s a machine that eats up the miles. I’m so happy to have one more year to go with her until the Vendée Globe,” he added.

And he reflected on a superb race as the leading daggerboard crews put a fair few foilers in their wakes, as they battled against each other for line honours in Martinique, with Duc and Ferré almost always disputing the lead.

© © Jean-Louis Carli / Alea

“We’ve just completed a magnificent Transat Jacques Vabre full of twists and turns, with a delayed start, a modified course with lots of options and wars at every level,” said Duc, 40 from Caen.

“We had Guirec Soudée and his hen Bilou,” he went on, laughing at his own joke as he referenced Soudée’s veteran co-skipper Roland Jourdain, “and Monnoyeur who we didn’t manage to catch up with. And there was also a great battle to the south with Violette Dorange and Damien Guillou (Devenir) and also with Conrad Colman’s (Mail Boxes Etc).”

While the headlines are usually be dominated by the leading foilers in these races, Duc reminded us that the competition in the middle of what was a record-sized 40-strong fleet for this race was intense. “Our daggerboard boats are still worth the effort and you can see that we’ve arrived in a nice fleet. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to have a foiler one day! But we’re having some great competition with our group here,”he said.

Having finished just ahead of him, Ferré was in great form at the end of a race when he said he and Le Roy, a sailor and meteorologist, were never “in the red,”despite the intensity of competition against Duc and the other leading daggerboard teams.

“Honestly, it was great, we had a fantastic time,”said the 33-year-old skipper of the VPLP-Verdier IMOCA that formerly sailed under the colours of Macif, SMA and Banque Populaire. “I had a great time because we were never in the red; we were anticipating and the scenario always went according to plan. Even when it was windy, we were fine. I often say the happier you are, the faster you go…and it’s true!”

Ferré said Le Roy was obsessed with trying to stay ahead of Duc and Aubrun who tracked them all the way for nearly 14 days at sea. “Pierrot was going crazy,” he said of his co-skipper and meteo mentor. “He’s already pretty extreme with numbers, but now he was calculating every two seconds how many knots faster we had to go to keep our margin.”

© © Jean-Marie Liot / Alea

Ferré and Le Roy’s performance was all the more impressive for the fact that they had to turn back at the start to repair broken mainsail battens, but then still got themselves into a competitive rhythm with the leading daggerboard crews on the northern and western edge of the course.

The Monnoyeur skipper made a big point of thanking his team for giving him a boat in a condition that, he said, gave him and Le Roy full confidence in it. “The boat has been incredibly well prepared, and that’s another reason why we took the northerly option so calmly, because we were confident and that gives me confidence for the Vendée Globe too. I’d like to take my hat off to the team,” added Ferré.

Ed Gorman