The IMOCA skippers in The Transat CIC from Lorient to New York could get away without much upwind sailing over the next few days, as they head west across the Atlantic, according to Sam Goodchild, the Vulnerable skipper who is sitting out this race.

Now in its third day, the 28 skippers still racing (after five retirements) are power-reaching and heading due west in big seas at a position about 270 nautical miles west of the Fastnet Rock, on the southwest corner of Ireland.

The leading boat – Frenchman Charlie Dalin’s MACIF Santé Prévoyance – is smashing along at an average speed of nearly 25 knots. Chasing Dalin, Paul Meilhat has made an excellent start on board his much-travelled Biotherm. He is currently in second place, about 45 miles south of Dalin’s track and just over 10 miles behind.

Then it’s Yoann Richomme on Paprec Arkéa (+12.2) and Louis Burton on Bureau Vallée in fourth place, just under 20 miles off the pace.

Goodchild, the reigning IMOCA Globe Series champion who went out on his kitesurfer to watch the start of the race off Lorient on Sunday, says the weather picture is far from the normal upwind slog we tend to associate with the solo Transat.

“It looks like they are going to get away with not doing too much upwind, which is good,” the British skipper told the Class as he continued preparations to sail his boat with crew to the Azores alongside team sistership, Thomas Ruyant’s Vulnerable.

“They are out the back of a low now, so they are reaching. They are fairly full-on, with fairly big waves and a fair bit of wind. But nothing too over the top. Then they've got a ridge to go through and the same again out the other side, so I guess now is when they figure out whether their boats are up for it,” he said.

As for the second half of the 3,500-mile race, Goodchild says the boats should be going downwind for some time. “They are going to try going over the top of a low, so that will be interesting to see how they get on and then after that, there is a little bit of time to go before the weather models are in agreement.”

© Yann Riou - polaRYSE

Like a lot of people in the IMOCA world, Goodchild has watched Dalin’s progress with a wry smile after the MACIF Santé Prévoyance skipper said prior to the start he was going to take it easy on this race and focus on finishing it to ensure qualification for the Vendée Globe.

“Charlie goes quite quickly when he’s taking it easy, doesn’t he?” quipped Goodchild. “But I don’t think anyone expected anything else though, did they?”

© Yann Riou - polaRYSE

Someone else who has been watching Dalin’s progress is Benjamin Dutreux who, like Goodchild, will be delivering his boat (Guyot Environnement-Water Family) to New York, and then taking part in the New York Vendée-Les Sables D’Olonne return race.

“I was very surprised about the speed of Charlie, he was so fast upwind,” said Dutreux.“All the time we say he was fast with his old boat upwind, but now he is fast in the new one as well. It was cool to see that.”

Dutreux says it will be interesting to see how Richomme performs once he gets his boat into big downwind conditions after the fleet has negotiated the next area of calms. “As a fan, I can’t wait to see the difference in speeds of the boats going downwind,”he said.“We have seen Charlie is very fast upwind, but in the last race, last year (Retour à la Base), we have seen Paprec Arkéa was very fast downwind, so this is going to be interesting.”

© Yann Riou - polaRYSE

Dutreux says in the early stages of this race, the skippers had to deal with tough upwind conditions and big seas. “It was hard to find the right compromise upwind in the sea state they had,” he said, “and you can see that on the tracker. Now the skippers are making some different choices but the most important thing will be the next decision, and going fast to the west and moving away from the middle of the low pressure.”

Dutreux was also impressed by Benjamin Ferré’s early showing in the podium places on his daggerboard-configured Monnoyeur Duo For A Job. “He was fast on a good angle and with good speed in medium wind. After the wind increased a bit, the foiling boats were faster, but it was cool to see Benjamin up there, for sure,”he said.

Ferré still leads the daggerboard fleet, but is now in 10th position overall, nine places ahead of Tanguy Le Turquais on Lazare who, in turn, is one place ahead of Violette Dorange on DeVenir in 20th place.

Another sailor enjoying a great start to his first race of the 2024 season is the Bureau Vallée skipper Louis Burton. He followed a cautious start with some impressive speeds in the breeze on his black and yellow foiler.

“The start was interesting with a big coastal route to zigzag between the Glénans and the mainland, avoiding wind shadows,” he told the Class from on board. “I tried to tack a bit before the fleet and it went well. It quickly became lively as we approached the first front during the night. It was quite a warm-up with quite a bit of sea, not necessarily in the right direction at those speeds.”

Burton is enjoying a race with a fearsome reputation. “It’s not a race where I am gritting my teeth,” he explained. “It could be a race where we grit our teeth, because it’s a race that theoretically goes upwind, but in this case, there’s a weather sequence, if we manage to stay fast, which could be pretty good until the Grand Banks.”

© Julien Champolion - polaRYSE

Finally, Goodchild remarked on Jérémie Beyou’s unfortunate retirement from the race after damage to his J2 stay. Goodchild says he and many others in the fleet are anxious to find out exactly what happened on board Charal, which is on its way back to Lorient.

“It’s disappointing for Jérémie, but it will be quite interesting to know more details about what happened,” said Goodchild. “On these boats a lot of us have the same suppliers for lots of specific pieces, so it would be nice to know whether the bit that broke is what we’ve got and why it broke. We keep a close eye on that sort of thing,” he added.

Ed Gorman