Brittany turned on its best Spring sailing weather – sunshine, puffy cumulus clouds and a decent 10-15kts of Westerly wind – to send the 48 strong Transat CIC fleet on its way from Lorient towards New York for the start of the legendary solo race across the North Atlantic.

The first edition of the race since 2016 was blessed with relatively benign, modest breezes for early Sunday afternoon’s farewell to the fleet of 33 IMOCA solo skippers, 13 Class 40 singlehanded racers and two vintage craft. For the very latest generation of IMOCAs there was enough wind to accelerate on to their foils for increasingly long periods. 
Almost as if to make up for the time and two key races he missed last Autumn due to a medical issue, Charlie Dalin on MACIF Santé Prévoyance made the sharpest, best timed start and led what will be a hotly contested race before being overtaken by the powerful Charal sailed by Jéremie Beyou, who – just as he did on the start of last Autumn’s Transat Jacques Vabre – quickly powered ahead on his Sam Manuard designed scow. Switzerland’s Justine Mettraux (TeamWork Team SNEF) was in hot pursuit of the top trio which included Yoann Richomme (Paprec-Arkéa) winner of last year’s Rétour à La Base solo race from Marinique to Lorient. 
Boris Herrmann was in the mix after a more conservative start, taking an offshore line. As he left the dock in Lorient the German ace remarked, “I am excited but have enormous respect for the North Atlantic, a little bit of fear almost, excited….anxiety even for this race. This is an adventure, we don’t know what is going to happen out there. It will take a lot of energy at the start to mix it up with the coast and the rocks after the start and then to try to find the new NW wind early hopefully, earlier than the others I hope and then we have a big strategic decision at night to close to Ireland or not to stay further offshore before we tack north and that is the potentially the biggest strategic decision of the race. I am looking forwards to be sailing with my boat and I have great memories of the route.”

And Class 40 put on another stunning display of close racing, pre race favourites Ambrogio Beccaria and Ian Lipinski duelling off the line under tightly sheeted Code sails on the close reach. 
Off the dock the winner of last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre, and the pre race favourite Beccaria said, “I’m feeling quite stressed but confident. For the first two days, I would like to one hundred percent comfortable on my boat, without any major damage. The strongest wind is going to come in two and a half days and it’s the position where it won’t help us win the race but instead where we can lose it. I will try to sail comfortably and I would like to feel one hundred percent, on the boat and in myself. It’s definitely the first time sailing there for me, it’s really different from the other times because in my other times at the end it got easier than at the start, whereas this is not the same. There will be a lot of new things for me to manage such the forbidden zone, the Gulf Stream.”
The Transat CIC has deep roots as the original Transatlantic race, contested first in 1960 and won by Francis Chichester before French ocean racing legend Eric Tabarly took a landmark French victory in 1964. Its tough, uncompromising route across the North Atlantic is a great testing ground for both new and innovative ideas and for existing designs. This has increasingly been the case over recent races as solo racers bound for the Vendée Globe take their IMOCA60s through the big winds and seas on a route which usually takes them further to the north than they race south on the solo race round the world.

The battle of the IMOCA

Of a maximum capacity entry of 40 entries for the upcoming Vendée Globe, 33 are lining up on this outbound race of two back to back Transatlantic races, both valuable qualifiers to be sure of starting the solo race round the world.
In 2016 this IMOCA race which was won by Armel Le Cléac'h in 12 days and two hours, was the first evidence of the potential of foils. Now, with all of the top Vendée Globe campaigns having fitted new, latest generation foils – Jéremie Beyou’s Charal, Charlie Dalin’s MACIF Santé et Prévoyance, Justine Mettraux’s TeamWork Team SNEF, Boris Herrmann’s Malizia Sea Explorer, Sam Davies Initiatives Coeur- this race to New York will be a fascinating insight into the speed and efficiency gains made sailing upwind on the new foils. Indeed the winning time for François Gabart’s giant ULTIME multihull in 2016 of 8 days 8 hours could be matched by the winning IMOCA this time. And whilst the start of last Autumn’s Transat Jacques Vabre showed Beyou’s Charal to have a significant upwind speed and height advantage, this should be evened out by the latest upgrades through the fleet.

In theory 47 year old Beyou should be favourite. In successive Vendée Globe campaigns his modus operandi is to design, build and launch early – ahead of his rivals – and continuously test, tinker and optimise. But in spite of this, since winning the 2020 New York-Vendée race the ‘major’ wins have continued to elude him because of small technical breakdowns. This could be his race.

Of the trio of favourites tipped by the French media cognoscenti Charlie Dalin is only just returning to solo ocean racing after a medical issue required him to miss both of last Autumn’s Transatlantic races. And now the French skipper who memorably was first to finish the last Vendée Globe, needs to finish this race to be sure of his own qualification, and so he will have to rein in his urges to fight on level terms with Beyou and Yoann Richomme (Paprec-Arkéa). This golden trio have been rivals since their days on the Figaro offshore one design circuit on which they share five overall victories between them, Dalin being the only one never to have won but have collected five overall podiums.  
Of the 33 skippers there are five women – Switzerland’s Justine Mettraux, Briton Sam Davies, German-French Isabelle Joschke, Clarisse Crémer and France’s 23 year old up and coming Violette Dorange on an older, legendary 2006 Farr design. Both Mettraux and Davies – who raced round the world together on Team SCA in 2014-2015 have the skills and the perfect boats to be on the podium in New York. Indeed Matttraux’s bold, northerly strategy on the Transat Jacques Vabre had her and co-skipper Julien Villon lead for much of the race. And Davies’ consistent fourths and fifths last season are ready to be bettered.

Of the strong contingent of international – non French – IMOCAs Germany’s Boris Herrmann has perhaps the best chance of making the podium. He has sailed the most ocean miles on his IMOCA and has just completed performance upgrades which should significantly address the weakness upwnind which was his only Achilles Heel. Joschke is a redoubtable competitor who should finish in the top 10 and Switzerland’s Alan Roura is looking to validate his winter upgrades to HUBLOT – formerly Alex Thomson’s most recent HUGO BOSS – and fight in the white heat of the race’s peloton.

Italy’s Giancarlo Pedote (Prysmian Group) – 8th on the last Vendée Globe is back after illness on the Transat Jacques Vabre required him to miss the Retour à La Base. Switzerland’s Ollie Heer (Oliver Heer) and young Brit James Harayada (Gentoo Sailing Team) are now both fighting to make the cut for Vendée qualification and need miles and finishes to ensure they are on the right side of the cruellest cut of all which will be made at the end of the New York Vendée race in early June. 


Jérémie Beyou (FRA) IMOCA CHARAL:"The start is going to be a bit cool and maybe even a bit twisted. We thought the weather was going to be fine but it's struggling to clear up. There's an area of low pressure which may affect us once we pass the island of Groix. It's a fairly slow start before we have to make a first choice after Penmarc'h as to whether we should go south or north of the first low-pressure area. It's a lot of work with lots of manoeuvres. We're going to be busy from start to finish. I'm really here to test the boat, to see how reliable it is. So much is going to happen! I don't think there will be any definitive gaps at the start or halfway through the race. There could potentially be some regrouping right up to the finish.”

Charlie Dalin (FRA) IMOCA MACIF Santé Prévoyance: “I'm delighted to be taking part in this race, after missing out last year. It's going to be good. We've got light to medium conditions at the start. There may be a little foiling, so we'll see if the wind picks up a bit, but I'm not sure. After that, there's a big choice to be made for the fleet in terms of how to deal with a small low-pressure centre to the south-west of Ireland on Tuesday. So quickly we're going to have to choose our lines and either stay south or go around the bubble a bit. So that's the first big decision, which could create quite a north-south gap in the fleet. So that's what I'm focusing on at the moment. I’ll have to make the most of today, because it's probably going to be the hottest day of the whole CIC transatlantic race… It's only going to get cooler after that”.
Justine Mettraux (SUI) IMOCA TeamWork-Team SNEF: “It has been a bit of a rush to be ready for this Transatlantic and so it has not felt too stressful. We have new foils after changing the foil cases last year. We have only sailed this month and so we really only have had a short month to be ready, only six or seven days of training. And so really I will be learning a lot on this Transat CIC and probably still on the way back. I think the new foils should be good for this race because we will mainly have upwind conditions, and the gains we expect are between five and 10 per cent. It depends on the conditions. We saw a lot of gains in training but it so depends on wind and sea and so I am going out to learn at all the different angles.”

Oliver Heer (SUI) IMOCA Oliver Heer Ocean Racing: “The number one objective is completely and utterly to get the boat across to New York in a safe manner but I am a competitive guy after all and so I need to just need to find the good trade off between sailing conservative and safe and sailing fast. After Penmarch the breeze will build and then at the Channel we will sail through a little front when we will see up to 30kts and then we will get quite close to Ireland before we turn left and start to head towards the States."


Source : The Transat CIC