Sunday, 8 November 2009
Dee Caffari on board Aviva. Image copyright Marcel Mochet/AFP.
by Régis Lerat
For some it's the first big chance to restore pride and confidence after the brutal last edition of the Vendée Globe, to others it is simply the next big challenge on the competition itinerary, but the 2009 edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre, which starts from Le Havre this weekend has drawn a remarkably strong fleet of 14 IMOCA Open 60's and a fleet of six Multi50 class multihulls which includes three brand new build boats.
With two days to go before the start the atmosphere, if anything, is slightly restrained. The pressures of the global economic downturn has perhaps eliminated some of the adventurers and those who might normally be taking their first steps on the ladder with this biennial classic race.
That means that the IMOCA Open 60 fleet, seven months after the finish of the Vendée Globe, has been pared back to serious teams which are all well funded, highly professional and prepared to approximately the same high level. Meeting their respective international press contingents today both Michel Desjoyeaux, who is out to defend his win in the 2007 edition of this race, and Hugo Boss skipper Alex Thomson individually observed that the fleet of IMOCA Open 60's for this race contains neither weak boats, nor weak crews.
The area around the Paul Vatine basin where the huge crowds will gather this weekend to send off the fleet, has all been substantially redeveloped, part of Le Havre's ongoing regeneration. The huge warehouses on the east side of the dock now contain dozens of smart restaurants and shops, a supermarket and a cinema where today more than 500 local schoolchildren were given a colourful insight into ocean racing and the Transat Jacques Vabre race itself by 14 of the race skippers.
Eight of the 28 IMOCA Open 60 skippers here did not finish their Vendée Globe, from the unfortunate Kito de Pavant (Groupe Bel), Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and Marc Thiercelin (DCNS) who were among the victims of the first big storm, Jérémie Beyou (who races on Foncia with Michel Desjoyeaux) to Sebastien Josse (BT), Vincent Riou (PRB)now Akena Verandas with Arnaud Boissieres), Mike Golding (Ecover, now Mike Golding Yacht Racing) and Roland Jourdain (Veolia Environnement) who was the last who was soloist who was forced to retire whilst lying second. All are back here, racing this new course to Puerto Limon,Costa Rica. “The whole fleet is quite homogeneous here, quite the same, and there are no bad boats and also no bad crews, so it will be much more difficult.” Cautions Foncia skipper Desjoyeaux, who won the 2007 Transat Jacques Vabre with co-skipper Manu Le Borgne.
“The fleet is going to be tough, for sure. There just are no bad boats. There are no older boats here. But also, looking at the Multi 50 class, that looks exciting and very much more achievable in many ways.” Says Alex Thomson, skipper of one of the four British boats, Hugo Boss, “For us this race is going to depend on what the weather does. If we get some good reaching conditions then we could do well, with some good breeze but if there is a lot of VMG running then we could struggle".
French sailing legend Yves Parlier returns to the IMOCA Open 60 fleet, sailing on the Spanish flagged 1876 partnering Spain's Pacchi Rivero. Parlier is a past winner, in 1997 with the late Eric Tabarly, which he still describes as the highlight of his sailing career, and last competed in 1999 with Ellen MacArthur.
British female skippers Sam Davies and Dee Caffari are back in the fray too. Davies is sailing Artemis with Sidney Gavignet, while Caffari is joined on Aviva by Brian Thompson whose third Transat Jacques Vabre this is. While Caffari's confidence after the Vendée Globe and an all girl Round Britain record attempt on Aviva in the summer, is at all time high, Davies, along with Gavignet is just getting to grips with the very powerful Rogers designed Artemis.
“The level is just so high that it is very hard to judge how we might do. I really just want to finish feeling proud of ourselves and the course we have taken, the way we have sailed. So much will be down to the weather and who does what, but I want to feel we have sailed as close to 100% as we can.” Says Davies, “Really, my mission is just to keep learning the Artemis and to continue the evolution of the boat.”
Dee Caffari, sailing Aviva, is looking to her and Brian Thompson's combined experience and a boat she now knows very well, to bring them a strong result: “We are both really up for it. Traditionally perhaps I have always been the conservative one, but now, after sailing with the girls in the summer, I have so much more confidence and in this final race with the sponsor I really want to do well. It would be a good thing for the future.”
Transat Jacques Vabre