Sunday, 29 November 2009
Groupe Bel arriving in Puerto Limon. Image copyright Marcel Mochet/AFP.
by Régis Lerat
Kito de Pavant and François Gabart on Groupe Bel crossed the finish line off Puerto Limon, Costa Rica in brisk winds and afternoon sunshine to secure second place in the Transat Jacques Vabre two handed transatlantic race. The duo's constant high speeds, always pressurising the eventual winners of this IMOCA Open 60 Class, Safran, were not quite enough in the end, and they finished 8 hours 40 minutes and 20 seconds behind Marc Guillemot and Charles Caudrelier-Bénac's Safran.
For De Pavant it is his second TJV podium finish, after taking third as co-skipper with Jean Le Cam in 2005, and the second time he and his Groupe Bel have finished a strong runner up after taking second in the summer's Istanbul Europa Race.
Mutual appreciation between the top two crews has been evident after both stepped ashore during the last 12 hours in Puerto Limon. Sailing near identical IMOCA Open 60's, the crew partnerships are cast from the same moulds: older experienced, hard as nails ocean racing skipper and energetic talented, younger co-skipper schooled through the likes of the Figaro, Mini 6.50 and the Classe 40.
Race winner Guillemot is 53 and has 30 years of ocean racing and records miles behind him and paired himself with 35 year old Caudrelier who won the 2004 Figaro Solo. Perhaps one of the small edges they had is that Guillemot and Caudrelier competed together in 2007.
De Pavant is 49 partnered by the 26 year old Gabart, who was top rookie on last year's Figaro circuit. The skipper from the Mediterranean was a latecomer to short-handed ocean racing, only embarking into the rarefied world at just under 40 years of age after many tens of thousands of miles as a delivery skipper. But De Pavant also stepped up the Figaro ladder, winning the Solo offshore race in 2002.
Groupe Bel was part of the initial TJV's ruling triumvirate who broke swiftly from the northern routing, pounded by an horrendous low pressure system which struck the fleet late in the first week of the race, but they were able to live with Safran right up until the early miles the Caribbean where Safran eased away from time to time, making their biggest gains when the trade winds deteriorated. It would certainly be true to say that they were very evenly matched downwind.
Just as victory for Guillemot will be a racing victory to cherish for ever now neatly complementing his remarkable 2008-9 Vendée Globe third place, so too second place today for De Pavant is a huge boost after he was so bitterly disappointed when his Groupe Bel was dismasted just 28 hours after leaving Les Sables d'Olonne. De Pavant was in tears on the dock when he returned.
Groupe Bel's happy team. Image copyright Marcel Mochet/AFP.
Kito de Pavant (FRA), Groupe Bel: “I am very proud to finish second behind Marc Guillemot and Charles Caudrelier Bénac. They were great from beginning to end. They really did not make any mistakes and sailed a great course. They have an excellent boat, which I can happily say because ours is the same. They made few errors, and only really when we were right behind them and pushing could you see them waver.
I made a good choice, I certainly did with François, he was really good. He did much more than all I asked of him.
François Gabart: “It was such a pleasure to sail with Kito, great to sail with someone with so much experience when you get to places like the Carribean. It felt like he was so at home. It was a treat. I really appreciate the whole experience.”
Kito de Pavant: “I found that the Atlantic was particularly difficult. But we did take some pleasure in being able to share those times with our writings. And certainly to be able to say today is the day of Vincent Lauriot Prévost with the three top boats. In the IMOCA Guillaume Verdier and Vincent have these great boats here. When we set out with the planning for Groupe Bel, the choice of these designers was daring because they did not appear to have the experience. But we all set out with a blank page and today we show off these beautiful boars to the town of Puerto Limon.
Francois Gabart: “Kito's dismasting is not that long in the past but in saying that I don't think he was any more stressed when we went in to the big depression. And today it is thanks to many people that his boat is here. There is a technical and engineering team behind us who did a huge amount of work. For me, who did not do anything other than sail the boat that was a big treat.
Transat Jacques Vabre