Monday, 16 November 2009

TJV: A well-deserved change in fortunes?

Mike Golding Yacht Racing. Image copyright Mark Lloyd/Lloyd Images.

by Régis Lerat

Flat seas, good power-reaching breezes, speeds breaking the 20 knots mark, sunshine and even the prospect of kites up before sunset, life is good aboard the leading IMOCA Open 60 Safran. As the race enters its second week since the fleet left Le Havre on a typically grey nondescript Autumn afternoon, full of anticipation, knowing well what lay between them and days like this, now it is payback time.

Having served their penance through the strong winds and horrendous seas of the last few days, it is time to enjoy the intense competition for the holy trinity, Safran, Mike Golding Yacht Racing and Groupe Bel.

The lightweight, radical chined Safran is clearly in her stride, an IMOCA Open 60 widely admired by the peers and rivals of skipper Marc Guillemot since her launch, making a further 10 miles on Golding and Javier Sanso since yesterday morning, but it is pleasing to see three skippers who no one would deny a measure of good fortune to any of them, spearheading the vanguard as they streak south towards the Caribbean.

Guillemot was the peoples' humanitarian hero of the Vendée Globe, struggling home to a great third making the final 1000 miles with no keel, after having bravely stood by during the rescue of his badly injured friend Yann Elies.
Golding was cruelly robbed of the Vendée race lead when his mast tumbled in the South Indian Ocean in a 65 knot squall and few will forget the emotional images of Bel's tough guy Kito de Pavant in pieces after his race ended so suddenly, less than 48 hours in.

All three leading crews have shown the guts, experience and seamanship to get the balance right on the northerly routing and today can enjoy the fruits of their endeavours, even if they go on to prove transient.

Safran, peaking at 22 knots on this morning's early Sunday schedule, now has 51 miles over Mike Golding and Javier Sanso and has been consistently a knot or so quicker. The British boat in turn had stretched on Groupe Bel but by a smaller margin.

Safran's Charles Caudrelier Bénac reported excellent conditions this morning, anticipating getting a gennaker up later in the day, racing in around 20 knots of breeze.

Alex Thomson and Ross Daniel have lost some miles on Hugo Boss, some of which Thomson attributed this morning to the after effects of something close to a knock down when their IMOCA Open 60 was bodily picked up and thrown by a huge wave. The British skipper was flung across the cabin from the nav station and a daggerboard was smashed. Since they have swapped boards and the duo are in good shape, he confirmed racing at 100% to regain the distance lost to the leading trio.

In fifth Yves Parlier and Pachi Rivero have made steady progress in the north, whilst Roland Jourdain and Jean-Luc Nelias on Veolia Environnement remain ahead of Aviva despite their pit-stop in the Azores yesterday afternoon which cost them about 150 miles.

Of the easterly group Michel Desjoyeaux and Jeremie Beyou on Foncia have recovered 40 miles on the leaders since yesterday as they sail a converging course across the high pressure ridge to break into same weather pattern as the leading trio.


Charles Caudrelier Bénac (FRA), Safran:
“It's going fast and the sea is flat. It is very pleasant. The wind is not too strong, about 20 knots, and we hop to be under spinnaker before the end of the day. We need to get things dry. Everything is wet. We spent much of yesterday going over the boat.

"In my opinion the guys in the south will be able to get into the same system as us but they should not succeed in getting past us, except if we break something of course.

"In the north it is similar, and so we do think the battle should be between us, Mike Golding and the Laughing Cow. But, that's OK just now, we are a long way from the finish, we have not even done half the course. It was certainly tough the way we went. Half of the boats had problems, and it would not surprise me.”

Alex Thomson (GBR) Hugo Boss:
“We were near as dammit beam reaching, about 12 knots, and the sea was getting pretty enormous, I was sat at the nav station, Ross was sat in the cuddy, I can only describe it as if you can imagine being, doing 12 knots if you imagine the boat suddenly being hit by a bulldozer. We basically got knocked down by a breaking wave. I got thrown across the boat, I did not know what the hell was going on, bashed my head, it was pretty sacry, I have never experienced anything like it to be honest, and unfortunately because of that episode, with the boat basically being picked up and pushed sideways it broke our daggerboard.”

Transat Jacques Vabre

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