Transat Jacques Vabre: now we’ll know.

Ambiance channel start of the Vendee Globe, in Les Sables d'Olonne, France, on November 6th, 2016 - Photo Olivier Blanchet / DPPI / Vendee GlobeAmbiance chenal départ du Vendée Globe, aux Sables d'Olonne le 6 Novembre 2016 - Photo Olivier Blanchet / DPP

Every four years the Transat Jacques that precedes the Vendée Globe proves to be a good indication of the state of the nation, who the favourites might be in advance of the pinnacle solo race and is always a litmus test of the health of the IMOCA class. Interest in the 2020 race is at an unparalleled level and the 2019 Transat Jacques Vabre reflects this with a record entry in the IMOCA class. Enthusiasm for the Vendée Globe grows all the time and this Transat Jacques Vabre offers a highly competitive race down a course which represents the first ten days or two weeks of the normal Vendée Globe course.

Five new boats will be on the Le Havre starting line from three different design practices, all representing a really big step up in design and structure. The update to the IMOCA rule now sees boats built around the foiling mechanism and the resulting boats are flying longer and faster. Charal sailed by Jérémie Beyou and Christopher Pratt is tipped as favorite by many leading observers. The VPLP design has the benefit of more than one year of development and optimisation and many days and hours of sailing deep ocean and offshore. The duo knows the boat very well now and some would say the planets do finally seem aligned for Beyou.

Meantime a lot is expected from the new VPLP design of Vendée Globe runner up Alex Thomson on his new Hugo Boss who sails with Neal MacDonald and the Verdier design which is sailed by Charlie Dalin and Yann Eliès, Apivia. To differeng degrees both have altered the concept of the cockpit. Hugo Boss’ work station hub is now entirely enclosed and on Apivia it is nearly enclosed. Both have show considerable potential training, but of course as yet Hugo Boss has not sailed with any of the leading French IMOCAs. Thomas Ruyant and Antoine Koch (Advens for Cybersecurity, Verdier) are eager to get out there and measure up even if by their own admission they are desperately short of build up time. Breaking a foil while they were approaching Le Havre on the delivery to the race start will not stop Sébastien Simon and Vincent Riou on the new Juan K designed Arkéa - Paprec. The Transat Jacques Vabre an opportunity to build miles and experience.

Capable of upsetting the top order…
Maybe they do not have the latest state-of-the-art IMOCA machines but some others will doubtless be right up there in the match. Perhaps they cannot claim to be able to match the newest boats for outright speed but the combination of a reliable, fast updated boat, plenty of experience and equal measures of guile and good strategy can add up to a potentially top five result. And over the course of a 4500 mile race a lot of things can happen particularly getting out of the Channel and across Biscay. At the leading edge of this group are Sam Davies and Paul Meilhat (Initiatives Coeur) and  Kevin Escoffier and Nicolas Lunven (PRB). They both are very good boats and are sailed by excellent pairs. Also in this group should be Boris Herrmann who sails with the young British Figarist Will Harris (Malizia), Herrmann finishing in fifth place on the last Route du Rhum. Yannick Bestaven and Roland Jourdain (Maître CoQ), Giancarlo Pedote and Anthony Marchand (Prysmian Group) and  Louis Burton and Davy Beaudart (Bureau Vallée 2) as well as Fabrice Amedeo and Éric Péron (Newrest - Art and Windows) are all well founded, full optimised VPLP - Verdier designs which were built to win the Vendée Globe 2016. Also look to MACSF of Isabelle Joschke and Morgan Lagravière  which was originally built in 2007 as Safran but which has just had new foils added. That said probably the likes of the older generation boats, like those of Arnaud Boissières and Xavier Macaire (La Mie Câline – Artisans Artipole) and Alan Roura - Sébastien Audigane (La Fabrique). All are hugely experienced career ocean racers who will profit on the long distance ocean race.

No foils, no problem…..
There are still many strong teams who race with straight daggerboards. Some will be good enough to beat the foilers, just as Paul Meilhat won the last big race, the Route du Rhum with SMA and straight boards.  Three duos stand out here, Clarisse Crémer, who is sailing with the winner of the 2016 Vendée Globe, Armel Le Cléac'h. Their Banque Populaire X is the former SMA and the 2012 Vendée Globe winner. Damien Seguin and Yoann Richomme (Apicil Group) beat many foilers on the Defi Azimut and then there is the Nicolas Troussel - Jean Cam (Corum) duo, two formidable competitors on a boat that Le Cam raced round the world on the last Vendée Globe.

Others really are mile building, learning and hoping to spring a surprise on this Transat Jacques Vabre. Stéphane Le Diraison sails with François Guiffant at his side (Time for Oceans) Manuel Cousin (Groupe Setin) is joined by the redoubtable Figarist Gildas Morvan  and y Romain Attanasio and Sebastien Marsset (Pure) will not miss an opportunity.


Vendée Globe qualification in focus
The Transat Jacques Vabre will also be the occasion for many skippers to take a big step on the road to qualification, a pathway which requires a transatlantic race to be completed for those who did not do the last Vendée Globe or the 2018 Route du Rhum 2018, even if some will still do a 2000 mile solo passage. Crossing the finish line in Salvador de Bahia is another strong guarantee in the race for qualifying miles even with the opening of four more by the Vendée Globe organisation. Alexia Barrier, associated with Joan Mulloy (4myplanet), and Ari Huusela (Ariel 2) who will sail with Mikey  Ferguson,  Eric Nigon (Towards a World without AIDS) with Turkish sails with Tolga Pamir all have banked useful miles thanks to finishing the Route du Rhum.
But for others it will be the first Transatlantic miles, like for Miranda Merron - Halvard Mabire (Campaign de France), Pip Hare - Ysbrand Endt (Pip Hare Ocean Racing), Maxime Sorel - William Brec (V & B - Mayenne) or Benjamin Dutreux - Thomas Cardrin (Water Family). American Charlie Enright races the Transat Jacques Vabre with Pascal Bidégorry (11th Hour) is not concerned because he does not plan to be at the start of the Vendée Globe.

The biggest setback though has been to Clement Giraud (Fortil). A fire while his boat was docked measn he can’t take the  taking the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre and so that will really make it tough for him to qualify as he will be near the bottom of the list of potential candidates for the next Vendée Globe. The Mediterranean sailor cannot falter on what remains of his road to the Vendée Globe. It is a road which is long and winding with many twists and turns but which delivers a sailing experience like no other race.

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