Entering day six, the leading duos in the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre are now a third of the way through this 4,350-mile biennial double-handed race from Le Havre, France to Salvador de Bahia. On Friday afternoon they were gybing in their approach to the Canary Islands. The race is hotting up (figuratively and literally). Oilskins will be swapped for T-shirts and the skippers will be choosing when they have their outdoor showers.
The fascinating split in the IMOCA fleet is beginning to play out and the weather files continue to suggest it is going to be a tough weekend for the six westerners as they watch the southerners escape on the trade winds. The leaders in the south look to definitely be the leaders now given the evolution of the depression (metaphorical and literal) in the west.
If there is less surprise at the identity of the two leading 60ft monohulls – Charal and Apivia are both latest generation foilers – the speed of Britain’s Sam Davies and her French co-skipper, Paul Meilhat (Initiatives-Cœur) continues to impress. Likewise, that of the 29-year-old Frenchwoman, Clarisse Crémer and Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire IX), who is just over five miles ahead in the third place. Initiatives-Cœur. Both boats are two generations and almost ten years older than those ahead of them, but the upgraded foils have given them a new lease of life. The huge new foils on Initiatives-Cœur particularly are being carefully watched by others planning upgrades, some of who are saying you now have to talk about generations of foils not just generation of boat build. Charlie Enright (USA) / Pascal Bidegorry (FRA) are in sixth. “All good aboard. Hard running. We like. Thanks. Charlie,” was Enright’s short and sweet message to the race office this morning.
It was a public holiday in France today – Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) – but there is no rest for the skippers. Charal have worked hard to earn their 20-mile lead, gybing twice in the morning to find a better angle in the approach to the Canaries and taking 20 miles from Apivia in just two hours – did they have a problem with their gybe in the late morning?
The difference for the leading two was they seemed barely slowed by the ridge of high pressure. “We had more wind than expected during the day,” Charlie Dalin (Apivia) said on Friday morning. “We never really had a ridge, we went through the high pressure in a single gybe.” Their pursuers were not so lucky. But they will have been counting their fortune compared to the westerners (Hugo Boss, Malizia II Yacht Club de Monaco, Bureau Vallée II, Maître CoQ IV, Prysmian Group, and Advens for Cybersecurity).
The westerners, leaving the Azores to their west and around 650 miles east of the coast of Portugal, have a better angle at the moment and are on a more direct course to the finish, but they had to sail hundreds of extra miles to get it.
Charal was faster at the 15:00 UTC ranking – 18 knots, but they are making only 10 knots in relation to the route to the finish. Britain’s Alex Thomson and Neal McDonald on Hugo Boss were making just over 16 knots and 14.4 to the finish.
The problem for them is that the Azores anticyclone is reforming with the Bermuda high and the transitional zone they need to cross is thickening fast. Do the weather gods have anything final to say on the strategic split?
Class40: Five boats, 16 miles
The Class40s are almost a quarter of the way through the race and making 10 knots reaching in 20-knot westerlies parallel with Lisbon. Aïna Enfance and Avenir (Aymeric Chappellier / Pierre Leboucher) have retaken the lead, but just 16 miles separate the first five boats in the fleet. Britain’s Sam Goodchild and French co-skipper on Leyton are fourth, very close to Aïna’s track but less than quarter of a mile ahead of Crédit Mutuel, who are further west. The fleet should be able to open up their sails downwind from tonight and during the weekend, before being slowed down on Sunday. Their spread from east to west will mean different opportunities and obstacles and see the leaderboard shaken up.
At 04:45, Charles-Louis Mourruau and Estelle Greck (Entraide Marine-Adsom, Class40) informed the race office that they had dismasted.
Ari Huusela and Michael Ferguson (Ariel II, IMOCA) continue to soldier on with their increasingly threadbare mainsail.
Rankings on 01/11/19 – 16h00
1 – Aïna Enfance & Avenir
2 – Crosscall Chamonix Mont-Blanc
3 – Made in Midi
1 – GROUPE GCA – MILLE ET UN SOURIRES
2 – PRIMONIAL
3 – Solidaires En Peloton – ARSEP
1 – Charal
2 – Apivia
3 – Banque Populaire X
– PR –