Defending champions Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière (For People) look set to repeat their 2021 triumph on the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre race for the IMOCA division as they maintain a cushion of over 70 miles with less than 250 miles to the Fort-de-France finish line of their 3500 miles course from Le Havre.
In doing so French skipper Ruyant will extend his winning record to three in a row on the ‘major’ IMOCA races, adding to his solo victory a year ago on the Saint Malo-Guadeloupe course, the Route du Rhum, and to his win into Fort-de-France in 2021, also with Lagravière.
It should be the first win for Ruyant’s new Koch-Finot Conq designed IMOCA For People which was launched in March this year. For People are expected on the finish line around midnight local time (0400hrs UTC Monday).
Co-skipper Lagravière enthused this morning, “With Martinique coming up we are already smiling. We’re on the final stretch. Potentially one of the last big manoeuvres, the final gybe before the finish with 250 miles or so to go. We have just beaten our 15-minute speed record, somewhere around 26.9 knots. We can’t wait to finish. Conditions have been pretty wild aboard for a week now. Everything is a bit hard, but we’re pleased to be here and have done quite well.”
Behind the race leaders there are two intense head to head match races going on. In third Briton Sam Goodchild and French co-skipper, co-designer of the leading two IMOCAs, Antoine Koch on For the Planet are doing all they can to close an eight miles gap to Paprec Arkéa sailed by Yoann Richomme and Yann Eliès. At their current speeds this Sunday afternoon those eight miles represent a very tenable 15-20 minutes. This pair of IMOCAs are expected to finish around three hours after For People.
“We are aiming at Martinique which is good.” Said Goodchild this morning, ” We are in fairly unstable conditions with quite a few clouds around we are keeping moving but we really are trimming the sails to the breeze which us constantly moving around. It is hot and we are very happy to be looking at three digit numbers (ie 20+ knots of boatspeed). The sea state has picked up and they (Paprec) go faster the bigger the sea state and the slower we go at the moment. So it is a bit of a painful game but we are pushing to keep the pressure on until the finish. There are some tactics left too as we have a few gybes to go and we have seen since last night they have been matching us, so, yes there are some tactics but they clearly have their eyes on us, they will stay between us and the finish. But at the moment speed is king. It is a bit of typical Figaro style finish with Yann (Eliès) and Yoann (Richomme) and we are keeping a close eye on Initiatives Coeur and Charal as they are not far behind and so it would only take a small cloud for them to get back into us and Charal seems to have find some speed.”
Just as Goodchild and Koch are fighting to hold on to a duo of French sailors with storied race records – five La Solitaire wins, two Route du Rhum triumphs, three Transat Jacques Vabre wins are shared between Richomme and Eliès – so also are fifth placed Sam Davies and Jack Bouttell. The British-Aussie duo on Initiatives Coeur are tussling with Jérémie Beyou and four times TJV winner Franck Cammas with fourth place in the balance. This morning they were just ahead of the French duo who are sailing a virtual sistership to their Manuard design.
Davies remarked, “We are still flying along towards Martinique. We are almost in the final 24h and we keep pushing hard on the boat speed, the strategy and keeping an eye on the competition that is close by. I can feel the fatigue of the last ten days so despite there only being 24h to go we still keep resting when we can (sleep in the daytime heat is hard)
We are also getting out our homework and studying the notes we made about the weather and strategy for the approach to Martinique and the section around the coast into the finish which can be tricky!”
And the duo on board the German flagged Malizia Seaexplorer, Boris Herrmann and Will Harris, in sixth are constantly monitoring Justine Mettraux and Julien Villion on Teamwork who are approaching Martinique from their north.
Brit Harris said on this morning’s call, “We are always routing Justine and Teamwork and she has already done a very impressive job. Each time we get a lull in our wind we see her gong a bit faster on the tracker and that is painful. But I think it will go down to the line. It is that close. When you are on a 500 mile lay line each time when you get a 2 or 3 degree windshift in our favour then we are coming in 50 miles ahead and when it goes back in her favour we are 50 miles behind. We can be close together or far apart at the finish. We are keeping on it. It is interesting to see her not coming out on top in the end as everyone was thinking she was going to win this. It shows how much the waves can be a really important thing on these new foiling boats.”
Harris, who co-skippered Malizia on The Ocean Race added, “It is a bit bouncier, there is a sea state which I guess is from the storms in the north, which is making the foiling a bit trickier and more unstable. It has been pretty nice to have this routine, we have been able to learn a lot about how we go compared to the others. That has been useful. But we are definitely looking forwards to arriving. It has felt a little bit like Groundhog Day these past couple of days with a couple of gybes a day or something like that, with 15-20kts of wind.
For us the sail choices that everyone has made is the most interesting thing. Everyone has a slightly bigger gennaker than we do which means they go slightly faster in the lighter winds, and we can be a bit faster when it gets a bit windier. It would be nice to have that an be able to foil earlier in the lighter winds (on a bigger gennaker) or the next option is going to the kite. It is interesting to see how the new boats are performing, Paprec Arkéa and For People are obviously very fast boats in these conditions. We saw at the start Charal were good upwind and downwind.”
Class 40…it’s complicated
The Class 40 race still sees the two Italian boats leading, Ambrogio Beccaria’s Musa 40 Alla Grande PIRELLI and Alberto Bona’s Mach 40.5 IBSA with Britain’s Alister Richardson and Brian Thompson strengthening their grip on third on T’quila. But, while the gains today have been to the group up in the north – Achille Nebout and Gildas Mahé (Groupe SNEF) making five knots of boat speed faster than the Italians, a big no go zone of light winds and calms are set to prevail through the final days of their race.
Richardson wrote this afternoon, “Well it’s been an incredible last few days. Boat’s been going really well and we are getting rewarded the more driving we do the faster we go. Just after the Canaries, really, we ended up lining up with Everial which was a huge benefit for both of us I think as we got in quite a speed run. This dialled in quite a few settings that have been instrumental for our boat speed. That said it has meant that both Eveiral and our selves have been in a 4-5 day speed run which has really kept us on our toes but has allowed us to cut through the fleet. And, yes, it is looking like a light finish but doing everything we can to gain places.”
The race’s weather adviser Christian Dumard briefed this morning, “In the north just now that group are coming down at a great angle reaching. They should stay in the band of wind. But on Monday, the wind drops right off in the north. There will still be a bit of wind on Mon evening in the south. But it is really very light in the north and then pretty much no wind at all on Tuesday. It looks increasingly complicated for them.”
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