SALVADOR DE BAHIA, Brazil–Franck Cammas and Steve Ravussin took the lead in the Transat Jacques Vabre, the 5,200-mile race from Le Havre to Salvador da Bahia in Brazil, 300 miles from the finish when their Groupama overtook the partially disabled Kingfisher-Foncia of Alain Gautier and Ellen MacArthur, the leaders for the previous nine days. “Weve taken more risks than weve dared before to bag this one,” said Cammas, “and only one hour before the finish did we know that we had it.”
The French skipper and his Swiss co-skipper were clearly delighted with their victory and Cammas was speaking for both of them when he said, “many boats could have won this race, I sensed that we had the wind gods blowing in our favor, and I felt good about the race from the start.” They were the leaders around the first mark off Le Havre and were among the leading group at all times to average 15.03 knots for the race.
MacArthurs sailing career took another step forward when the trimaran, Kingfisher-Foncia, which she co-skippered with Gautier, finished second. With the finish, MacArthur earned points toward the FICO-Lacoste Skippers World Championship, confirming her victory in this two-year-long series. MacArthur, 25, becomes the youngest ever sailor and also the first woman to win this championship and only the second non-French skipper–Canadas Mike Birch won in 1989.
This season, she also raced Kingfisher in the five-leg EDS Transatlantic Challenge, securing a victory over her friend and rival, Roland “Bilou” Jourdain in Sill Plein Fruit. In addition, she has raced the 60-foot trimaran with Gautier in other events, most of them scoring her half points as the named co-skipper.
“Im delighted,” said Ellen, when she arrived in Salvador after one of the toughest 24 hours in the race during which she and Gautier had battled to keep the wing mast in the boat. Failure of a hydraulic ram in the rigging might easily have resulted in dismasting 300 miles from the Brazilian port. It was at this time that Cammas and Steve Ravussin in Groupama overtook Kingfisher-Foncia because they had been forced to slow the boat after the bowsprit had broken.
The bottom of the massive gennaker, which provides much of the power for the trimaran was anchored to the far end of the bowsprit, which was then flailing wildly. It took MacArthur and Gautier 90 minutes to tame this huge sail and prepare a smaller one to replace it. Then they found the hydraulic problem with an eight-foot ram, which weighs 40kg, on the main shroud for the mast. They had to jibe the boat after first running a jury stay (a halyard and the masthead running backstay) and then transfer the good ram from the starboard side to the port side, setting it up before they could pile on sail again.
Winning the FICO-Lacoste World Championship comes only six days after it was announced in Lisbon that MacArthur had been awarded the female ISAF/Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Trophy. She was a notable absentee at that ceremony, but communicated with King Constantine of Greece, who presented the award, by satellite telephone. “I have to be quick,” she told him, “We have a lot on here at present.” That was shortly before rounding Ascension Island before the westward passage to Brazil.
Loick Peyrons Fujifilm finished third of the multihulls. Fujifilm was almost 10 hours behind Kingfisher-Foncia, in turn 3.5 hours behind Groupama, in a race lasting 14.5 days.
Jourdain and Gael Le Cleach in Sill Plein Fruit were in the offing and expected to finish around midnight, some 70 miles ahead of Mike Golding and Marcus Hutchinson in Ecover and Mark Turner and Nick Moloney in Kingfisher (Casto-Darty-But). Golding and Hutchinson using what Maloney described as “a sneaky move inshore,” passed Casto-Darty-But overnight, but are fully aware that they must not make the same mistake as Brian Thompson in the Mini-Transat and go too far to the east.
“We are staying between them and the finish,” declared Hutchinson. There are light airs towards the finish, but the direction allowed Ecover to set a spinnaker, a sail no longer in Casto-Darty-Buts wardrobe–theirs was ripped beyond repair 10 days ago–and this makes Ecovers covering job a little easier.
Another with the same intention 600 miles from the finish was One Dream One Mission, the 50-footer of Alex Bennett and Paul Larsen, which has regained its lead and is now 26 miles clear of Renaud Le Youdec and Jean Bacave in Saving.