LE HAVRE, France–The Transat Jacques Vabre started for the 19 monohulls on Saturday and the 14 multihulls on Sunday, both in relatively light winds; the monohulls in a patchy five-knot southeasterly that built to nine, and the multihulls in 12 to 15 knots of westerly. Both groups headed for the Paul Vatine buoy off the Sainte Adresse beach, two miles to the east of the start, a crowd-pleaser leg before they set off for Salvador da Bahia in Brazil.
The monohulls, 13 Open 60s and six Open 50s, have a 4,340-mile course directly to Brazil, but the multihulls, all 60-foot trimarans, have to leave Ascension Island to starboard, which stretches the course to 5,300 miles; its expected to take the leading multihulls 19 days and the fastest monohull 20 to 21 days.
The light weather didnt last for long and the breeze went into the northeast and was strong enough at 15 to 20 knots for Jean-Luc Nelias and Michel Desjoyeaux in the fresh-out-of-the-box, Belgacom to reach Ushant, 210 miles down the track, in 11 hours. This is one of three new-generation tris in the race and theyre all at or near the front.
Joining Belgacom on this headlong chase into the Bay of Biscay is the Fico-Lacoste World Champion, Loick Peyron in the Nigel Irens/Marc Lombard designed Fujifilm. With Loic Le Mignon, Peyron was just 0.1 mile astern of the Belgians and these two had begun to forge a spearhead. Scrapping for third place were Karine Fauconnier and Franck Proffits Sergio Tacchini–christened on Saturday evening after the monohulls had left–and Alain Gautier and Ellen MacArthur on Kingfisher-Foncia. Early this afternoon, Foncia had moved into third place.
The monohulls have had a better range of winds in which to settle but like the multihulls, the caliber of the men and women on board these boats is extremely high. Any one of eight could win the 60-foot class, about the same as that in the multihulls. Unsurprisingly, it has been Roland Jourdain and Gael Le Cleach in Sill Plein Fruit that has made the front running, but hotly pursued by Mark Turner and Nick Moloney in Ellen MacArthurs Kingfisher, renamed Casto-Darty-BUT for this race.
Right up with them and constantly joining in the place changing is Bernard Gallay and Kito de Pavant in Voila.fr with the three boats slicing through the Bay of Biscay towards Cape Finisterre at 15-16 knots under full mainsails and spinnakers. This heavy demand on pace has already seen some casualties. Bernard Stamm, who holds the monohull 24-hour record at 467.1 miles, broached wildly and lost a full hour with Vincent Riou on Armor Lux, dropping to sixth, while Dominique Wavre and Michele Paret on Temenos lost two hours when a spinnaker halyard broke and they ran over the sail. Wavre has requested the opportunity to collect a replacement at Funchal in Madeira.
Alex Bennett and Paul Larsen are showing that it is not necessary to have a new boat to do well in the Open 50 class. Sailing Pete Gosss “yellow surfboard” in which he rescued Raphael Dinelli in the Southern Ocean during the 1996 Vendee Globe, they are nine miles in front on Renaud le Youdec and Jean Bacave in Saving, a 2000 Jean Berret design.