MACIF, the brand new 100 foot VPLP designed trimaran sailed by French co-skippers François Gabart and Pascal Bidégorry won the Transat Jacques Vabre’s ‘Match of the Giants’ early this Saturday morning. They crossed the finish line of the biennial coffee route race from Le Havre to Brazil in the dark of the Itajaí night at 05:59hrs and 27seconds UTC (00:59hrs 27local) to complete the 5400Nms course in 12d 17h 29m 27s.
When they took their winning gun their nearest rivals, Thomas Coville and Jean-Luc Nélias on Sodebo Ultim‘ were 88 miles in their wake, going on to finish runners up 7hrs and 18 mins later at 13:17hrs and 38sec (08:17hrs local). MACIF missed out on the course record of 11days 5 hours, set by Seb Josse and Charles Caudrelier on the Multi 70 in 2013 by 1 d 12hrs, largely accounted for by a much slower Doldrums passage.
As the Transat Jacques Vabre welcomed the Ultime class, for the first time only two of the four starters finished. But the match between MACIF and Sodebo Ultim has been engaging and exciting throughout. Many observers had painted MACIF as the underdog, simply because this was the first ever race for Gabart’s new boat which took two years from design sign off to its launching only two months ago.
Sodebo Ultim‘ ranked as a narrow favourite on account of the fact she is slightly longer, wider, heavier and more powerful than the pristine MACIF and Gabart and Bidégorry had pledged their primary objective was to learn the new boat and not break it. Although Coville had to retire from last year’s Route du Rhum after hitting a ship on the first night, he has sailed many more miles on his boat (the massively updated ex-Geronimo) including two Atlantic crossings this year.
Gabart’s very shrewd choice of co-skipper is a fundamental component of MACIF’s win. Bidégorry is undoubtedly one of France’s very top navigators as well as a fabulously talented, extremely tough and driven allround sailor, a great technician and very successful skipper in his own right. Basque born Bidégorry came late to competitive sailing but has won in everything from D35 lake catamarans, through the Solitaire du Figaro, to MOD70 tris across the Atlantic and round Europe, skipper the giant Banque Populaire tri to hold the North Atlantic record and the all out 24hrs distance record at 908 miles.
Bidégorry joined Gabart straight from the Volvo Ocean Race where he was navigator on Dongfeng Race Team, the Chinese-French entry which lead the race after the first three legs. This was Bidégorry’s 34th Transatlantic race or record run. He finished second in the IMOCA class in the last edition and won the ORMA 60 footers fleet in 2002 on Banque Populaire with Lionel Lemonchois.
Sodebo Ultim‘ lead out of the Channel and across the Bay of Biscay, both tris outrunning the worst of the weather. MACIF were never more than 70 miles behind Coville and Nélias. Defining moves, according to Bidégorry this morning, were when they gybed inside the more westerly line taken by Sodebo, just as they lined up to pass west of the Cape Verde islands. MACIF lead briefly here but stayed close to take the match of the giants into the Doldrums.
Gabart and the wily Bidégorry took a nice wind shift on their exit from the Doldrums, keeping them further east of Sodebo. From there, in the SE’ly trades MACIF was quicker, extending first into the strengthening, lifting breeze while their single foil, set for port tack, gave them a noted speed edge on Sodebo Ultim. As they raced down the Brazilian coast MACIF was 258 miles ahead. But a the stormy low off Cabo Frio, just east of Rio, proved a final hurdle to slow them allowing Sodebo to catch miles. And when Gabart and Bidégorry sealed the maiden race triumph for MACIF this morning, their rivals were just 88 miles behind.
Winning the first ever race for the new VPLP design is a certain endorsement that Gabart’s five years programme has started on the best possible footing. Still in early development stages of their foil package, MACIF raced with only one foil, set for port tack. The boat is slightly shorter than Sodebo Ultim‘ but 1.5 tonnes lighter and slightly narrower and is evolved for solo records and racing with a smaller, more compact pod on the main hull.
Gabart’s record programme is billed to start out next year with the Route of Discovery – east to west between Cadiz and the Bahamas – the Atlantic and the Mediterranean before going on to a solo round the world record challenge in 2017.
There is no change at the head of the IMOCA class where leaders Vincent Riou and Seb Col are on course to retain the class title Riou won on the last edition with Jean Le Cam. His PRB is 31.7Nms ahead as they approach the latitude of Salvador de Bahia with 1269 miles to go. The first IMOCA should finish on 11th November.