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Transat Offers a Preview of Vendee Globe Showdown

With more than half the race to go, there has been no definitive leader in the IMOCA fleet with VincentRiou's PRB hanging tight with the foilers.

May 6, 2016
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st. michel-virbac
St. Michel-Virbac, one of the latest foilers has been holding the line with Banque Populaire VIII and the non-foiling PRB. Lloyd Images

The 21 solo sailors still racing on the third day of The Transat bakerly from Plymouth to New York are now spread out on a north-south axis of over a thousand miles of the north Atlantic.

While the biggest yachts in the fleet – the Ultimes – continue on an extreme southerly course, that is taking the leaders well south of the Azores, the two monohull fleets – the Class40s and the IMOCA 60s together with the Multi50 trimarans – are much further north.

In their path is a deep Atlantic depression that is likely to hit the IMOCAs and the Multi50s head-on tomorrow morning. The Class40s may escape the worst of the headwinds but they too are expecting to hit the sort of conditions that have made The Transat bakerly such a formidable challenge over the years.

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It was a speedy day for Thomas Coville, the hugely experienced skipper of the giant trimaran Sodebo, who came within less than 10 miles of setting a new solo 24-hour distance record.

The Frenchman had no concern for the record – which currently stands at 682 nautical miles – but in the 24 hours to 03.00 BST today, Coville travelled 673 miles, just nine miles short of the mark set by his fellow French skipper Armel le Cleac’h on board the trimaran Banque Populaire VII in 2014.

Sodebo and Francois Gabart on board Macif have been in sight of each other for most of the race but are now about 40 miles apart on a north-south axis, with Coville just ahead.

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“It’s funny that this happened during a race and it’s nice to hear – it means that we have been pushing hard and it’s good,” Coville noted. “Francois is faster in medium wind and light wind because his boat is new and lighter, but in stronger wind and reaching I think Sodebo is a fantastic boat. It’s amazing to be crossing the Atlantic in a race like this and be so close to each other. Yesterday was one of my best days ever racing multihulls – for sure.”

Looking at the routing ahead, when the two skippers will have to climb to the west-northwest, as they close on New York for the finish, Coville said he will be off the wind for much of the time but warned that New York is where Atlantic depressions form and things could change. “It depends what kind of low is being formed when we arrive,” he said.

In the meantime Sodebo is in perfect shape. “I’ve been cleaning a few things – like my wet underwear – and today has been about recovery, so I have been eating and sleeping for a few hours which is fantastic,” said Coville.

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Several hundred miles north of the Ultime battle, the three other fleets in The Transat bakerly – the IMOCA 60s, Class40s and Multi50s – are preparing for the onslaught of an Atlantic depression which is set to hit them tomorrow night and then dominate their first weekend at sea.

The now nine-strong Class40 race is still being led by Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires en Peloton-Arsep, while the four remaining Multi50s are being led by Lalou Roucayrol on Arkema.

The remarkable feature of the IMOCA race has been the performance of Vincent Riou on PRB. The former Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race winner has managed to either lead or hold second place despite racing a conventional boat against two foilers.

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At present Riou is around 10 miles astern of the class leader, the aforementioned Armel Le Cleac’h on the foiling Banque Populaire VIII, and six miles ahead of Jean-Pierre Dick on the foiling St Michel-Virbac. Riou’s performance offers a fascinating insight into how the foiling IMOCAs and non-foilers will compare in this year’s Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race.

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