You don't change a winning team!
With just four days until the race start and after the final moments with family, the Edmond de Rothschild duo returned to Le Havre this Wednesday, ready to set sail across the Atlantic and keen to size up the nineteen other pretenders to victory in the Imoca class. Two years ago, Sébastien Josse and Charles Caudrelier were already present in the Bassin Paul Vatine. Back then they were one of the crews, which had heralded the return of the big multihulls in this major double-handed event that boasts the longest transatlantic course of its kind with a course spanning some 5,400 miles. Their pairing set the sparks flying and they were first across the finish line in a time of 11 days 5 hours 3 minutes and 54 seconds, setting the reference time for the event along this new course. This year, it didn't take much deliberation for them to opt to sail together again. This time though, they'll be racing a monohull, aboard the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild, in a bid to score the first double whammy!
A duo reformed: the obvious step
The Transat Jacques Vabre is the first official competition for the most recent of the Gitana fleet; a dream trial run two and a half months after the launch of this latest generation Verdier design. Indeed, with a year to go until the Vendée Globe, this double-handed race is entirely in keeping with the steady rise in power envisaged by Sébastien Josse and the five-arrow team. For this debut performance, the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild is teaming up with Charles Caudrelier; a choice which seemed like the obvious step: “Charles and I are like an old couple and a couple that works well together at that!” joked Sébastien Josse.“He's an excellent sailor, at ease offshore and a strong performer right across the board. The fine-tuning of a machine like Edmond de Rothschild, particularly in the timeframe available to us since she left the yard, takes a lot of energy and time. The understanding and trust we have in each other is a considerable benefit for the sailing element. Charles and I don't have to re-establish our automatic reflexes as we already have our little habits We've also sailed in several races together, including a transatlantic in a multihull, which is no mean feat. We have our reflex actions nailed and that's not something you forget.”
“When Sébastien offered me the chance to sail with him again I didn't think twice. I love sailing with him and within Gitana team, which I really value. The format is very different to the round the world race with stopovers (Volvo Ocean Race) that I've just done with Dongfeng, but it's a thrilling challenge. With a year to go until the Vendée Globe, the Imoca line-up is top flight and will quickly enable us to see if we're up to par,” explained Charles Caudrelier.
The tender age of the monohull fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, launched on 7 August 2015, and the short spell of fine-tuning mean that her true capabilities remain in unknown territory. However, Sébastien Josse and Charles Caudrelier aren't here just to make up the numbers and they'd very much like to treat themselves to the first multihull-monohull double in the history of the race. To pull that off, they'll be able to count on their vast experience, nine Transat Jacques Vabres on the clock no less in this event alone, added to which their pairing is highly established. Verdict on around 11 November in Itajai, southern Brazil.
Flashback: a victory in five acts!
Act I: English Channel, Biscay, Finisterre: Edmond de Rothschild gains an edge
After a clean start from 7 November at 1200 GMT, Edmond de Rothschild led out of the starting blocks, rounding the Radio France mark off Le Havre in first place. From there the boats launched into a tactical ballet of tack changes in the English Channel. At the north-west tip of Brittany, Sébastien and Charles hugged the bend to hunt down the expected wind shift as early as possible behind the front passing over Ushant in the early hours of the morning. The trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild then lengthened her stride across the Chenal du Four then the Raz de Sein, entering the Bay of Biscay with a lead of three miles over Oman Air-Musandam. Following that came the first day of speed testing between the two boats as they made for the north-west tip of Spain. Each of them showed themselves to be rather comfortable in this exercise, despite 5-metre waves and 30 knots of breeze as they approached the coast. Late into the night, conditions became extreme off Cape Finisterre. The breeze picked up considerably and the seas boiled making any headway to the south rather laborious to say the least. Here too, the blue trimaran hunted down her salvation offshore, leaving La Coruña and her adversary in her wake.
Act II: The southern espressway
The slight edge gained by Edmond de Rothschild in this intense start to the race would become more substantial as the hours went by, slipping along the coast of Portugal and then into the north-easterly tradewinds. Riveted to the helm day and night, Sébastien and Charles kept up the pace, avoiding the wind shadow created by the island of Madeira, then than of the Canaries, and extending their lead, which culminated at 101 miles between 11 and 12 November. Shortly before Cape Verde, Sidney Gavignet and Damian Foxall aboard Oman Air-Musandam initiated a slightly more easterly trajectory, doubtless looking to make a break for it before tackling the tricky Doldrums.
Act III: Night of storms prior to the equator
In the tropics, the tension rises. The Doldrums are forecast to be very active and extend across an area spanning some 300 miles in width. Leading, Edmond de Rothschild opts for a more conservative position whilst her pursuer takes the risk of falling into the zones of light airs. In the depths of the night, it's like broad daylight for Sébastien and Charles with the amount of lightning striking the water in one particularly impressive squall. The crew keeps a cool head and keeps a tight rein on its boat, which ends up being knocked about by over 25 knots of breeze. The sailors adapt the sail area and gain headway due South at full speed. In the early hours, Edmond de Rothschild escapes the clutches of the Doldrums with an 80-mile lead over Oman Air-Musandam, which was the same as when they entered this meteorological transition zone. However, by continuing in its earlier option, the Gavignet-Foxall duo has managed to reduce the lateral separation. The trimarans cross the equator on 14 November, within just two hours of each other. The boat fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild makes it into the southern hemisphere at 2035 GMT after 7 days 8 hours 35 minutes at sea since leaving Le Havre.
Act IV: Full-on Brazil
In this other hemisphere, the two trimarans quickly latch onto the tradewinds, which are blowing from the south-east this time. The speed is on the up again aboard Edmond de Rothschild, which resists the various attacks from her adversary, even though the latter is benefiting from a favourable angle of attack to accelerate along the coast of Brazil. From 80 miles, their lead melts to just 20 miles at noon on 16 November. Despite the fatigue, despite these long hours of piloting in the sunshine and permanent humidity, salt and stress, the Josse-Caudrelier duo don't let up one iota. The three hulls cut through the tradewind sea, whilst ahead the scenario for the conclusion is taking shape.
Act V: Final wrestling match
On the morning of 17 November, the boats gybe to negotiate Cabo Frio, to the west of which nestles the bay of Rio de Janeiro. Some 500 miles from the finish in Itajai, Sébastien and Charles have stretched out their lead to some fifty or so miles again ahead of their pursuers. Suffice to say that the pressure remains substantial when you're aware of the boats' speed. It isn't the time to slow down and there are still a number of hurdles to be avoided. Indeed, a cold front, associated with an extension of the Saint Helena high, is forming ahead of the sailors' bows. Thanks to the great job performed by their routers of anticipating the next weather system, the sailors of Gitana Team managed the situation like metronomes and carried the day on the finish line.