The Transat bakerly, an unmissable meeting for Sébastien Josse and Gitana Team
Last Sunday the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild made the port of Plymouth (UK), which will host the start of the famous transatlantic race on Monday 2 May at 13:30 GMT. Now known as The Transat bakerly, the race is also switching destination. Indeed, following on from Newport and Boston, today it's New York, at the foot of Manhattan's skyscrapers, that the race finish will be decided. This will be the third time that Sébastien Josse has lined up for this very demanding course, against the winds and currents in the North Atlantic. Gitana Team itself is the reigning champion of the event in the monohull category because in 2008, Loïck Peyron, aboard Gitana Eighty, pulled off a fantastic performance, winning the race in 12 days, 11 hours and 45 minutes. With some six months until the Vendée Globe, this monument of offshore racing' serves as the perfect dress rehearsal for the future competitors of the round the world race, who have chosen to open the competitive season with what is traditionally a formidable event in terms of the weather conditions.
Sébastien Josse rounded off 2015 with victory in the Transat Saint Barth Port-la-Forêt, a solo qualifier race for the Vendée Globe, which enabled him to amass some precious experience in solo configuration on the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild. It's worth noting that this latest generation IMOCA was launched barely four months beforehand. Having posted a promising performance, Gitana Team then set about a sizeable refit incorporating a series of major optimisations. Throughout the winter, within its base in Lorient, south-west Brittany, the team worked tirelessly and it is now time to switch to phase two, that of validating their choices and ensuring that their machine is reliable. To acheive this, nothing beats competition.
Two transatlantics to prepare for the Vendée Globe
Sébastien Josse is just six months away from the race start in Les Sables d'Olonne on 6 November. In the meantime, a series of two transatlantics in solo race configuration await the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild: The Transat bakerly then the New York - Vendée (Les Sables d'Olonne).
Though the IMOCA class itself is staying away from The Transat bakerly, it was unimaginable for Gitana Team not to be part of this legendary, reference event. Gitana 16, the first monohull to sign up, set the trend. With some six boats at the start on 2 May, the line-up is certainly on the small side, but the standard of the competition is up there as it notably includes the winner of the Vendée Globe (Macif turned SMA) and the top two in the Transat Jacques Vabre 2015 (PRB and Banque Populaire VIII). “The Transat is an absolute monster of offshore racing. It's an unmissable event, particularly within the context of preparations for the Vendée Globe,” admits Sébastien Josse. “The sequence of lows in the North Atlantic is ideal for testing the boat and the skipper. To my mind, the theoretical 12 days that make up The Transat are representative of the month we'll spend in the Southern Ocean this winter in terms of the physical, mental and technical pressure.”
On 29 May, the IMOCAs will then set sail from New York to battle it out on an eastbound course to Europe and the port of Les Sables d'Olonne on France's Atlantic coast. This dress rehearsal will gather together around 18 competitors who will be able to size each other up one last time before the winter, which will likely be the most intense of planetary races.
The Transat, an upwind crossing which will give the first insight into the likely trends
In The Transat bakerly, with three foiling IMOCAs (Edmond de Rothschild, Banque Populaire VIII, St Michel-Virbac) and three IMOCAs with classic daggerboards (PRB, SMA, 44), the biggest questions relate to the efficiency of the innovative lateral lifting surfaces in upwind configuration and in a tough sea state. Less than a week away from this major test, the skipper of Gitana Team is all too aware of the tough challenge ahead.
“I'm waiting for answers. I'm keen to know what more this transatlantic race has to teach us about Edmond de Rothschild and our rivals. With the design office, the technical team and Gitana Team's' performance managers, we've been working hard on developing the boat over the winter and now it's down to me to put that to good use. I'm tackling the race as if it's a major warm-up. The weather will set the pace and we know that things can quickly become extreme in this race,” adds the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild.
Sébastien Josse's English era
Level-headed by nature, the skipper of the team with five arrows is not the type to get tense before kick-off. Instead, he takes the time to appreciate the moments he has on shore and the pre-race atmosphere: “I really love spending time with my team, with my friends and with other sailors, even though I'm gradually getting in the zone. For now, we're focused but relaxed. The start is still a way off and it's very nice to be back in England.”
And England is a place Sébastien Josse is very familiar with, having spent several years in Cowes on the Isle of Wight within Ellen MacArthur and Mark Turner's OC Sport team. “They're a team of young enthusiasts and experienced managers, where professionalism and boundless energy reigns,” recalls the former skipper of the IMOCA BT, aboard which he raced The Transat in 2008. At that point, a violent low forced several skippers to retire, including Sébastien. The mainsail track, that had been attached to the mast, came away whilst he was at the front of the pack. “We know there's a risk of breakage in this event. I'm not setting out to conquer it, rather I'll take things as they come with the aim of remaining very in tune with my boat,” he concludes. “Everyone makes their own choices in terms of preparation. It was important for me to go and race in these conditions before setting sail around the world.”
Agenda in Plymouth (local time):
Friday 29 April: Press conference (Plymouth) at 11:00am, skippers' briefing at 14:30pm
Saturday 30 April: Presentation of the skippers to the public at 14:00pm
Sunday 1 May: Race and Vendée Globe press briefing at 14:15pm
Monday 2 May: Start The Transat bakerly at 14:30pm