On the front line
After leaving Le Havre yesterday at 12:35 UTC, this lunchtime the Transat Jacques Vabre fleet is being led down the Atlantic by the Josse - Rouxel duo aboard the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. Setting sail with a degree of caution from the foot of the Cap de la Hève, the sailors that make up Gitana Team wasted no time in powering up and showing just what this latest addition to the Gitana fleet is made of. After an express exit from the English Channel, which they dealt with in just 9hrs at an average speed of 28 knots, Sébastien and Thomas are currently heading westwards where they're due to hit a cold front, which they'll have to negotiate at the end of today with strong wind and very rough seas on the programme. At the 11:00 UTC ranking, Gitana 17 was nearly 10 miles ahead of her closest rival, Sodebo Ultim.
A lively start and first night
Yesterday, offshore of Le Havre, only the most courageous witnessed the start of the 13th Transat Jacques Vabre out on the water, but they were rewarded by the most stunning spectacle. The sea, which was particularly rough and short, coupled with the tail end of a low, presented them with some fabulous images and contrasts of the fleet of 37 competing boats. True to their original mindset, Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel set sail somewhat cautiously to the south of the start line, holding fire on their fantastic machine throughout the 12-mile course, which took the sailors towards the France 3 mark at Etretat. However, the minute this mark was behind them and they were finally clear of the coast, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild and her crew could really get their teeth into the race.
“It was a fairly sporty introduction! Last night the wind was very shifty. We had a little too much sail aloft and the boat was barrelling along at 40 knots at times. We had heavier seas than forecast and we were punching into 3 to 3.5-metre waves in places. It wasn't very easy to manage such conditions and we had to make sure we were on our game and very focused. However, Thomas and I managed to get into a rhythm, each of us eating our superb meals cooked up by the chef Julien Gatillon* and each taking turns to get a bit of sleep. It was very pleasant to benefit from clear skies with a virtually full moon, especially given our AIS issues, which have plagued us since the start,” stated Sébastien Josse.
Indeed, yesterday, Cyril Dardashti - Gitana's team manager - alerted Race Director Sylvie Viant to the fact that the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was experiencing difficulties with her AIS (Automatic Identification System). This system of automated message exchanges between vessels via VHF radio, which provides data about the identity, status, position and course of vessels in a particular navigation zone, was not replying. This is a significant handicap in sectors like the English Channel, which are renowned for their intense shipping. Fortunately, the two sailors were able to count on the support of the local coastguard service, particularly as they crossed the shipping lane off Ushant, which is one of the most heavily frequented maritime passages in the world.
Despite all this, those boats heading the Transat Jacques Vabre race, with Gitana 17 leading the way, managed to cover the 255 nautical miles between the start and the island of Ushant in just 9 hours, which equates to an average speed of 28.3 knots; figures which testify to the swiftness of the start of this transatlantic race. Indeed, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was polled on several occasions making 39 knots and the duo negotiated the Channel Islands at over 35 knots, despite punching into a tide running at nearly 5 knots.
Video - Taking-off for the Atlantic, relive the final moments ashore for the Edmond de Rothschild duo and Gitana Team
Bound for the front!
Since late last week, the various weather models have been on the same page and so the resulting scenario was pretty clear. As such, before casting off the Edmond de Rothschild had a perfect handle on how the initial days of the race would play out. Having crossed the ridge of high pressure on their arrival in the Bay of Biscay, which explains the relatively low speeds posted by the Ultime trio this morning, Sébastien and Thomas are currently making for their first cold front. Leading the hunt westwards, our two sailors are currently on port tack beating into around twenty knots of breeze. This SW'ly breeze is set to build steadily to reach an average of 30-35 knots as the front rolls through, which is estimated to be around 20:00 UTC this Monday evening. According to the latest observations made by the onshore routers - Jean-Yves Bernot and Antoine Koch - the phenomenon is very active. Heavy rain and gusts bordering on 40-45 knots are on the cards. The seas will be heavy with a swell of at least 5 metres expected.
In other words, the atmosphere is set to get increasingly lively throughout the day aboard the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild with this first key passage of the Transat.
Video - “First times” series, #4 First race start. Our mediaman Yann Riou threw himself into the water to give you the best possible images of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild setting sail.
Extracts from the radio session - Sébastien Josse on Monday 6 November at 04:00 UTC
“The race got off to a good start! We tried to be sparing with the boat as the seas were breaking hard with the current in the English Channel. We can see that the boat has real potential and we have a lot on our plate right now. It's noticeable that there's little between us as Thomas isn't very far behind. We don't have a lead of 100 miles so these are very much race conditions.”