The last 24hrs en route to Bahia
The conclusion of the Transat Jacques Vabre is nigh for the front runners. Now with under 500 miles to go, these are the final hours at sea for the top duo in this 13th edition. On this seventh day of racing, the hierarchy remains unchanged in this thrilling sprint. After 4,000 miles of racing, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild and Sodebo Ultim' are still virtually neck and neck, though in recent hours Thomas Coville and Jean-Luc Nélias, positioned further inshore, have been able to stretch away from their pursuers. At the 15:00 UTC ranking, Gitana 17 was 42.2 miles shy of the black and orange trimaran. That said, there are still some meteorological and strategic moves to be played before Salvador. The men of Gitana Team have yet to have their final say and they fully intend to battle right the way to the finish. The winner of the Ultime category is expected into All Saints' Bay tomorrow lunchtime in Europe, which is the morning in Brazil.
A steady pace right to the finish
Last night, shortly before midnight, those leading the way in this Route du Café, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild and Sodebo Ultim', made the switch to the southern hemisphere after 6 days and 10 hours at sea, thus launching into the final assault on the finish line. This time in itself is not a record, but it paints the perfect picture of the intensity of the battling and the fierce pace set by the two duos since the start in Le Havre on 5 November. By way of a comparison, the most similar time to this remains the one set in singlehanded configuration between Ushant and the equator, a record which is held by a certain Thomas Coville in 5 days 17 hours and a few minutes. However, we mustn't forget that in the Transat Jacques Vabre, the competing crews must first exit the English Channel, which equates to an extra 255 miles between Le Havre and the north-west tip of Brittany; a distance which the Ultimes devoured in just 9 hours and 30 minutes.
To keep up this fast pace, the sailors are constantly taking it in turns at the helm and with the trimming in order to optimise their steed's performance, as Thomas Rouxel explained this morning at the audio session: Sébastien and I have maintained the same rhythm since the start, which means that we're basically flat out. Together with Sodebo, we've had pedal to the metal pretty much the whole time and the pressure of having a competitor close by on a permanent basis is very motivating. It really pushes you to your limits. Aboard Gitana 17, we've organised ourselves into watches of 1.5 hours, 1.5 hours of rest, 1.5 hours on watch and right now we're adjusting the traveller when we're on watch.
The last cards to be played
There are still a few little things to try before the finish, warned Antoine Koch, the onshore router for the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. Today's trend saw the situation easing quite a bit with the negotiation of the horn of Brazil and an expected rotation of the wind to the north-east. After that, the breeze is set to gradually pick back up, before packing more of a punch over the course of the night. The race will end with a solid breeze of 20-25 knots, on starboard tack after a gybe. The timing of this gybe will be important for the end of the race, concluded Antoine from HQ in La Rochelle, which is where he has been monitoring the race with colleague Jean-Yves Bernot.
Aboard the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel are clear-headed but also well aware that they're going to have to know how to play the opportunist card given the weather conditions over the coming hours: A lot of things could still happen there are squalls offshore of Brazil and the proximity of the coast further complicates matters. Beyond that, there will be a fair few changes in the wind conditions right the way to the finish, so we're going to have to be reactive and on top of our game. There is no doubt in Thomas Rouxel's description that the two sailors will be bringing their A game all the way to the end in true Figaro fashion!
After 7 days of this express crossing, with no time for contemplation in the bubble of Gitana 17's cockpit, Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel will begin to sense the effects of civilisation over the coming hours, with their upcoming passage offshore of the horn of Brazil and Recife. For all that, it's not quite time to set foot on dry land once more as Salvador is still some 400 miles off. Their arrival there is scheduled for tomorrow morning, local time, in All Saints' Bay, which is around lunchtime in Europe.
Ranking at 15:00 UTC, Ultime category Sunday 12 November
1 Sodebo Ultim' 441.3 miles from the finish, 19.1 knots over 1hr
2 Maxi Edmond de Rothschild 42.2 miles behind the leader, 18 knots over 1hr
3 Prince de Bretagne 1,018.4 miles behind the leader, 27.4 knots over 1hr