Edmond de Rothschild in the right wagon
Having set off from Gustavia on Sunday at 15:00 GMT, the Transat Saint-Barth - Port-la-Forêt fleet is continuing to pick its way along the North Atlantic and will already begin to attack its fourth day at sea this afternoon. Leading the way from the opening miles, Sébastien Josse is holding on firmly to his position despite the effects of the high pressure, which are not always to the taste of the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild. This start to the race comes as confirmation, if it were needed, that the native of Nice has not lost the knack of singlehandedly sailing a 60-foot Imoca, despite the many years of absence from the circuit. In terms of the weather, the gentleness of the high pressure is gradually giving way to a train of lows and since yesterday evening the atmosphere has changed on the deck of the monohulls. Indeed, as it shifts further round to the west, the breeze has strengthened enabling the head of the fleet to lengthen its stride. At the 09:00 GMT ranking, the most recent of the Gitana fleet lies some 2,665 miles from the finish and boasts a 25-mile lead over SMA, the latter a solid presence in second place. Safran completes this provisional podium some 38 miles astern of the 60-footer fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild.
A crescendo roll

A few hours before setting sail on his first solo transatlantic race at the helm of the brand new Verdier design (the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild was launched on 7 August 2015), the scenario that was unfolding in the Atlantic seemed to suit Sébastien Josse perfectly. Involving three to four days under the influence of the Azores High, in light and perfectly manageable conditions, it has been the ideal warm-up prior to getting into the thick of things with the series of almost wintry depressions sweeping the zone from west to east. The latter scenario will serve as a real launch pad towards Europe and the finish, which will be decided in Port-la-Forêt, Brittany.

Yesterday afternoon, the skipper of Gitana looked back at the first 48 hours at sea: “The start didn’t leave us with much time for contemplation! It was pretty bracing, with a steady wind and squalls, which you couldn’t afford to let yourself get caught out by. There were fairly big seas too and we were doing a lot of slamming. However, this situation quickly calmed down and as forecast, the tradewind eased around a dozen hours after the start and through until we traversed the ridge of high pressure sprawled across our route as we rounded the anticyclone. Right now, I’m running with a wind oscillating between 7 and 12 knots; there are always the same shifty conditions when you’re approaching the centre of the high pressure, which is what we’ve had to do to get around it. The sea is well ordered though so we’re managing to slip along and make headway.” As the solo sailor’s description illustrates, it’s been a very pleasant start to the race for this 3,400-mile transatlantic race bound for the coast of Finistere, north-west France: “I prefer the breeze, but it’s not a bad thing to be able to gently find your bearings. I’ve had to put in a fair few manoeuvres since the start. I’ve been through the majority of my sail wardrobe, but conditions are perfectly manageable and reasonable. Just now we have glorious blue skies accompanied by an intense heat on deck and down below.”

In the thick of things

The skipper of Edmond de Rothschild has clearly been making the most of these mild conditions, safe in the knowledge that the décor is set to change rapidly today: “This is how eastbound transatlantic races work at this time of year. You set off in shorts and T-Shirt and over the coming days you keep pulling on layer by layer to make Europe in the depths of winter in your boots and foulies! In a short while, we’ll put in a gybe, northbound towards Bermuda. At that stage, we should be able to hook onto the tail of a low. However, we won’t have time to dawdle as the timing is tight and following on from that, the forecasts aren’t very cheery if we miss the first wagon! Throughout the night, the wind is set to rotate as it builds to around 20 knots over the course of Wednesday. We’ll switch from a south-westerly to a westerly wind to finish with a north-westerly breeze. At that point, the pace will pick up and things will begin to get serious. Within the next 24 hours, if we manage to hook onto this air flow, it’ll be a ‘hard hat’ atmosphere on the boat… which is something else we’re hunting down,” stresses Sébastien Josse.

Hooking onto this first low, synonymous with W-NW’ly winds, is taking up all their thoughts right now, or more accurately, it’s the timing of this phenomenon that is ever present on the minds of our solo sailors. With some 2,700 miles to the finish, this Wednesday rates as an important day in this Transat Saint-Barth - Port-la-Forêt. Sébastien Josse is approaching this second stage of the race in optimum conditions, leading the fleet with a boat that is in perfect working order.

Charles Caudrelier’s take

Together with Olivier Douillard, Charles Caudrelier makes up the performance cell within Gitana Team. The first few miles of racing posted by the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild are naturally providing a great deal of feedback, well before Sébastien Josse even finishes the race as the two men have at their disposal a set of instruments enabling them to compare the theoretical data from the start of the project to the reality on the water. This is why Sébastien Josse’s trusty co-skipper is closely monitoring the trajectory of the latest Gitana. However, as a major weather specialist, he’s making the most of the opportunity to share with us his views on these initial days of the race: “When the fleet left St Barths on Sunday, the two main weather models on which we base our data to run our routing software (CEP and GFS) couldn’t agree on which course to adopt. Sébastien knew he’d have to make his decision on the water, once the models were firmer. Since yesterday, the situation has become clearer. Indeed, even though the models are still showing the same diverging viewpoints the fleet has been quicker than forecast and the lead they have has shed new light on the situation. Yesterday, at 10:00 GMT, Sébastien was 35 to 45 miles ahead of the routing. The gybe put in yesterday at around 17:00 GMT was important for positioning oneself and tackling the front before the first low of this transatlantic rolls through. The wind is set to slowly build to reach 20 knots from around noon tomorrow. At that point the routes are set to curve round dramatically and the head of the fleet will finally be able to set a course towards the Azores. Watch this space…”

Ranking on 9 December – 09:00 GMT
  1. Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) – 2,665 miles from the finish
  2. Paul Meilhat (SMA) – 24.5 miles behind the leader
  3. Morgan Lagravière (Safran)– 38.4 miles back
  4. Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord)  - 45.3 miles back
  5. Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut) – 73.1 miles back
  6. Eric Holden (O Canada) - 123 miles back
  7. Enda O’Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager) – 324.2 miles back 

Gitana is placing at your disposal a cartography that is dedicated to following this transatlantic race: http://gitana-team.geovoile.com/saintbarthportlaforet/2015/. The positions of Edmond de Rothschild and its six rivals will be updated every hour. However, a position blackout will be observed between 22:00 and 04:00 GMT to let the strategic play have free rein!

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