After having been a three-boat battle for a while, the Transat Jacques Vabre has become a duel. Banque Populaire has gone over to the coast of Africa in search of her opponent Gitana 11 – and found her ! BY midday today, Tuesday, only 40 miles separated the two trimarans, racing almost in sight of each other. Each will be looking to make as fast a getaway as possible as a squall passes overhead or when the wind shifts, which can be used to change tack and gain ground in an easterly direction. Ascension Island, located 8° south by 14°20 west is still quite some distance off yet – 650 miles in fact. Quite a distance to cover changing tack all the while against the SE trades which are gaining in strength as the boats head south east. Winds will gradually increase to 20 and then to 25 knots. Seas will be short. The fleet will have to strike the right balance between speed and heading whilst preserving the gear so as not to fatigue rig, sails and structures. The guys driving the machines will not be able to take a back seat either. Two days in a shaker, near-continuous sea spray, heavy skies and a very humid atmosphere. Up on deck, there is no letting up, the skippers get a permanent shower. Down below, the heat is stifling. Ascension Island only comes to those who deserve it, a sort of Himalayan peak.
In any event, Frédéric Le Peutrec and Yann Guichard are now able to play an offensive role. Just two hours behind the leaders, and with five days of racing still to go, the gap is insignificant. All the more so when you bear in mind that Gitana 11 is a redoubtable machine in a blow, particularly upwind and reaching, as demonstrated in Grand Prix events this year. And when you consider that Frédéric and Yann have an Olympic background with exceptional helming skills and a finely-honed sense of tactics when competing at close quarters.
As for Thierry Duprey du Vorsent and Erwan Le Roux, they have not yet latched onto the traces of the Doldrums. A few tens of miles from the coast of Senegal, Gitana X has also opted for an inside route, a shortcut to gain a few miles down the coast of Africa. This option is a little risky as the trimaran may find herself being subject to the side effects of the Doldrums a little longer than the leaders, but it is a wise decision in their attempt to close the gap after having made pitstops in Porto and then in Lanzarote for repairs. In view of what has happened out on the course over the last couple of days, nothing is certain for the time being.
Yann Guichard (Gitana 11) at 5h00 on Tuesday morning :
« Brilliant. We came free of the Doldrums overnight and the boat is in tip top condition. So are we come to think of it, even if we are a little tired. We're already in the S/SE trade winds and the sea is a bit choppy. We haven't seen the sun for two days and tonight was magnificent with a full moon paving the route ahead ! It looks as though our inland option was the right one. After having lagged 200 miles behind at the Cape Verde islands, we have now reduced that gap to just 40 miles. We're having to drink gallons of water to avoid dehydrating. I reckon we are in quite a favourable position, particularly compared to Géant who is more than 100 miles to leeward (west). Boat speed is good and we've been marking Gitana 11. Everything is fine. We're going to have to be careful to maintain our lateral distance to be able to head downwards to Ascension. »