A technically demanding course
In less than a week's time, on 8 May to be precise, Gitana 11 and Gitana 12, the two trimarans equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, will set off in the London / Alpes Maritimes race. This event will open the Café Ambassador Multi Cup season, the new format for the Orma Championship. Gitana 11 arrived in London today at noon when Gitana 12 was around 50 miles away.

The skippers of the two Gitanas, Frédéric Le Peutrec and Thierry Duprey du Vorsent, analyse the specific characteristics of this brand-new route spanning over 2,500 miles through the Channel, Atlantic and Mediterranean and taking in sand banks, islands, capes, and straits. Due to a sequence of sharply varying weather systems, the event is likely to remain wide open to the last…

Commencing the season with an off-shore event is never easy, especially after major winter work during which the trimarans have repeatedly ‘gone under the surgeon's knife'! Gitana 11, for example, has had its entire hull dissected and a larger one grafted on in its place. This alteration should optimise the boat's reactivity, while the vessel also boasts a new daggerboard, a modified cockpit, and a freshly laminated ballast… Returned to the water just a month ago, the blue trimaran has already been able to compare itself with its competitors and learn some useful early lessons: the boat is decidedly more reactive but lacks support against the wind, a defect already detected and resolved since the trimmer (rear section of the daggerboard) has been rigidified over recent days.

In the case of Gitana 12, the work has been even more wide-ranging as the ex -Bonduelle has been stripped totally bare, had all hardware and coatings removed, and been optimised with new foils, a larger cockpit, new rudders, and the adapted spare mast from Gitana 11… Relaunched in mid-April, the white trimaran has not had the opportunity for as much training as her crew would have liked, but the few tests carried out with Gitana 11 have been promising. The two boats left La Trinité/mer together late afternoon, Monday 1 May. This joint departure allowed the two crews to settle in before the start of the first meeting of the season.

Thierry Duprey du Vorsent, skipper of Gitana 12:

“Last season, when we went from Lorient to Nice, we entered the Atlantic straight away, so our possible strategic choices were pretty open from the start. This time, because we're starting from London, we're first going to have to deal with a tricky area on the river complete with currents, sand banks, and maritime traffic: it's an area we don't know very well, but neither do our rivals! After that, it's a section of the North Sea and above all the Channel, with a strong possibility that it will be a bit rough at this time of year… Even if the direct route would appear the most logical, there are still tactical stretches and important choices: whether to go between the Channel Islands or keep out in the ocean; whether to hug the Breton coast or the English coast, inside Ouessant… So there are already options to choose between and the possibility of building up a lead ahead of the pack. And as well as these strategic aspects, it's also necessary to take into account the opinions of the crew and look after the equipment: during the first 24-36 hours, all of us will definitely need to be on deck, as we'll also have to watch out for the cargo lines and fishermen. And once we're past the tip of Brittany, we might have to go through an extreme weather front, so there will be more tactical opportunities, manoeuvres, fatigue etc., at least as far as Cape Finisterre (north westernmost point of Spain). Then, we'll encounter the same problems as last year as far as the Straits of Gibraltar, which could well act as a kind of “level crossing.”

Frédéric Le Peutrec, skipper of Gitana 11:

“The second part, after moving into the Mediterranean, is also very different from last season: instead of following the North African coast to reach Malta, we're going to have to hug the Spanish coast, so we'll have less room for manoeuvre as far as Ibiza (Balearics). We already know that there'll be plenty of changes, a fast pace and no end of chopping and changing of positions, as the Big Blue is always very temperamental. There are conflicting weather systems between thermal effects and the coasts, there are “accordions”, namely rapid sequences followed by calm ones, along with weather systems that pass very rapidly. So there are going to be winds abeam and pitstops mid-flight. After the Balearics, it's a long beat towards Sicily, but there still, there could well be reversals of fortune. On this second part, you need to be opportunistic and to continually monitor developments with a strictly critical eye, for the files are not always reliable and often very variable. It's necessary to constantly validate the models and to follow the progress of the other trimarans in order to see if there is a differential between the forecasts and the local weather. Last year, for example, the other side of Corsica, we stopped looking at the files because the weather systems were too unpredictable and at such times, you need to rely on your instinct for observation and trust your experience so as not to constantly change strategy. The Mediterranean is always very stressful, because gaps form in a few hours and are then made up just as quickly… Finally, compared with last season's race, the way back up towards Nice is more open, since we have the choice of passing via the Bouches de Bonifacio to steer clear of Corsica by the West.”

Thierry Duprey du Vorsent:

“There are six of us on board and so we have clearly defined roles: Mayeul Riffet is in charge of navigation and weather analysis, which means he won't be on watch as he'll be in great demand, especially at the start of the race and in the Mediterranean, as routing is not allowed. So he'll have to spend a fair bit of time in front of his computer obtaining the weather files, looking for info and interpreting it. But this won't prevent him from helping with manoeuvring and helming. I myself will be off-watch, taking turns at the helm: at all times, there will be at least three crewmen on deck. Erwan Le Roux is the second helmsman, but will obviously lend a hand for all the manoeuvres and will support Mayeul for tactics at close quarters with the other trimarans. Lastly, Léopold Lucet is primarily bowman, while Nicolas Raynaud and Alexandre Marmorat are the trimmers.”

Frédéric Le Peutrec:

“On an ocean race like the London-Alpes Maritimes, the roles are interchangeable but everyone still has a specific priority function. Consequently, Frédéric Guilmin will be taking specific charge of navigation, with Daniel Souben and myself handling the strategic choices and the navigation phases in view of our rivals. As François Denis has an injured knee, he is being replaced by Antoine Mermod, who is used to this type of seafaring race having won the Transat Québec-Saint Malo 2004 with Karine Fauconnier. Ronan Le Goff will primarily carry out bowman's duties, while Baron Rothschild will be in the cockpit acting as trimmer. So there will be phases where everyone is on the bridge (start, exit from the Channel, going through straits at Gibraltar, Balearics, Sicily, Corsica) and others where it will be essential to stick to the watches to allow recuperation, because we mustn't forget that the race will last between eight and ten days…”

Thierry Duprey du Vorsent :

“Gitana 12 is the last of the six trimarans on the circuit to enter the water but that's not so serious: the modification work needed to be finished off correctly and the Gitana technical team has done a fantastic job. Admittedly, we're at a disadvantage to the others in terms of the amount of sailing we've got under out belts, but I have total confidence in the reliability of the boat, and the crew still had plenty of experience last season. Gitana 12 is in fact proving easier to handle than Gitana X: we should be able to find our markers quite quickly, all the more so as we are hyper-motivated. On this multihull, we have the resources to be more than just a thorn in the side of the big boys!”

Frédéric Le Peutrec:

“We have almost finished preparing the boat and have been clocking up sailing hours since the relaunch. There's still some work to do, but overall, the boat is ready and we are starting to get the most out of her. Gitana 11 is reliable, increasingly well adjusted in terms of details, the daggerboard trimmer has been rigidified, the new ocean rudder has been ready since this weekend… We shouldn't have to do any DIY on the trimaran in London and we'll therefore be able to concentrate on the weather and the navigation on the Thames. In any case, the boat is much more reactive than it was last season, and more at ease in light breezes. So this first ocean event is a good way of gearing up for the 60' Multicup.

Gitana 11 Crew

Frédéric Le Peutrec (skipper-helmsman), Baron Benjamin de Rothschild (trimmer), Frédéric Guilmin (navigator), Daniel Souben (helmsman-trimmer), Ronan Le Goff (bowman), Antoine Mermod (pitman-trimmer)

Gitana 12 Crew

Thierry Duprey du Vorsent (skipper-helmsman), Erwan Le Roux (helmsman-trimmer), Mayeul Riffet (navigator), Alexandre Marmorat (trimmer), Nicolas Raynaud (trimmer), Léopold Lucet (bowman)

Gitana Team Programme – Multi Cup and Route du Rhum

8 May: start of the London-Alpes Maritimes race
20-21 May: Trophée du Conseil Général Alpes Maritimes (Nice)
2-4 June: Grand Prix d'Italie (Trapani-Sicily)
23-25 June: Grand Prix de Marseille Métropole
14-16 July: Grand Prix du Portugal (Portimao-Algarve)
8-10 September: Grand Prix du port de Fécamp
29 October: start of Route du Rhum Banque Postale(Saint-Malo/Pointe-à-Pitre)

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