Gitana. They're off ... in a fanfare
At 7.30 a.m. French time this fresh autumn morning, the 14 multihulls entered in the Transat Jacques Vabre 2003 left the pontoons of Le Havre ready to get down to racing after the postponement of the start on Sunday due to bad weather.

In a pearly light which is typical of the Norman coast, the 14 competitors waited calmly under bare poles for more than an hour off the starting line set at the foot of the cliffs in the Baie de Seine. Gitana and her opponents waited until the very last minute before hoisting their sails. With one reef in the mainsail and her gennaker up (the big balloon jib), they set out at 10 o'clock on the dot (French time) at 25 knots (46 km/h), on the start of this transatlantic race from Le Havre (France) to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. The course covers some 4 340 miles (7649 km) which the crew on board Gitana ought to cover in 12 to 13 days, now that the Ascension Island race mark in the middle o the Atlantic has been done away with, following the postponed start. This should mean that the multihulls will catch up with the monohull fleet before the finish in Brazil, the monos having left Le Havre on Saturday afternoon (1st November), taking advantage of a brief weather window.

A speedy start

The low pressure system which forced the organisers to put back the multihull start last Sunday is little more than distant souvenir which made way for a fine south-easterly breeze today blowing at 12-15 knots (22/28 km/h). Ideal conditions, albeit a little chilly with air temperature of 11°C, for the 28 skippers and co-skippers who put on a fine show this morning as they remained tightly packed together, let loose for a 8 000 km long race.

Lionel Lemonchois this morning, just before casting off : "We're in for a fast start. We'll be setting out in a beam wind with our gennaker up. We should sail fast down the Channel to the western tip of Brittany and across the Bay of Biscay. There won't be many tactical options open ; except perhaps at the Four (tip of Brittany). We'll just have to wait and see. The start of the race will be a pure speed run. The boat has been made lighter and our sails should enable us to engage in matches with our opponents on a large part of the race course. That said, we're going to have to be extra careful during the first three days of the race which are going to be a bit tricky, at last until we pick up the tradewinds."

One and three-quarter hours into the race, Gitana was 11th in front of Sopra Group (Monnet/Bourgnon), Sergio Tacchini (Fauconnier,Foxall), Foncia (Gautier/MacArthur) and had the fastest instant speed of the fleet with 29.1 knots...

In the middle of the night, the boats will have to handle the passage of a front of the tip of Brittany (off Camaret) with a backing of the wind to south-south-west. With 35 to 40 knots forecast (65 to 74 km/h), this small trap lying in wait at the start of the course will no doubt force the skippers to be cautious, mindful of preserving gear throughout the distance of the course. Once the fleet has passed Ushant, a 25-30 knots south-south-easterly breeze will greet the boats as they enter the Atlantic Ocean. Conditions should freshen up to around 35 knots at the end Thursday and guarantee an express crossing of the Bay of Biscay for the whole fleet.

Life on board

Marc Guessard, co-skipper on Gitana : "As with any two-handed race the tasks on board are shared out more or less 50 – 50 between the two sailors on board. As far as we are concerned, I shall be taking care of receiving weather information which Lionel describes as « office » business, whilst he is at the helm. We'll be receiving information twice a day, once in the morning and once at the end of the afternoon. Sylvain Mondon of Météo France will be sending the information and once we've spent some time studying them, we'll call him for a synthesis of further information which he will have found on American and English websites. Tactical decisions will then be taken by Lionel and myself. As for the rest, we will be sharing out time spent on watches of 1-3 hours at the helm, depending on the weather. Apart from these discussions and the meals we'll have together, which is much more convivial and practical‘, we‘ll be running into each other here and there. That's why it's so important that each trusts the other implicitly when it comes to expertise in driving this type of boat."

Facts & figures of this event
  • Transat Jacques Vabre : 6th edition
  • 38 competitors split in two fleets : Multihulls, incl. fourteen Open 60's and the monohulls.
  • Multihull start : Wednesday 5th November 2003 from Le Havre (France) at 10h00 local time – Finish ETA Salvador de Bahia (Brazil) : 16th November
  • Winner of the previous editions in the 60-foot multi class : Groupama

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