Measuring 23 metres in length, Gitana 11 managed to stand up to the challenge of the largest racing trimaran in the world, Banque Populaire V. Benefiting from 40 metres at the waterline, it was on the cards that the maxi-multihull, with her new helm Loïck Peyron, would be out on her own at the front of the legendary Fastnet Race. However, Sébastien Josse and his six crew sailed in contact with the thirteen strong crew on the other boat for over 350 miles; a rather improbable scenario at the start as the skipper of Gitana 11 highlighted: “We had already raced against them during the SNSM record but they quickly got away from us after the start. In this race, it’s pretty incredible as we sailed more than half the race in contact and even within sight of each other at times, especially during the passage around the famous Irish lighthouse. Gitana 11 is powerful but also very versatile, which enabled her to keep up a good speed and meant she was at ease in the light airs. She’s a fine boat as has been proven once again.”
Galvanised into action by this proximity, the men from Gitana Team weren’t sparing of their efforts in keeping pace. They also made the most of this rare moment of on-the-water battling to check the veracity and effectiveness of the training sessions over recent months: “It’s extremely motivating to be in contact as it forces you to apply yourself. In contrast to our previous races of the season, where we haven’t really had any rivals of our scale, the Rolex Fastnet Race was our first confrontation with yachts that have a similar potential to that of Gitana 11. It’s a lot easier to quantify the boat and crew’s performance in this configuration. During this race, we knew how to exploit the potential of Gitana 11 fully. Our apprenticeship is on the right track…” smiled Sébastien Josse.
In contrast to its vicious reputation, gained during the terrible 1979 edition, the Fastnet 2011 was kind to the hundreds of crews competing, or at least those at the front of the multihull fleet. This is a sentiment backed up by Sébastien Josse’s description of the weather in this 2011 edition: “We had some very manageable conditions throughout the race. The exit from the Solent, as well as our entire climb up towards the Fastnet Rock, was essentially raced in upwind conditions (sailing into the wind) with about fifteen knots of breeze and relatively flat seas. The only exception was our first passage to the West of the Scilly Isles where there were a few, not very comfortable hours in heavy seas. However, for the descent between the southern tip of Ireland and the western tip of England, there was a rotation in the wind and we were able to open our sails a little with a spell of close reaching (wind on the beam). Banque Populaire made the most of these conditions to make her additional 20 metres speak for themselves and lengthened her stride. After that, the end of the race along the southern coast of England was marked by the boat’s ability to slip along under gennaker in the easing winds. However, not all the leading boats suffered the same fate as the wind filled in offshore and all of a sudden our pursuers were able to make the most of this opportunity to make up some ground on us over the final miles. Fortunately though, we were also able to make up a few miles on Banque Populaire at the end.”
This Rolex Fastnet Race has also provided Gitana Team with a chance to carry out some observation from their steed, which will very soon be going in the shed at Baron Benjamin de Rothschild’s offshore racing stable: “While sailing, I always managed to keep an eye on the course adopted by the two MOD 70s. On paper, the MODs and Gitana 11 are fairly similar in terms of performance. It’s satisfying to see that the boats can keep pace. It’s also pretty great to see the crews finishing within four minutes of each other after a race spanning more than 600 miles. It really bodes well for some great battles, where the crew will be the elements which make a difference… I can’t wait for it but, for the time being, we’re lucky to be able to have this position as an observer prior to becoming one of the protagonists in this new class of boats”, admitted Sébastien Josse. Indeed, the Gitana Team has placed an order for the one design trimaran No.4, the delivery of which is scheduled for the end of this coming October.
And so the minute they crossed the finish line, Gitana 11 once again headed offshore, bound for her port of registry, La Trinité-sur-Mer, south-west Brittany, where she’s set to arrive at the end of the day on Tuesday.
*In the Rolex Fastnet Race, as with numerous other IRC races, those yachts who are participating are awarded a handicap by the organisers. This amounts to a factor which is calculated according to the size and category of boat, and its aim is to preserve a certain amount of fairness on the water. In this way, the largest craft to take part or the first competitor to cross the finish line, isn’t necessarily the race winner. The RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club) draws up one ranking in elapsed time and one ranking according to everyone’s handicaps.
The crew of Gitana 11 in the Rolex Fastnet Race
Sébastien Josse – skipper
Cyril Dardashti - Olivier Douillard – Antoine Koch – Sébastien Thétiot – Christophe Espagnon – Eric Cochet