Gitana 11 takes a superb second place, sailing her way onto the second step of the ORMA Multihull Championship.
Thoroughly rinsed and washed out in every sense of the term, the Gitana 11's two skippers made it into Salvador de Bahia on Sunday evening just before 20h00 (French time) having sailed the race distance in 14 days, 4 hours, 15 minutes and 15 seconds. Stress, hard graft, snoozes squeezed in here and there, food gobbled down faster than is good for you, playing at Mr Fixit, manoeuvring, helming. Two weeks of questions and doubt. Right up until the start of this weekend, anything was possible between the three leaders. With less than one hundred miles separating the first three ORMA trimarans, the hierarchy was far from being established. Seeing the state of Banque Populaire upon her arrival in Bahia, the slightest spot of technical bother could have upset the apple cart. Like a bad run in the south-east trade winds shifting east and weakening from 25 to 18 knots, momentarily putting Géant ahead of Gitana 11 on Sunday morning ! The final stretch from Ascension Island down to Bahia was intense and amazingly fast, clocking up more than 550 miles a day at average speed of nearly 23 knots. Gitana 11‘s comeback will be remembered for a long time yet. She had to make a pitstop in Camaret the day after the start out of Le Havre to sort out a problem with the mainsail's hydraulics. Frédéric Le Peutrec and Yann Guichard were already more than one hundred miles behind as they entered the Bay of Biscay ! This influenced the choice of track to sail down to the Doldrums.
With the help of shore-based router and accomplice Jean-Yves Bernot, the tandem put an offensive plan into action. It was to pay off. Frédéric and Yann hugged the coast of Africa as Banque Populaire and Géant rounded the Canary Islands well out to sea and then stuck close into the Cape Verde islands. Gitana 11 was back in the match. So much so that Frédéric Le Peutrec and Yann Guichard even moved into the lead for a few hours.
But the coastal option also meant spending longer in the Doldrums. As Gitana 11 exited the Equator, she lost a further sixty miles to Banque Populaire and found herself with an advantage of just a few miles over Géant. Tactics around Ascension Island turned out to be a decisive factor in rankings almost right up to the Bahia finishing line, where the distances between the boats were almost unchanged.
Frédéric Le Peutrec :
« We're pleased, pleased to be tired ! But above all else, we would like to thank Baron Benjamin and Baroness Ariane de Rothschild.Their confidence has made it possible for us to end the year in style ! None of this would have been possible either without the Gitana Team spirit right behind us. Thank you all. A final word for our friends on Gitana X who are still out there and who will have heaps of things to tell us when they get into port.
What a match ! Right up to the last minute too as even last night, our position after Ascension Island meant that Géant could have overtaken us with a series of gybes before reaching Bahia. After one of our gybes, our gennaker exploded and we had to make a speedy change of sail. And at a time when we said that the few miles we would lose would put us down in the rankings, on a tack where the marking positions were difficult to turn around. But the first position pollings this morning revealed that they were seven miles behind ! We managed to sneak to leeward of Géant – so much the better for us ! We set out a fortnight ago ! there have been so many sequences in this transatlantic race that I can't remember all of them. Globally though, it's been very intense, with emotions which you generally find in ocean racing. Like the first 48 hours with its share of gear failure, our express pitstop in Camaret, then the newsflash events with the capsizes of Groupama-2 and TIM… That all brings you down to earth with a bang. You have to strike a balance between being careful and sailing fast. No-one really conceded the slightest point out there ! There's no letting up. We're pleased with the way we handled the rough times, when we had to ease off the gas. Not easy when the others are pulling away. A question of dosage in fact. These are contradictory machines to sail. Are we pushing the boat hard enough to keep up with the leaders ? Are we not pushing her to rack and ruin ? It's physically exhausting too. The whole passage has been fraught with equations of that sort. With our sight firmly set on making it to the finish. Whether you're sailing at 20 knots or powering along at 40 knots, the tension is with you all the time ! »
Yann Guichard :
« At the end of the first week, we had lost quite a bit of ground with our pitstop. We had to fight really hard indeed to the finish to stay in the running. Race pace was fast. Sometimes life on board was seldom laid back and stress-free. News of the capsizes sent shivers down my spine. We kept powering on but not regardless – knowing that opponents have turned turtle is nerve-racking !
Pascal Bidégorry and Lionel Lemonchois have sailed a great race. Each time we had the chance to gain ground, they shorten the distance. We were unlucky in the Doldrums when the calm zone seemed to be following us around when we were in a highly favourable easterly position. But they managed to find a wily way to keep up – hats off guys !
We got things a bit wrong around Ascension Island failing to plunge south right away. As far as Bahia, we had to push incredibly hard to keep Géant at bay. She had an interesting northerly position compared to our track. It as not easy but it was a great race and intense competition right through to the end. We're exhausted but have had a thoroughly enjoyed it. What fatigue – so tired we couldn't even get to sleep the last couple of days.
It's paradoxical but with the tension of the race and the speed, we managed to eat well, but we have still managed to lose weight with all the manoeuvres. I'll take quite some time to get over this. A much tougher pace than in the last two runs of the race which I raced. When you've got twenty knotty winds, it's warm on board and you're flying along at thirty knots, the slightest mistake at the helm when your buddy is resting down below, you can flip like a pancake ! Intense. Super. »
Rankings – Transat Jacques Vabre – ORMA trimarans
1-Banque Populaire (Pascal Bidégorry & Lionel Lemonchois) : 14 days 1 hour 46 minutes and 29 seconds (average speed of 15.37 knots).
2-Gitana 11 (Frédéric Le Peutrec & Yann Guichard) : 14 days 4 hours 50 minutes 15 seconds (average speed of 15.23 knots), 3 hours 03 minutes 46 seconds after the winner
3-Géant (Michel Desjoyeaux & Hugues Destremau) : 14 days 5 hours 27 minutes 44 seconds (average speed of 15.20 knots), 3 hours 41 minutes 15 seconds after the winner
Gitana X is expected into Bahia on Wednesday and should take 4th place.