Transat Jacques Vabre fleet seeking trade winds off the coast of Morocco

Transat Jacques Vabre fleet seeking trade winds off the coast of Morocco

01 November 2019 - 11h20
Trade winds are at the heart of the history of the coffee trade. Carrying the promise of wealth – and the actual coffee! - these powerful winds define the trajectories, accelerate the boat and widen the gaps. If you can get to them first they are the definition of a natural advantage. This is what is happening right now on the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre off the coast of Morocco as they head towards the Canaries. Seeking the trade winds is always worth it, the leaders are benefiting from them and now and as so often the rich will keep getting richer.

The fast train south 

“We had more wind than expected during the day,” Charlie Dalin (Apivia) said this morning. “We never really had a ridge, we went through the high pressure in a single gybe. Some have had less success, Initiatives-Cœur and Banque Populaire,were left in the wake of Charaland Apivia. The reverse was true in the Multi50 for Solidaires en Peloton ARSEP, which saw the pursuers win back a few miles on the leader in the high-pressure system and then find a much easier exit.

The leaders of Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre  - and they are definitely the leaders now given the depression (metaphorical and actual) in the west, are rattling along at 20 knots. Behind the two leaders, who had a lead of 46 miles at the 07:00 UTC ranking, there were just 32 miles between the next sevent boats. Britain’s Samantha Davies / Paul Meilhat (FRA) on Initiatives-Cœurwere in fourth and Charlie Enright (USA) / Pascal Bidegorry (FRA) in sixth. “All good aboard. Hard running. We like. Thanks. Charlie,” was Enright’s short and sweet message to the race office this morning. 

Lively but not yet fully established, the trade winds off Morocco are presenting quite a chaotic sea according to the skippers. Both sea and wind will calm down a bit during the day - it climbed to over 30 knots at the end of the night. Its north-east angle is not perfect for the leaders, who cannot do better than a 260° starboard gybe and cannot head down along the coast Mauritania on port tack because of the risk of wind shadow from the archipelago of the Canaries blocking them at the exit.

However, overall, they are enjoying a radical change of scenery and temperature in comparison with yesterday. 

A bad weekend brewing in the west

For the skippers east of the 15th degree of longitude, the descent towards the trade winds should be quite favourable. The high-pressure ridge is narrow enough for them to pass through and there is still a good flow of northwest at the point of entry. But things may be seriously complicated for the band of six westerners. After the disappointment yesterday of not gaining any advantage from their commitment to the west, they keep finding there are new delays  stopping them catching the fast train. 

The Azores anticyclone is reforming with the Bermuda high and the transitional zone they need to cross is thickening faster than a corrupt politician at a corporate buffet. Now, it's still going well: while the leading southerners haven’t go such a good angle, the western IMOCA have better speed on a more direct route to the finish in Salavador de Bahia. But during the weekend, the southerners will make an increasingly more direct route and the westerners will crash into the anticyclone. Then, the gaps could become significant.

In the Class40s, two groups have clearly formed and they are moving in parallel a good hundred miles apart. Both will finally be able to open up their sails from tonight and during the weekend, before being slowed down Sunday. The strategy for both groups is the same: go as fast as possible straight to the south. But given the lateral gap, the opportunities and success of crossing the high pressure could be quite different on Sunday and Monday.


ENTRAIDE MARINE-ADSOM DISMASTS - 01 November 2019 - 06h51

At 04:45, Charles-Louis Mourruau and Estelle Greck (Entraide Marine-Adsom, Class40)  informed the race office that they had dismasted. The two co-skippers were below during their change of watch when the mast landed on the deck, following the fracture of the forestay u-bolt. They were sailing upwind in 20 to 25 knots off the Portuguese coast. Mourruau and Greck were able to recover the mast and suffered no physical damage.

The duo had made a great start to the race, keeping pace with the latest generation boats on their older Pogo series. They were in 7th place when they dismasted, less than 40 miles from the Class40 leader. They are currently positioned 280 miles from Lisbon or Porto.

Hugo Boss Update

As he beats his way down the North Atlantic in an increasingly unfavourable position, Britain’s Alex Thomson looked forward to England playing in the Rugby World Cup final on Saturday morning with the good omen that he watched the last one in Salvador at the end of the Transat Jacque Vabre 16 years ago.

“I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about it,” Thomson on his 60ft monohull, Hugo Boss, said. “I guess I might go on the BBC sport website, there aren’t many other options on here. I’m looking forward to that, and I watched the final of the last one that we won in 2003, in Salvador, so it brings back good memories.”

It was no Halloween horror show but Day 5 of the 14thedition of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre may prove to have been a decisive upwind blow to the chances to the six – including two the latest generation foilers - who went west. 

Given the worsening position for the IMOCA60s that chose the western option, Thomson would probably settle for the excellent second place he took in 2003 with Frenchman, Roland Jourdain, as his co-skipper (England’s 2003 World Cup semi-final against France was a little more divisive).

There may also be pressure to share a half with his British co-skipper for this race, Neal McDonald, also Hugo Boss’s performance manager. And both will at least be stitching as they watch the updates, trying to mend a torn reaching sail that they will need “in about 30 hours we reckon.” 

“I don’t know (how they will divide it), probably one of us will be banging in needles, the only problem is we’re broken quite a few, so we’ve only got three needles left.”

The sail was damaged while passing Ushant and Thomson is not sure what caused it. “No, not really, we’d have to speak to the sailmakers, but it shouldn’t’ve happened that’s for sure,” said.

But the effect has been clearer; “any spare time is being taken up banging needles through what feels like concrete.” And he says it forced them to take the western option rather than head south, where the current leaders were making their way through a ridge of high pressure off the coast of Morocco, that has been more benign than expected. 

“Yes, the routing doesn’t look very good now; it looks terrible actually,” he said. “but with regard to what we’re trying to do, things are going very well really, couldn’t be happ

Overnight from Wednesday to Thursday the odds lengthened dramatically on the bet in the west.  Not only is the ridge of high pressure around the archipelago of Madeira looking much easier to negotiate for the southerners, but after emerging from a torrid low-pressure system, the westerners look like facing their own ridge. 

It looks like we can much more comfortably say that the leaderboard is the right way up this morning.

Southerners get ready for take-off

Britain’s Samantha Davies (Initiatives-Cœur) has jumped two places to third, with PRB dropping back after having to complete a 1h30min penalty for inadvertently breaking an engine seal. But perhaps ominously, the two of French latest generation foilers have opened up a small gap of 30 miles in just eight hours. In the morning just 15 miles separated the front five. 

Apivia took the lead from PRB and hot pre-race favourite, Charal,are just five miles behind and on almost an identical track toward Madeira are, with nearly 20 knots, two knots faster. The pursuers are still stuck at 10 knots in the ridge. 

As Charlie Dalin (Apivia), who took the lead from PRB overnight, reminded us this morning: “The order of entry into a ridge is less important than the order of exit. That's where the real gains are made.” The trade winds await them. 

The westerners are mostly beginning to tack south this morning and face 25-30 knots south south-westerlies on a route east of the Azores.

The original five or Britain’s Alex Thomson and Neal McDonald (Hugo Boss), Boris Herrmann (Germany) and Will Harris (Britain) on Malizia II Yacht Club de Monaco; and three French boats, Bureau Vallée II, Maître CoQ IV, and Prysmian Group, have (almost) been joined by Advens for Cybersecurity (Thomas Ruyant and Antoine Koch). 

Class40: From chess to sprinting

The split in the Class40 is almost invisible by IMOCA standards, but it still could be significant for the fleet. 

Kito de Pavant, racing in his 10thTransat Jacques Vabre, with co-skipper Achille Nebout, had taken the lead by the morning after tacking south while the overnight leaders. 

“The good news of the morning is that we are leading the Transat Jacques Vabre,” de Pavant said. Not by much! But yesterday we were 15 miles behind, so we worked well. We are now off to Portugal en route to Madeira.”

But Aïna Enfance and Avenir  (Aymeric Chappellier / Pierre Leboucher), and Britain’s Sam Goodchild and Fabien Delahaye headed further west and are hoping the earlier hook into the low-pressure system brings greater dividends. 

On paper they were 9 and 16 miles behind at the 15:00 UTC ranking.They are about 150 miles north-west of the Made in Midiand are in stronger, 20-knot south-westerlies.  “We could not go further south, we had a wind hole, but those who were there (already south), they didn’t not stop,” Leboucher (Aïna) said. “We will see in 2-3 days. “We’re expecting the wind from this famous depression to arrive soon.”

But they in turn are watching, Crédit Mutuel, a Lombard-design launched this year, and one of the favourites is 50 miles further north-west.  

“Our shift north? We still don’t know if it will be beneficial, but we think it's not that bad,” Ian Lipinski (Crédit Mutuel) said. “We looked at IMOCA, we thought that the options were more pronounced for them. There are far more spectacular gaps (between them) than for us. We are in a changing mode now: it was a game of chess and now it will about pure speed for a few days,”