48 hours at top speed
Finally alone! The 17 competing IMOCAs set sail from Lorient this afternoon on a long triangular sprint in the middle of the Bay of Biscay. Leading the way, Charal is battling it out with Arkea Paprec and L’Occitane en Provence, with the foilers already flying along towards the first mark some 143 miles ahead of their bows. After this bracing start, a first night at high speed awaits all the fleet
To look impressive and steal the show, nothing can beat nailing a start! Heading the fleet this afternoon offshore of the Pointe du Talud for the 48 Heures Azimut, Damien Seguin (Groupe Apicil) was soon being hounded by the pack of new IMOCAs led by reigning champion Charal. Indeed, as was demonstrated in yesterday’s speed runs, the boats with daggerboards and the new foilers clearly aren’t punching at the same weight....
In any case, the entire fleet put on an absolute showstopper this afternoon with the IMOCAs virtually aligned in an established medium breeze and glorious sunshine once again off Lorient. Unfortunately, there were two no-shows with Newrest–Art et Fenêtres and Bureau Vallée II confined to port due to insurance problems...
Passing Pen Men at the northern tip of Ile de Groix, Jérémie Beyou’s black foiler was still leading the way, with Arkea Paprec hot on her heels, whilst the skipper of L’Occitane en Provence had managed to shake off the chasing pack to quickly complete this first provisional podium.
The foilers have the edge in the first two sections of the course
Prior to the start, all the skippers were in agreement that the first stretch of the course to the Azimut 1 waypoint in this 48-hour sprint would be a drag race in which the latest generation foilers would be able to excel. “The leaders will get richer as the breeze will gradually flesh out and the first racers to gain westing will be able to reap the benefits. We’ll gybe at the mark and then we’ll switch onto the other tack with roughly the same angle”, explained Kevin Escoffier (PRB), positioned in 7th place this evening.
Already powered up at 18 knots, the top foilers will see the wind lift and strengthen before gradually shifting round to the North. The gennakers and other FROs (the new large genoas that are all the rage in IMOCA) will be out in force to further pick up the pace in this rapid 143-mile flight to the first course mark.
The second half of the night and tomorrow morning will give the skippers a chance to ease off the pace a little, which will doubtless please the leaders who won’t have had time to get much shut-eye. This short break will likely lead to some bunching up of the fleet too.
An uncertain finale
The second half of this 48-hour sprint is shaping up to be more random, as noted by Charlie Dalin, fourth on Apivia: “The final section will be quite long, close-hauled with some changes of tack. The finish is still uncertain as there’s a chance we’ll encounter a windless zone”. As such, Race Management has given itself until 20:00 hours tonight to announce a possible course modification to the competitors, which would likely consist of moving the Azimut 2 mark to a different latitude.
In the meantime, Sébastien Simon took the top spot off Jérémie Beyou for a few minutes, the first five boats bunched within a two-mile radius with fierce racing at every stage of the ranking.
QUOTES FROM THE BOATS
Armel Tripon (L’Occitane en Provence)
“It’s an interesting course. Conditions are summery but they’ll enable us to really size up the competition. On the first stretch to waypoint 1, which we’ll likely negotiate at dusk, my boat should be able to make good headway and everyone will be flat out. However, upwind, conditions will be less favourable as the scow bow on L’Occitane en Provence lacks waterline length. Today, we don’t really have any reference compared with the others. That’ll make for a very interesting climb up to Lorient as we launch onto a beat with the wind becoming lighter and lighter. The downwind VMG in light airs is not very good for me either and there may well be some of that at the end of the second stretch.... It’s going to be interesting as I don’t have many good references in terms of the weight of the boat in relation to the others.”
Kevin Escoffier (PRB)
“The first section promises to be a drag race. The leaders will get richer as the breeze gradually fleshes out and the front runners will be able to reap the benefits. Added to that, the breeze at the start is not very strong and those boats with large foils will be able to take off earlier than PRB with her 2018 foils. It will be more favourable for me at the end of the second stretch where the wind is set to ease on the climb back up to Lorient, which when PRB performs very well. Upwind, inevitably there will be some strategic choices to be had and the potential separation between the boats may enable some miles to be made up.”
Charlie Dalin, Apivia
“There will be 13-15 knots for the start. We’ll be on a near reach on starboard tack. It’ll be quick after that as the wind is set to pick up to around twenty knots. We’ll have some good peaks of speed. Next up, there will be a gybe at the Azimut 1 mark, then we’ll switch up a gear on a reach, but then the wind is set to ease. The final section will be quite long, close-hauled with some changes of tack. The finish is still uncertain as there’s a chance we’ll encounter a windless zone. In any case, the first stretch will be great. My goal over this 500-mile course is to continue to get in some practice and some manœuvres, work on my trajectories and get in some training as it’s the last competition before the Vendée Globe”.
Benjamin Dutreux, OMIA - Water Family
“These 500 miles are shaping up to be pretty good! It will be my first race manoeuvring the boat singlehanded. It will also be an opportunity to get some first-hand experience. Conditions will favour the foilers. On a personal level, I’m going to try not to look at what the others are doing and just focus on my own navigation. I’m really itching to get back into racing solo. I’m keen to up my game and sail in contact with the others. The different sections will be interesting as there will be lots of tactics and lots of choices to be made.”
Miranda Merron, Campagne de France
“It’s likely to take me more than 48hrs, but I’m very happy to be competing in this 500-mile sprint. It’s the last solo race before the Vendée Globe. We won’t do much sailing after this. We still have a lot to do as we’re a small team. My goal is not to break anything. I still have a fair few things to validate and I need to check all the chafe points on my boat. One thing for sure is that I’m very happy on my boat. She’s old but solid.”