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Update: the TJV is postponed to now start Monday at 2:15pm France time – Hannah Jenner took us through the weather here

As ocean racing classes get more and more powerful, their wind range continues to shrink; first the ‘bulletproof’ minis lose an entire month to ‘waiting for the weather’ only to see their race abandoned after the start and a total clusterfuck of minis spread across Biscay.  Now, a TJV organization already feeling the pinch after JP Dick’s MOD went over has thrown in the towel for the Saturday start of the world’s biggest double handed race, hoping for a Tuesday reprieve, while the MODs are doing some kind of ‘coastal’ thing while they wait for something less than terrifying for the ultra-fast trimarans to sail off in.  The start was already kind of strange; the huge Classe 40 fleet lobbied the TJV organization for a much earlier start than the rest of the fleet for this edition; finally they might get to the finish in time to see the faster boats.  

It was a nice dream, anyway!  Most of the skippers are happy with the call, but a million-odd fans and hundreds of French media that help keep this event at the forefront of French sport won’t be.  Is this the new reality of the French shorthanded scene, or just an incredibly unlucky autumn for North Atlantic racing?  We don’t know, but we do know that you now have time to read Ronnie Simpson’s excellent form guide to the TJV, which follows.  Photos from Christophe Launay, with a gallery here.

With no Vendée Globe, Barcelona World Race or Volvo Ocean Race this winter it would be easy to think that there’s not much going on in the world of top-flight professional ocean racing right now. Fortunately for all of us Anarchists, you would be sorely mistaken with this assumption as the Transat Jacques Vabre is preparing to begin its thrilling 11th edition on Sunday. With a fleet of 44 boats spread out amongst four one-design and box rule classes, this classic Transatlantic throwdown is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary with twenty-six class 40’s, ten IMOCA 60’s, six Multi 50 trimarans and two MOD 70’s racing doublehanded from Le Havre, France to Itajal, Brazil.

One of the premier offshore yacht races on the planet, this year’s TJV fleet reads like a who’s who of sailing while boasting one of the most technical, challenging and tactical courses in all of ocean racing. Beginning from the famed Paul Vatine Basin in Le Havre, France, the course takes sailors first through the English Channel which can be downright gnarly this time of year with intense weather, massive tides and fully one-fifth of all the world’s shipping traffic all positioned within one narrow, confined passage between two major coastlines. If the fleet manages to survive this first daunting test, they must next brave the often treacherous and boat-breaking Bay of Biscay, which has been battered by intense gales and low-pressure systems all season long, with more on the way as the fleet heads out. Once rounding Cape Finisterre, if they’re lucky, the fleet can turn downwind and begin running before the Portuguese trades.

Don’t assume it’s all fun and games from here on out though. Not only must the fleet navigate more heavily-trafficked waters, but they must do it in what is often a carnage filled heavy-air downwind romp, all the while battling their competitors through the first major tactical challenge of the race; negotiating the Azores High. After this first major battle of wit and strategy, the fleet will finally see some tradewind sailing before entering the doldrums near the equator, which is oftentimes a complete crap shoot. If the boys and girls in the race are lucky enough to escape without losing, or even better yet, gaining positions, then they will lock into a tradewind drag race in the southeast trades south of the equator.

Concentrating on boat speed, boat speed, boat speed, this fleet of nearly four dozen boats will then face one final challenge from Cabo Freo to Rio and beyond to the finish in Itajal as small low-pressure systems oftentimes rip across these waters, wreaking havoc on competitors both due to challenging conditions and the painfully slow glass-off calms left in their wake. Only one thing is for sure in this 11th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre; there will be drama, action and suspense from start to finish. Here’s SA’s class by class guide of who to watch and why.

IMOCA/Open 60

There is a clearly defined “A” fleet and “B” fleet in the TJV. The top 5 programs (MACIF, Maitre Coq, PRB, Safran, Cheminees Poujoulat) have all been training doublehanded out of Port La Foret over the past couple of months and the class winner will almost surely come out of this group. Of these 5 boats, 4 are VPLP’s with Cheminees Poujoulat being the exception. (Juan K design)

MACIF: With two Vendée Globe winning sailors on one Vendée Globe winning boat, MACIF is the boat to beat in the premier IMOCA 60 fleet. Reigning VG champ Francois Gabart has again teamed up with his Barcelona World Race partner and mentor Michel Desjoyeaux onboard the VPLP designed rocket. The duo recently won the Open 60 division in the Rolex Fastnet and have been training their asses off with 4 other boats out of Port La Foret (PRB, Maitre Coq, Safran, Cheminees Poujoulat).

Maitre Coq: Having acquired Armel Le Cleac’h’s VG runner-up Banque Populaire as the new Maitre Coq, Jeremie Beyou has a point to prove in this race. The two-time Figaro winner now has a sistership to MACIF and is keen to prove that he can win in the IMOCA class. Finishing an über-close second in the Fastnet race and putting in some solid work during the “pre-season”, Jeremie looks to exorcise the demons that have plagued hims since entering the class.

Cheminees Poujoulat: Just like in last year’s Vendée predictions, Bernard Stamm and “the sooty pussy” are again our dark horse pick. (The boat’s logo is a black cat sponsored by a chimney company…) The Juan K-designed boat was hampered by hydrogenerator problems in the last VG, but aside from that, has shown some serious potential. In the extreme and gnarly upwind and close-reaching conditions of the English Channel and Biscay, CP could excel and may prove to have an advantage over the VPLP’s, while also being notoriously fast when the shit hits the fan in the potentially heavy-air downwind Portuguese trades. Besides, Stamm is the man and an avowed Anarchist. Gut instincts tell us that Bernard likes the heavy air forecast for the start and may be able to push extra hard where other boats are throttling back a bit.

PRB: Many in the IMOCA scene believe PRB to be the fastest boat in the fleet, owing much to its light weight. The big question remains whether or not the boat is “too” light and fragile; a question we asked in Les Sables d’Olonne last year and are still asking after PRB broke in the VG. Skipper Vincent Riou is a tactical genius and Vendée Globe winner, and in teaming up with Jean Le Cam and his incredible hair, the duo may present the single biggest challenge to MACIF. If they can keep the boat together, watch for them to seriously contend for the win.

Multi 50

One of the most exciting divisions in this year’s TJV will be that of the Multi 50’s. With their biggest fleet for a major race in a while; six boats on the startling line; any of three or four could realistically win, making this fleet a fantastic one to track. Picking a favorite is no easy task in this class. The newest and arguably fastest boat in the fleet is Arkema-Région Aquitaine. A 2013 build in which Guillame Verdier had a hand, Arkema won the inaugural Route des Princes, besting three of the other Multi 50’s that will contest the TJV. Defending TJV champ Actual is also in it to win it. Skipper Yves Le Blevec has teamed up with VG star Kito de Pavant to form a formidable challenge at a title defense onboard their four year old boat. The third major contender is that of FenêtréA Cardinal. Also a 2009 build, the crew consists of skipper Erwan La Roux and two-time Figaro winner Yann Elies. Having mounted one of the greatest comebacks in all of sport to win two consecutive Solitaire du Figaro’s (2012 and 2013) just a few years after breaking his femur in the Southern Ocean and being rescued in the 2008-09 VG, Elies is an SA sentimental favorite any time he shows up to a starting line.

MOD 70

Arguably the most high-profile boat in the race is the one that won’t be sailing, after JP Dick and Roland Jourdain’s dramatic capsize onboard Virbac Paprec 70 a few weeks back. With their capsize, dismasting and resulting withdrawal from the race, just two MOD 70’s will be taking to the start in Le Havre on Sunday. No worries, if this summer’s AC taught us anything, it’s that two 70 foot multihulls can provide incredibly close racing and the TJV should be no different. The two MOD’s in this race are fortunately the cream of the crop, having finished 1-2 in the Route des Princes this summer. Skipper Sébastian Josse and crew Charles Caudrelier just won the TJV prologue onboard Edmond de Rothschild while their sole competitor OMAN AIR-MUSANDAM need no introduction. Skipper Sidney Gavignet and co-skipper Damian Foxall are arguably the two most accomplished ocean-going multihull sailors in the entire TJV. While short on boats, the MOD 70 class may ironically end up being the most exciting.

Class 40

Not only is the Class 40 division big, but it’s also full of quality. Boasting the biggest fleet in the race and with any of probably twelve or more boats that could win, expect the leading Class 40’s to gross gybes all the way to Itajal. The odds-on favorite certainly has to be Sebastian Rogues and his current generation Manuard designed GDF SUEZ. The former Minista has been on an absolute tear this season, winning five of the last six Class 40 events leading up to the TJV. But don’t count out class standouts like last year’s Atlantic Cup winner Jorg Reichers aboard MARE, who is likely sailing in one of his final Class 40 events before moving into the IMOCA class. Another SA favorite will be that of 11th Hour Racing. Skipper Hannah Jenner is not only one of the most beautiful women in all of sailing, but she is also one hell of an ocean sailor. Having teamed up with an American to claim a hard-fought podium in the last TJV, she is using that same recipe for success this year in teaming up with another American; Rob Windsor. Windsor has established himself as a Class 40 guru and top-tier ocean sailor. We expect big things from them. Another one to watch will be the entry of DUNKERQUE – PLANETE ENFANTS. Winner of the last Route du Rhum in a 44-boat Class 40 fleet and ’09 Mini Transat winner Thomas Ruyant is co-skipper alongside skipper Bruno Jourdren and the duo will present a major challenge from the get go. The slowest fleet in the race, the Class 40’s will likely be battling a major incoming tide with up to 7 knots of current during the first night in the English Channel. Blink and you may miss a world class 26-boat navigational face off before Biscay. Stay tuned to SA for all your updates over the next three weeks as the drama and suspense unfolds in real-time. -

Ronnie Simpson

November 2nd, 2013

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