After more than 22 days at sea, Gwénole Gahinet and Paul Meilhat on SAFRAN-Guy Cotten have claimed victory in the 3,890 mile Transat AG2R by beating out Skipper MACIF by just sixty-six minutes! The Figaro circuit delivered in a big way with this AG2R. Drawing one of the most talent-stacked fleets in history including several living legends like Mich Desj himself, this 12th edition of the Transat AG2R was a classic in every sense of the word delivering the impossibly close racing and unforgettable story lines that have made the Figaro circuit famous.
On night one, the fleet sailed into the teeth of a Biscay cold-front with defending champion Cercle Vert dismasting. From there, it was a balls-out run across the Portoguese Trades with the fleet carrying kites in 30+. In most yacht races, the really windy run separates the men from the boys metaphorically speaking (a female co-skipper finished 3rd). Not in this AG2R; a testament to the fleet’s considerable talent Parking up near the race’s mandatory turning mark at La Palma set up the defining moment in this AG2R: Try to thread the needle in lighter air and sail the shorter northerly route to the trades or take the longer, generally windier route to the south.
Five boats went north and nine south. With a trio of Vendée Globe vets and a couple of Trophee Jules Verne winners to the north of rhumbline and the bulk of the Figaro circuit’s usual suspects and the great Roland Jourdain to the south, it was hard to second guess or make any bold predictions from shore. Desjoyeaux was playing the north hard as the fleet’s most northerly boat. He and the other northerly boats shot to the front of the leaderboard in one of those “you don’t want to be leading this early” scenarios where they slowed in light breeze while the southerly component of the fleet hooked into tradewind pressure and sailed away. The rich continued to get richer all the way across, so much so that Mich Desj now finds himself just one spot up on DFL amongst the baker’s dozen that managed to keep their rigs up.
To the south a classic downwind drag race was going on with the top half-dozen boats vying for position with SAFRAN-Guy Cotten and Skipper MACIF staying almost within sight of each other for about the length of a Transpac. Generali owned the north of the lead group, threatening at times, but eventually fell in behind the front four who came into the islands with a faster angle. The racing for first and second was close; between 6 and 8 miles through the islands, but the racing for third and fourth was even better, with SCOTW nominee Alexia Barrier and Laurent Pellecuer on 30 Corsaires and Martin Le Pape and Roland Jourdain on La Cornouaille sailing within a half to one-mile of one another for virtually the last 400 miles.
For SAFRAN Guy-Cotten, the victory marks the emergence of Gwénolé Gahinet onto the Figaro scene and the greatest triumph yet for Paul Meilhat. Gahinet, the son of a two-time Figaro champion, can now add a Transat AG2R victory to a resumé that includes wins in both the Mini Transat and Fastnet amongst others, while Meilhat’s AG2R win comes on the heels of a victory in last year’s Solo Concarneau and a solid performance in the Rolex Sydney- Hobart.