4 by 3

Here is another big sailing event that is likely to go unnoticed anywhere outside of France. The Brest Atlantiques. Ever heard of it? Well me neither until recently and I follow the international racing scene quite closely. This one they were keeping a secret I guess.

The Brest Atlantiques is limited to Ultime multihulls only, Ultimes being those behemoth trimarans that can only be sailed by superhuman people in this case they will be raced double-handed. There are four boats entered. Sodebo Ultime 3, the brand new 32 meter (105 feet) trimaran for Thomas Coville. Actual, which is the old Sodebo, the one that Coville lapped the planet single-handed in 49 days back in 2016.

Macif, skippered by François Gabart, the French sailing wizard who shortly after Coville set his nonstop circumnavigation record went out and obliterated it knocking a full week off the record time. And lastly, Maxi Edmond de Rothschild which is co-skippered by Franck Cammas who won the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race and Charles Caudrelier who won the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race.

All in all it’s a little bit of who’s who in the world of offshore ocean racing. There are two other Ultime trimarans but they are not entered. Spindrift skippered by Yann Guichard is on standby to try and set a new Jules Verne record, fully crewed non-stop around the world, and IDEC Sport skippered by the Iron Man Francis Joyon who is currently sailing his boat single-handed toward Mauritius in the Indian Ocean on the first leg of an Asian tour. Did I mention that Joyon is 63; and he’s alone?

The Brest Atlantiques was set to start on Sunday but race officials have indefinitely postponed the start due to a dismal forecast. I guess they deem it best that the boats get away from the start without any problems and what happens after that is just what happens after that and a lot can happen. The course for the Brest Atlantiques is 14,000 miles with the start being off the city of Brest on the northwest corner of France. From there it’s a fast run down to the equator, around the bulge of Brazil to the Cagarras Islands, a small archipelago off the coast of Rio de Janiero.

The boats need to leave the islands to port before diving south into the Roaring Forties for a fast and furious ride to Cape Town, South Africa. They will sail into Table Bay and around Robben Island, the infamous prison home of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

They will be a stones throw away from some of the best restaurants in the world but fine dining will have to wait. The last stretch of the race has them ridging the eastern edge of the St Helena High to the equator and then riding the western edge of the Azores High which should slingshot them to the finish back in Brest.

Imagine, if you will, what a massive undertaking this is. All of the boats are over 100-feet in length, the sail area is massive and when combined with the stability of a trimaran the amount of power and speed generated is frightening. Solo or double-handed, it doesn’t matter it’s still a huge job to raise the mainsail and even though the headsails are on furling units, it also requires a big effort to roll a sail away.

Then there is the intensity. The average speed for these boats is around 30 knots and at times they go well over 40 knots approaching 50 knots. The pace will be relentless with each crew pushing as hard as possible knowing that the other teams are doing the same.

Luckily for them, the way the course is designed, there will be very little upwind work providing the weather gods cooperate. It’s going to be interesting to see how things unfold once the race gets underway but don’t blink, they will be back before you know it. – Brian Hancock.