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Transat Jacques Vabre village opens in Le Havre

by Transat Jacques Vabre 27 Oct 2017 19:23 BST 27 October 2017
Transat Jacques Vabre race village opens © Jean-Louis Carli

The countdown to the start of the 13th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre on Sunday, November 5 has officially begun after the race village opened in glorious sunshine yesterday (Friday). The 38 competing boats are now moored in Le Havre and the 76 sailors have taken up their autumn quarters for nine days in the Norman city. At 14:00 (French time), on what could have been a summer's day, a last ballet of 14 boats graced the locks at the entrance to the Bassin Paul Vatine, with the Maxi, Edmond de Rothschild (32m long and 23m wide) finishing the dance to position itself in the Bassin de l'Eure. At 16:00, the race village of the Transat Jacques Vabre opened its doors to the general public, who were already there in large numbers to admire the fleet of 16 Class40, 6 Multi 50, 13 Imoca and 3 Ultime. The famous double-handed Route du Café can now begin...

There was an air of summer in Le Havre. The sun was shining, the skippers were beaming too, the flags of the 38 boats floated in a breath of air and the visitors crowded the quays of the Bassins Paul Vatine and de l'Eure. It was like the people of Le Havre and the ocean racing fans were one big happy family enjoying a gigantic shared moment. Tomorrow, at 11:00, the Transat Jacques Vabre race village will be officially inaugurated by Luc Lemonnier, mayor of Le Havre and president of CODAH (communauté d'agglomération havraise – a regional body); Xavier Mitjavila, president of sponsors, JDE; Marie-Agnès Poussier-Winsback, vice president of the Normandy Region and Nicolas Hénard, president of the FFV – the French Sailing Federation, who will cut the traditional ribbon together and thereby launch the incredible programme of festivities.

For the 76 skippers, after the group photo and the welcome briefing in the evening, the week promises to be a busy one, what with the exhibition regatta tomorrow, the meetings with the schools and the public, the safety checks, studying the weather files, and the safety and weather briefings, all whilst enjoying the warm welcome of Le Havre.

Three teams talk about their preparation...

Fahad Al Hasni

For all of the 78 sailors taking part, the two-handed 4,335-mile race from the northern French channel port to Salvador in Brazil is a defining challenge even for the veteran racers amongst them.

While no yacht racing novice Al Hasni will be passing new milestones almost every day, both personal and as a representative of Oman's long maritime heritage.

The 34 year-old has already made maritime history this year. He became the first Omani sailor to take part in a two-handed offshore event when he and Gavignet competed in the Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race in July.

Now, finishing the Transat Jacques Vabre will make him the first Omani to cross the Atlantic as part of a two-handed crew. On a personal note, after four previous transatlantic crossings – all on the fully-crewed MOD 70 Musandam-Oman Sail trimaran – he will finally cross the equator.

"This has been our first season with the Class 40 and I have been learning a lot sailing alongside Sidney," said Al Hasni. "I have done all kinds of sailing now, but two-handed offshore you have to be able to do it all to have success in the race."

Coming from a Muscat family with a fishing background, Al Hasni made a living taking tourists out to sea to fish or watch dolphins before seeing a magazine article on the Oman Sail project in 2008.

"I wanted an adventure," he recalls. "I registered on the website and they called me back for a series of tests. At first you had to run, do some push-ups, lots of physical tests, all before you went near a boat. Initially there were 1,000 candidates, then 400, and finally they kept 12."

Progressing through the Oman Sail programme, and following stints with the Extreme Sailing Series and then the Tour de France a La Voile, Al Hasni can now mark five years sailing alongside Gavignet.

The French veteran is full of praise for his co-skipper: "Seven years ago he didn't know which way round to put a line on a winch, now he is the best offshore sailor that Oman has.

"At sea he is a warrior, a tough sailor. He is not afraid and is gaining the experience to go with that – he is cut out for an adventure like the Transat Jacques Vabre."

Al Hasni is focused on the task in hand, but has ambitions for the future: "My ultimate goal is to do a Volvo Ocean Race, and like all sailors I dream of doing solo races like the Route du Rhum or the Vendée Globe.

"For now though it is the Transat Jacques Vabre, which is a great opportunity to learn more."

Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel

The delivery trip between Lorient and Le Havre required a great deal of patience from the Gitana Team duo. Having set sail from their base in Brittany's Morbihan region late afternoon on Wednesday, Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel reached Normandy early afternoon this Friday. 300 nautical miles, a mere drop in the ocean compared with what the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is usually able to cover, but here persistent light airs punctuated the whole of their journey. Now, with some nine days until the start of the 13th Transat Jacques Vabre, which sets sail on 5 November at 12:35pm, the latest addition to the Gitana fleet is now safely in position and her two skippers are ready for the pre-start festivities.

Launched on 17 July 2017, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is about to compete in her first official competition and her first sporting challenge. For Sébastien Josse, the racing stable's skipper, and co-skipper Thomas Rouxel, with whom he has chosen to share this debut transatlantic race, the past few months have been intense and action-packed in a bid to make the start line of Transat Jacques Vabre in tip-top condition.

"The Gitana Team has been loyal to the event since 2001. We're very pleased to be at the start of this latest edition with the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. It was an ambitious programme! Three months to fine-tune and make such a machine reliable was a challenge in itself and it's been the first success for the team, which has spared no effort once again. The boat's ready to go and the duo is trained up and keen to extend its offshore experience!" admitted Cyril Dardashti, Director of the Gitana Team on his arrival in Le Havre.

In fact, it's interesting to note that the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is the pioneer of a new generation of oceanic maxi-multihulls and the first giant designed to fly in the open ocean to take the start of a transoceanic race.

An exceptional steed of extraordinary proportions... Due to her width and her foils in particular, the latter extending out from either side of the platform, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is all on her own outside the Bassin Paul Vatine. Through until the start, she will be moored alongside the Quai de Marseille in the Bassin de l'Eure, at entrance No.1, just a few minutes' walk from the official race village. From Bassin Vatine, visitors wishing to come and admire this latest generation maxi-trimaran with her resolutely innovative profile will have to head along the Pont des Docks and then Rue Jean Maurel; the latter a lovely nod to the famous sailor and Race Director who the five-arrow team was very close to.

Giancarlo Pedote

Giancarlo Pedote, which will sail in IMOCA alongside Fabrice Amedeo, talks about his preparation.

In front of the quay where Newrest Brioche Pasquier is anchored, Giancarlo Pedote looks at the Prysmian Group logo on the boat and declares: "This is my admission ticket in class IMOCA. After 10 years of intense ocean navigation on board many different boats, here you are my first transatlantic crossing on a 60 foot".

Mini, Mini proto, Figaro, Class 40, Multi 50: the Italian skipper has amassed a diverse experience with the specific goal to learn as much as possible.

"When you sail on many different hulls, you can understand their particularity, the similarities and complications, and you can isolate different aspects of the methodologies of conduct, to work effectively in the development of a project".

And when Giancarlo Pedote talks about "project", he means the class IMOCA. "I lack experience in ULTIME to complete the puzzle that will allow me to express myself better in class IMOCA" admits turning to the ULTIMES anchored on the same port.

"I feel very fortunate to be here in the Bassin Paul Vatine. To take the depart of the Transat Jacques Vabre on a 60 foot. It is a great new place to start. The IMOCA class is a class that I dream since I realized that there was a sport called ocean sailing. Now I want to try to take advantage of this opportunity, to test my limits and try to carry out the most of what I learned in these years in terms of feeling with the boat, weather analysis, strategy, life on board. I want to merge everything in this race."

Then he goes on board Newrest-Brioche Pasquier, a Farr design of 2007.

"Our boat is ready, we are making minor adjustments and we are waiting for security checks on Saturday. I'm going to spend my time reviewing my notes of meteorology, to have a clear path in mind, and every day I make a session of sports to keep myself fit. The classical brief for the skippers will begin on Wednesday. This weekend I want to go home to spend a quiet time with my family prior to departure. I will continue to follow the weather every day, not to lose sight of the evolution of the scenario that will take place Sunday".