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September 2022

Oceanic flying machines

by Mark Jardine 2 Nov 2021 20:00 GMT
François Gabart heads back out to sea alongside Tom Laperche aboard the Trimaran SVR Lazartigue for the Transat Jacques Vabre © Guillaume Gatefait

The Atlantic Ocean is buzzing with great races right now: the Mini Transat fleet currently in the early stages of Leg 2 from La Palma and the amateur builds of the McIntyre Adventure Globe 5.80 Transat starting from Lagos, Portugal on Monday.

Things are about to get even busier as the Transat Jacques Vabre starts on Sunday 7th November. Four classes are racing - the Class 40 and IMOCA monohulls, together with the Ocean 50 and Ultim multihulls - with all the boats being sailed doublehanded. This year's race sees 158 skippers from 13 nations compete in 79 boats.

The courses sailed by each vary between 4,600 nautical miles for the Class 40s and 7,500 nm for the mighty Ultim trimarans, with the IMOCA and Ocean 50 classes sailing a 5,800 nm course.

The French public are currently poring over the latest in offshore yacht hardware in Le Havre, and it's not hard to see why. Just the gathering of foiling Ultim trimarans is a sight to behold. These behemoths of the sea are capable of speeds approaching 50 knots and have the potential to make a 7,500 nm course look short.

The latest generation of boats has the potential to set a new Jules Verne Trophy record for rounding the planet, currently held by Francis Joyon and his crew on Idec Sport 40 days, 23 hours and 30 minutes after their circumnavigation which finished in January 2017.

The Transat Jacques Vabre is a great test for the teams to see just how they are performing compared to their rivals.

Back in August, Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, co-skippered by Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier, took Rolex Fastnet Race line honours, completing the 695 nm course from Cowes to Cherbourg, via the Fastnet Rock, in a time of 1 day, 9 hours, 15 minutes and 54 seconds.

This is a team with a boat which has been improved and honed since her launch in July 2017 and many will regard them as the team to beat.

The latest flying machine is Trimaran SVR Lazartigue, being sailed by François Gabart, Vendée Globe winner in the 2012/13 edition, with young rising star Tom Laperche.

While this trimaran has only been on the water for three months, they have already recorded speeds of 48 knots... yes, that's nearly 100km/h in an offshore boat being sailed doublehanded. No wonder the cockpit looks more like a fighter jet than a yacht.

The IMOCA fleet will be just as impressive: 22 yachts, many of which took part in the last Vendée Globe. Charlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat on Apivia are amongst the favourites, having stormed to IMOCA victory in the Rolex Fastnet Race, but Jérémie Beyou and Christopher Pratt will be wanting to show the potential of Charal after Beyou's disappointment of having to turn back for repairs early in the Vendée.

11th Hour Racing Team are fielding two teams, with their latest yacht designed to be fully-crewed in The Ocean Race, so it will be extremely interesting to see how they fare.

In the Class 40s one team I'll be following closely is that of Brian Thompson and Alister Richardson. These two British sailors are doing this race on a shoestring budget but are extremely talented and respected sailors. Both were on board Jason Carroll's MOD70 Argo when they demolished the Rolex Middle Sea Race outright record, completing the course in just under 33 hours and 30 minutes, an astonishing 14 hours quicker than the previous time.

The big danger at the speeds these incredible machines reach is UFOs: unidentified floating objects. While there are emerging technologies, such as OSCAR, designed to detect obstructions, every single sailor will have the threat in the back of their minds. We wish all sailors, wherever they are in our oceans, safe travels.

The Mini Transat is the proving ground of many top offshore sailors and 86 skippers started Leg 2 from La Palma with 2,700 nm ahead to Saint-François, Guadeloupe. There are two classes taking part: the development Prototype category - which are increasingly looking like miniature IMOCAs, complete with foils - and the more conservative Production boats.

Meanwhile it's great to see the first of the Class Globe 5.80 home-built plywood yachts out racing single-handed from Portugal to Lanzarote, before they head to Antigua. Race Founder Don McIntyre will be starting on Wednesday after arriving to his own party late!

This really is ocean racing on a budget and has huge potential to open up offshore sailing to wider participation.

Finally, all signs are that the 2021 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race is on, with a fleet of 112 boats confirmed. The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia is in ongoing discussions with the NSW and Tasmanian Governments to comply with all Covid restrictions. Let's hope we get to see the unique spectacle of the yachts rounding the Sydney Heads this Boxing Day.

It's certainly a great time to be spectating offshore sailing events and we'll keep you posted with all the latest news on Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com, as well as reporting from events of all sizes around the world.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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