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Transat Jacques Vabre: A home straight brimming with suspense for Trimaran SVR-Lazartigue

by Trimaran SVR Lazartigue 22 Nov 2021 15:32 GMT 22 November 2021
Trimaran SVR Lazartigue during the Transat Jacques Vabre © G.Gatefait_MerConcept

With less than two days to the finish of the 15th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre, in Fort-de-France, Martinique, the Trimaran SVR-Lazartigue helmed by François Gabart and Tom Laperche, currently in third place, is nicely settled on the podium in the Ultime Class. The possibility of a few strategic moves could also come into play down the home straight, the suspense ripe with the fleet squeezing back together over recent hours.

Looking out at a lighthouse standing on a little rock with the light of a little house at its base, François Gabart and Tom Laperche, accustomed to sailing near Concarneau in Brittany, could have been in home waters offshore of the Ile aux Moutons, a small island in the famous Glénans archipelago of Finistère. And yet, the Trimaran SVR-Lazartigue was actually making headway near the Brazilian coast on Friday as they had to round the island of São Pedro e São Paolo, the final compulsory course mark, before setting a course for Martinique. Expected to reach Fort-de-France in less than two days' time, the two sailors remain poised to attack astern of the two leading boats. At the end of the week, the Trimaran SVR-Lazartigue even managed to set a new record for the most miles covered in 24 hours after racking up 816 miles in a single day.

"It's always nice to bag this kind of record, commented François Gabart. I hope it's just the start for the Trimaran SVR-Lazartigue. It certainly augers well. The boat is very capable of maintaining these sorts of speeds." Particularly so as they line themselves up for the finish in Fort-de-France. "We're on the home straight at last and finally free to make directly for Martinique, said the delighted skipper. Between Trindade and São Pedro e São Paolo we were sailing pretty fast with quite heavy seas. We're currently slipping along again under gennaker with calmer seas and the sensations are a world apart. It's going to be like this now all the way to the finish pretty much. We're going to be making headway in downwind conditions. At the end, there will be a light breeze as far as the finish." That finish is estimated to be late in the day on Tuesday 23 November UTC. "Beware, warns Gabart, the data is fluctuating so much that you can't rely on any of the forecasts."

Ready to pounce on the slightest opportunity

With a firm grip on the head of the race for several days, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild has seen her lead over the Trimaran SVR-Lazartigue plummet from 500 miles to less than 250 in the past 24 hours. With Banque Populaire XI sandwiched between the two, the final sprint between the three flying boats is completely up in the air in every sense.

"There are opportunities to be had until the finish line is crossed, enthuses François Gabart. The positions have been relatively stable for several days, but the wind conditions at the end of the race may well cause the situation to change. It's hard to imagine a complete upset, but we believe in it. If there are some opportunities up for grabs, we won't think twice about going for it. Given how quick our boats are, all you need is a little bit of breeze to make a lot of headway. And if the others have a bit less wind, we may quickly squeeze together. We're going to try to latch onto some favourable gusts to catch up, worry them and why not overtake them too."

Demanding manoeuvres

In order to claw back mile after mile, François Gabart and Tom Laperche will not only need to be poised to pounce on any shifts in the weather, they'll also need to link together the manœuvres to make the most of their flying boat. "We haven't made very many sail changes since São Pedro as we're sailing under gennaker, explains Gabart. However, we have a fair few gybes to put in along the length of the no-go zone (a zone put in place by the organisation, which stretches along the length of the north coast of Brazil, Surinam and French Guiana, due to the significant number of small fishing boats in the region). These are very physical manoeuvres as you have to switch the gennaker across from one side of the boat to the other and the foil position has to be changed. That takes 15 to 20 minutes each time and that has to be repeated every two or three hours."

A boat under constant control

Only launched on 22 July, the Trimaran SVR-Lazartigue has demonstrated exceptional potential since the start in Le Havre, on 7 November.

"Tom and I are endeavouring to get the best out of the boat whilst trying not to force her, admits the skipper. Even though we were quick between Trindade and São Pedro, I think there was still room for manoeuvre. We're going to continue to listen to the boat so as not to push her too hard as she's brand-new and we don't yet know exactly what her little weaknesses are over the long term. We're keeping our eyes peeled. When the wind eases, I do a tour of the boat from bow to stern, looking at the appendages, etc. For now, I haven't spotted anything of concern. Knowing that we've already covered more miles in one go than in all our training sessions put together since the launch is pretty cool. We're being vigilant though."

Resting... when possible

Though the onboard images sent out over the past two weeks sometimes suggest that it's been a relatively calm voyage, the reality is often very different.

"When the boat is quick, we move about quite a lot and it's better to hold on tight, explains François Gabart. Between Trindade and São Pedro for example, we really got shaken about because the minute you're posting good speeds, that causes impacts, which wears out the boat and the sailors. It's never really very relaxing. I manage to put things into perspective though because even though the situation aboard is a bit lively, the first 6,000 miles were pretty mild compared with other races."

Time for rest remains essential of course. "Tom and I kind of work on feeling in that regard, says the skipper. The boat is very demanding in terms of trimming and requires quite a lot of concentration. As such, the minute one of us is tired, he wakes the other one up and gets some rest. A well-timed 20-minute siesta can do you the world of good. That said, every time a manœuvre needs doing we do it together. However, on a long tack, we can extend the rest phase a little to 1h30, 2 hours. Sometimes we even relay every three or four hours. It's important to recharge your batteries properly." They are sure to need all their strength in the sprint to Martinique.