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Saluting Antoine Koch - co-designer of the two leading boats in the Transat Jacques Vabre

by Ed Gorman / IMOCA Globe Series 17 Nov 13:15 GMT 17 November 2023
Antoine Koch - Transat Jacques Vabre 2023 © Jean-Louis Carli / IMOCA

After 10 days at sea in this epic Transat Jacques Vabre-Normandie Le Havre, it is time to talk about Antoine Koch...who is holding third place on board For The Planet with Sam Goodchild, but is also co-designer of the only two boats in front of them - For People and Paprec Arkéa.

It is a quite remarkable state of affairs, as the two Koch-Finot Conq boats sailed by Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière and Yoann Richomme and Yann Eliès respectively, lead Goodchild and Koch as the trio romp along in the tradewinds towards Martinique.

This morning For People had 1,192 nautical miles to go, with Paprec Arkéa just 25 miles behind, and then a gap of 70 miles to For The Planet, the former LinkedOut. On board that boat we checked in with Koch to find out how he was enjoying what looks like "The Antoine Koch Show."

The man himself is not getting carried away. "Obviously I am pretty happy to see both boats at the front of the fleet," he told the Class. "It's great to see that they perform well in race conditions. Very often during training in Brittany during the summer, you have flat water and medium wind and you are going upwind and downwind only, so you don't have a real picture of what's going on.

"So to see that they perform well in race conditions, in strong winds upwind at the start and then downwind in the tradewinds, is good for the future of the boats," he continued. "This is especially so given that the are essentially designed for stronger winds downwind, and we only have medium-force tradewinds, and they already seem to be pretty quick and have the ability to sail maybe a bit deeper than the other boats."

Koch also noted that Jérémie Beyou and Franck Cammas's sixth-placed Charal, which led this race early on, may no longer be sailing at her full potential with some issues on board. While another key piece in the jigsaw at the top end of the IMOCA puzzle - Charlie Dalin's Macif Santé Prevoyance - is not on the racecourse.

Four places behind Goodchild and Koch, the German skipper Boris Herrmann on Malizia SeaExplorer, has been impressed by the pair of new sisterships leading the charge to Fort-de-France.

"I would say that despite their lack of miles, they are doing extremely well in this race," Herrmann told the Class today. "Big compliment to the designers, the teams and the sailors. They have an edge on everyone which is clearly obvious. Fantastic boats."

Herrmann, who is sailing with Britain's Will Harris, added that he still hopes his own much-travelled IMOCA will be able to compete against the Koch-Finot Conq designs when it comes to big downwind conditions in the Southern Ocean in the Vendée Globe. "In very hard downwind conditions - big waves - I hope that our boats may have an edge on them," he said.

The interesting element in the battle at the front is how Ruyant and Lagravière have managed to keep ahead of Richomme and Eliès, as Ruyant bids to complete a remarkable hat-trick of double Transat Jacques Vabre victories with a Route du Rhum win in between them, achieved in two different boats.

"We are missing a bit of speed compared to Thomas," reported Richomme. "We are learning the boat but we are definitely missing some knowledge to get it go as fast as Thomas. But every day we are learning and it is interesting sailing with Yann, sharing every watch what we have found out," he added.

Goodchild is enjoying a race in which he and Koch overcame early issues with their mainsail and wind instruments to climb up into the top-three in the tradewinds. The racer from Falmouth says he has no secret plan for overtaking the Koch-Finot Conq boats or defending against the boats behind them - it is a case of just sailing "tidily," as he put it, to the finish.

"The fleet is obviously quite tight between us and the few boats behind us, so there isn't much room for error, and it would be a bit of an error trying to get greedy and trying to overtake Paprec and People and then end up losing places. So, at the moment, it is trying to do the right things and take advantage if anyone makes a mistake," Goodchild said.

Goodchild remains uncertain about the prospects for mid-race leaders Justine Mettraux of Switzerland and Julien Villion of France on Teamwork. They are currently in fifth place and 60 miles behind For The Planet in terms of distance to the finish, but separated from them by 1,000 miles of ocean.

"We keep an eye on them," he said. "It's hard to say really. On paper they are a threat, but it is hard to know how they are going to get through the big sea state in the next 24 hours, so we are keeping a close eye on them and it is going to be close at the finish, that's for sure."

Herrmann was also very complimentary about Mettraux who, he said, has been doing an "amazing job." He described her as "one of the best sailors in the fleet and one of the most courageous" who had proved her great seamanship and tenacity in previous races.

"She was the first to take the step west, convinced on her own and did not follow the general group and should deserve to win this race," he said. "And that is still possible, I think, and we hope she goes well through this. Of course, we hope to be slightly in front of her and it all depends now on windshifts and a bit of geometry."

Herrmann added that he hopes he and Harris will develop higher speed during the last miles to Martinique that could lift them above Teamwork in the final ranking.

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