Yesterday was quite an amazing day for the sport of sailing. First you had the Volvo Ocean Race take off out of Lisbon in spectacular fashion. They rocketed down the Tagus River and out into a stiff northerly breeze in the Atlantic. A couple of hours into the race the boats were sustaining a steady 20+ knots of boat speed with some surfs into the low 30’s. Just terrific sailing as they make their way to Cape Town, South Africa some 7,000 nautical miles away.
Further to the north the Transat Jacques Vabre got underway an hour after the Volvo start. This is one of the most iconic French races and is held every four years. There are 38 boats competing including three Ultime trimarans each a hundred feet in length. The Transat Jacques Vabre, or TJV as it’s known, is a double-handed race that started in Le Havre, France and will end in Salvador, Brazil. The race traces the route taken by the great merchant ships of the 17th century which departed the coffee-producing countries like Brazil, and headed to Le Havre which was at the time France’s leading coffee harbor.
The competitors in the TJV also had some brisk conditions to deal with as they took off on a close reach which soon turned into stiff headwinds. My friend Boris Herrmann aboard Malizia II reported that they were experiencing “very fast sailing, very wet, full moon and we can see the closest competitors even at night. We pass each other scary close.” The course to Brazil is 4,350 miles and Seb Josse, the skipper of the newly launched Ultime Edmond De Rothschild predicts that it will take him and his co-skipper Thomas Rouxel just eight days to get to Brazil. If that happens he will knock around two full days off the current course record.
Speaking about Ultime trimarans. On Saturday the French sailor François Gabart set off in his attempt to break the single-handed, non-stop circumnavigation record currently held by fellow French sailor Thomas Coville. The start and finish is an imaginary line between the Créac’h lighthouse on Ouessant (Ushant) Island, France, and the Lizard Lighthouse on the southwest coast of England. Gabart’s ride for the record attempt is the 30-meter trimaran Macif. The key to any successful record attempt is getting the weather right for the first few days. You want a slingshot ride down to the equator and if you set out and the forecast does not come through most choose to return to port and try again.
Two days into this trip it looks like Gabart and his weather team have got it right. Gabart is already well over 200 miles ahead of where Coville was at the same time during his record circumnavigation. The conditions are perfect. Twelve to fifteen knots from astern. The massive trimaran is loping along at a steady 29 knots of boat speed. Fingers crossed for a safe (and fast) circumnavigation. To beat the record of 49 days, 3 hours, 4 minutes and 28 seconds, François Gabart will need to cross the finishing line before 13.09 on 23 December – in other words back before Christmas. Incroyable!
- The massive Macif – imagine sailing this by yourself
While all is this has been taking place let’s not forget that the Mini Transat is also underway. The fleet of 78 boats are five days into the second leg of the race from the Canary Islands to Martinique in the Caribbean. They are sailing in the exact same trade wind conditions as François Gabart on Macif. Champagne sailing it’s called but champagne or not crossing an ocean on a 21 foot boat is no easy task.
With all of this incredible sailing going on I have to ask the obvious question. How come it’s all going on “over there?” This side of the Atlantic things are all packed up for the winter. There is very little, if any, coverage of these events in the mainstream media and I guess that’s because there is very little, if any, interest from the public. Those hardened enthusiasts like myself are glued to the various race trackers and watched the Volvo Ocean Race and TJV starts streaming live so we are getting news but it’s a pity that the only bit of sailing news on TV here is about those two lost ding dong’s and their dogs.