Maxime Sorel makes no attempt to hide the fact that right now – in the tradewind conditions north of the Cape Verde islands – his boat is not quick enough, as the second week of the Transat Jacques Vabre-Normandie Le Havre begins.
“We have a speed deficit, particularly in the tradewinds with a bit of sea,” he told the Class as V And B-Monbana-Mayenne continued downwind in eighth position, with just under 2,000 nautical miles left to sail to Martinique.
“We can see that the latest generation of boats are going much faster and there’s some distance between them and us. Unless things turn around, a podium is impossible as sailing is a mechanical sport – in the position we’re in, a top-five finish would be nice,” he added.
Sorel’s comments could hardly demonstrate more vividly the extent of the design race at the head of this record-breaking IMOCA fleet, as each new generation of boats moves the dial a little further along the speed curve for all points of sail.
Although his Guillaume Verdier-designed foiler, that was launched in June last year, is undoubtedly super-quick, it is struggling to match the downwind speeds of boats like Charal, Paprec Arkéa and For People, the leader of the southern group of boats, which is 120 miles ahead of Sorel.
Sorel also revealed that his masthead instruments have been blown off, so he and co-skipper Christopher Pratt are relying on a secondary wind sensor mounted on the back of the boat, which is not ideal in the demanding conditions about 430 miles north-northwest of the Cape Verde islands.
“The tradewinds are true to form, but they’re not very regular in terms of angle or strength,”Sorel explained. “So you have to play with the oscillations and we are doing a lot of gybing. It’s rare that you can leave the boat to its own devices, as you’re always at the helm. You either have to trim or take care of the pilot, so it’s pretty intense.”
And it sounds like life in general on board is not all that comfortable. “It’s hot, very humid and very wet, so we have to close the boat up. We try to take it in turns every two hours to sleep, eat, change and shower every three days,”added the skipper of the boat with the dragon motif on its sails that finished fourth in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race.
About 550 miles due north of Sorel and Pratt, we also checked in with Pierre Le Roy sailing with Benjamin Ferré on board Monnoyeur-Duo For A Job. They were making good progress in 13th place overall and in third place in the daggerboard fleet behind Fives Group-Lantana Environnement and Freelance.com.
Le Roy and Ferré are among the northern boats led by race leader Teamwork, skippered by Justine Mettraux and Julien Villion, and Le Roy is still keeping an open mind as to whether this option could pay off against the boats to the south of them.
“The ‘north-westerly race’ is going according to plan,” he told us. “We’ve managed to sail almost all the way around the high, via the north face upwind. We’re going to have another low to get through, which is a bit big, so we’ve positioned ourselves so as not to get caught up in the worst of it. I still don’t know if we’re going to get there before those to the south, but at the time we made the decision, we had some good arguments for it, which still hold up today.”
And Le Roy also believes it is possible they could avoid crossing areas of light winds, as they continue to the finish at Martinique. “We shouldn’t have any light winds,”he said, “because things are going to move along smoothly between the low on the 16th and the by-passing of a high pressure system to the west of the Atlantic, which will enable us to get back down to the West Indies quickly. In principle, we should be able to keep the wind until the end,” he added.
The pairing on Monnoyeur-Duo For a Job are enjoying a great racing partnership. “Life on board with Benjamin is very natural, as it has been since the start of the year with him,”explained Le Roy. “We each rely on our respective qualities. I spend more time at the chart table; Benjamin sets the tempo for the manoeuvres. When it comes to setting up, we talk a lot. There’s a bit of tinkering with the boat, but it’s nothing too serious as the boat’s in great shape.”
Overall, this Transat Jacques Vabre remains an absorbing contest as Teamwork, to the north, continues to be reeled in by the boats moving faster in the south led by For People, Paprec Arkéa, Charal and Initiatives-Cœur 4. Sorel says it is going to be an intense race all the way to the finish.
“We’re going to have to keep the pace up right to the end, with a lot more gybes and a finish that’s unusual on a classic tradewind route,”he said. “We’re going to have to maintain our speed and position in relation to our competitors. We’ll also have to see what happens to those in the north…”