Winners of the 2021 Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre IMOCA race Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière (For People) returned to the front of what is proving to be an all consuming 2023 edition of the 3750 nautical miles IMOCA race from Le Havre to Martinique.
A few days ago theoretical computer modelling seemed to favour the feisty northerly course chosen by Switzerland’s Justine Mettraux and her French co-skipper Julien Villion on Teamwork.net. But now current predictions suggest an almost exactly even outcome between the Swiss-French duo and whichever of the faster moving pairs emerge from the more southerly, downwind trade winds charge towards the French Antilles.
Mettraux and Villion are expected to sail the shorter distance to Martinique but a big proportion of it is upwind. This morning their course angle is not good as they feel the first effects of the passage of a low pressure system. But when they get to the other side of the low they will get a faster reaching angle more directly towards Martinique.
At the same time as Teamwork.net were doing seven to 10 knots upwind in 25-30kts breezes and actually pointing east of south, Ruyant and Lagravière are leading the charge west at more than 20 knot averages, gybing downwind with about 1550 nautical miles to the finish line which the winners are expected to reach during the night between Saturday and Sunday. Today’s routings show less than five hours between Teamwork.net’s choice and the leaders of the southerly pack, a margin which amounts to nothing in this situation of dynamic weather systems.
What is especially impressive is how Ruyant and Lagravière have pulled out 25 miles on second placed Yoann Richomme and Yann Eliès – already a three times winner on this race – who are racing the Finot Conq-Koch designed sistership Paprec Arkéa.
Eliès reflected this morning, “The trade winds aren’t that strong, but it’s pleasant. We’re trying to keep the boat moving, but it isn’t that simple. We’re a bit disappointed as yesterday we were just ahead of For People. That means that in 24 hours, we have lost some ground, but it’s nothing too big. For the next part of the race, it looks like quiet trade winds, but more importantly blowing straight from behind, so we’re going to have to gybe a lot downwind. That’s going to be for two days. After that we’ll see whether we still have trade winds forcing us to change tack or whether we meet up with Justine. We’re watching how she is progressing and we hope to cross paths not far from her.”
For People and Arkéa Paprec have built a useful cushion on the boats directly behind them and to their south fourth placed For the Planet which Briton Sam Goodchild is sailing with Antoine Koch – co- designer of the leading two IMOCAs and fifth positioned Charal (Jéremie Beyou and Franck Cammas)
“Antoine is a happy bunny for the moment.” Chuckled Goodchild this morning, “We had a really good night which is as much of a surprise to us as anyone else I think, but we have been going fast so we have managed to get back close to Charal and put a little bit of distance on Initiatives Coeur which is cool, but we have four more days of this and it is pretty stressful. We can keep it up to the finish but it is about wind strength and sea state. Weather options are not so many, we are just trying to get west in the tradewinds and keep ourselves in the band of best pressure and the little daily windshifts so we make sure we are not doing more distance than we have to, while keeping a close eye on everyone else. We have 1600 or so miles to the finish and it is going to be pretty much the same angle all the way to the finish.”
Switzerland’s Mettraux on Teamwork is third at 55 miles behind the leaders. British-Aussie duo Sam Davies and Jack Bouttell on Initiatives Coeur are sixth, eight miles behind Goodchild and Koch, whilst Boris Herrmann and Brit Will Harris on Malizia Seaexplorer lie eighth, L’Occitaine en Provence sailed by Clarisse Crémer and Brit Alan Roberts are ninth, albeit around 100 miles behind.
The weather situation is broadly similar for Class40. Their leaders have choices to climb north and use the same low pressure system or stay south and use the trade winds. Leaders yesterday Xavier Macaire and Pierre Leboucher (Groupe SNEF) are investing in a northwesterly course whilst the Italian Musa 40 Alla Grande PIRELLI sailed by Ambrogio Beccaria and Nico Andrieu leads again alongside Italian rivals IBSA, the Manuard designed Mach 40.5 sailed by Alberto Bona and Spanish ace Pablo Santurde del Arco.
Beccaria enthused, “The battle is raging, but our rivals aren’t alongside us. There’s a certain separation between us. We know that with our strategy, we are gaining more miles than those in the North. The class split up, but that’s normal when the weather models don’t agree. It’s a question of risk analysis. The Italians go south and the others north! There isn’t much wind. I had hoped for more. The sun is just coming up. It’s the first time we have seen some clouds since the Canaries. We’ve been having blue skies. At night we can’t steer, so it’s not as busy as during the day. But that is likely to change in the coming days.”