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Transat CIC: Duels for the lead in IMOCA and Class 40 fleets

Yacht Racing Podcast

On The Transat CIC solo race across the North Atlantic from Lorient to New York, there are close duels at the top of both the IMOCAs and Class40s.

Racing at just over six miles apart Charlie Dalin (MACIF Santé et Prvoyance) and Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa) continue to lead the Transat CIC as the IMOCA peloton emerge from the strong North Atlantic winds and big seas and this afternoon were starting to get across the wide ridge of light winds ahead. Similarly in Class 40 Fabien Delahaye (Legallais Team Voile) and Ian Lipinski (Crédit Mutuel) are only separated by a little over four miles, on this fourth day of racing since leaving Lorient with Nicolas d’Estais (Café Joyeux) and Ambrogio Beccaria (Alla Grande Pirelli) trying to catch up on them.

The last 24 hours of racing were fairly complicated for The Transat CIC fleet, with a very rough sea state and winds gusting up to 45 knots, requiring a lot of sail changes, manoeuvres, some having to deal with minor damages and repairs and squalls to get through. However, according to the Race Director Francis Le Goff, most of the fleet will be out of this strong winds area by early evening. The leaders are heading for a ridge of high pressure, which they should negotiate with care. The challenge is to find the best lane of wind pressure to pass through the ridge and therefore the shortest route out. In essence it does look it should be ‘first in first out’ although some compression seems inevitable.

The leading IMOCA duo, with frontrunner Charlie Dalin (MACIF Santé Prévoyance) and his nearest rival Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa), have Paul Meilhat (Biotherm) and Vendée Globe winner Yannick Bestaven (Maitre Côq) about 50 and 62 miles behind, are holding slightly better speeds than the chasing group.

Leader Charlie Dalin explained the outlook: “I’ll end up entering a zone of slightly lighter winds. We’re going to have to add some sail up as the wind eases and the angle changes. We’re going to have calmer and calmer conditions in terms of sea state. Right now, we had a strong wind on the beam. Then we’re going to have a very strong south-easterly, but this time it’s downwind. What’s cool is that these are conditions in terms of wind strength and pace that you can find in the southern ocean in the Vendée Globe. It’s going to be interesting to see how the boat performs in these conditions. The further away we get from the ridge of high pressure, the faster the wind will pick up. The ridge of high pressure tends to weaken with time, so it may be harder for the leading boats to get through than for those behind. The good news is that we’re out of the strip of very strong NW’ly winds. We had up to 41 knots. The problem is that the edge of this zone of wind tends to shift slightly to the west. It’s moving with me. When I slow down, it catches up with me, so I speed up again. It’s a bit tiring, but paradoxically, even though the sea state has calmed down, you can go faster. I’m making 30 km/h peaks, which means I can accelerate quite a lot.”

Britain’s Sam Davies (Initiatives Coeur) has moved up one place and is now sixth. Davies is just a couple of miles behind Vendee Globe champion Yannick Bestaven (Maitre Côq)) and over the last few hours has overtaken Nico Lunven (Holcim-PRB), who unfortunately during the night informed that his bowsprit had broken. Despite the damage, Lunven is still racing to New York. “The bowsprit is damaged and unusable, which means I won’t be able to use my downwind sails for the rest of the race. But I am confident in my boat’s ability to make it to New York,” declared Lunven.

A bit further down the ranking are two other international skippers, Swiss Justine Mettraux (Teamwork-Team SNEF) in ninth place and Germany’s Boris Herrmann (Malizia Seaexplorer) in 10th place, having lost some ground during the last few hours, as he explained in a voice message sent ashore: “So far, so good. Keeping up with the pack, more or less. We’ve lost some miles because of some technical issues, I had to stop and do some work and I have some more to do. I hope tomorrow I’ll be gone through my work list! It has been very rough, the wind was unstable and still is. It’s hard to keep the boat going if you have small sails up. Sometimes in the gusts it’s tough to manage.”

With his usual positive approach Herrmann concluded: “I won’t complain, we’re heading into lighter wind and I’m looking forward to that.”

During the night, a number of electronic problems slowed down Italian Giancarlo Pedote too, forcing him to sail without his main autopilot and without performance and data instruments. The issue prevented Pedote from sleeping, slowing down his IMOCA Prysmian, which lost around six places overnight and is currently in 19th position.

Japanese offshore sailing hero Kojiro Shiraishi (DMG MORI Global One) follows closely in 20th and has been suffering from debilitating seasickness worse than he usually does whilst young Brit James Harayda (Gentoo Sailing Team) and Swiss German Ollie Heer (Oliver Heer) are doing well among the daggerboard IMOCAs, being in 21st and 26th position respectively as they seek to complete their Vendée Globe qualification.

Among the Class40s, the situation mirrors what is happening in the IMOCA fleet, a duel at the front and a small chasing group eager to close in and trying to profit from the lighter winds ahead.
Fabien Delahaye (Legallais Team Voile) has a very tight margin of over 4 miles on Ian Lipinski (Crédit Mutuel) and some 15 on Nicolas d’Estais (Café Joyeux) and Ambrogio Beccaria (Alla Grande Pirelli) who has chosen a slightly more southern route.

The Italian, winner of last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre, in a message said: “It’s the inclined life onboard! It’s not like ashore at all and I can’t quite recall what it’s like to stand up without holding on. It’s slowly starting to ease off. I finally managed to sleep well, I ate and rested up for the upcoming ‘ultra trail’ expedition. The conditions for the coming hours are nice, there’s going to be a lot of downwind sailing, but at 30 knots, so it’s going to get really tricky, even worse than reaching. The next three or four days are going to be tough. I’m very happy with my ranking because I was worried about being between the leading group and the one behind, a bit alone in my own thing, which is not. Those in front are going to gain a bit more because they’ve got a better angle to get through the ridge .But we’re in the same race, we’ve still got eight days to go, and that’s a long time.”

The other Italian, Alberto Bona (IBSA) is in fifth position while the only female skipper Amélie Grassi (La Boulangère Bio) is doing well, keeping at bay Axel Tréhin (Project Rescue Ocean) and ace Vincent Riou (Pierreval – Fondation Good Planet) who are 76 and 85 miles behind.

In the Vintage class, Patrick Isoard (Uship pour Enfants du Mekong) is still in the lead, with a 70 mile margin on Rémi Gerin (FAIAOHAE).

Over the last 24 more skippers were forced to head back ashore, like Antoine Cornic (HUMAN Immobilier), who suffered a broken J3 furler, and this morning announced his abandon or Anatole Facon (Good Morning Pouce) in the Class40, who broke the top of his starboard rudder and is heading for La Coruña to assess the situation.

Finding the best trade-off
According to Race Director Francis Le Goff, the gaps could close during the day, given that “the highs are moving away and the lows are getting closer, which will enable those at the back of the fleet to get a little more wind” and therefore to make it through the ridge of high pressure relatively easily. But before entering the ridge of high pressure, the skippers will have to decide whether to take out the whole wardrobe of sails to push performance to the limit, or opt for a medium configuration to take the time to check out the boat before tackling the next low-pressure system, which the leaders will have to deal with. It will be necessary to find the best possible trade-off. The wind will be building less gradually than last time, and they’ll soon find themselves with 30-35 knots of wind, gusting to 40-45 knots. Downwind is a different story, and the change can be quite sudden and strong and speeds are going to pick up.”

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