More than eight days into this 14th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre, the leaders are now over halfway from Le Havre, France, to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. At the head of the premier IMOCA division are Jérémie Beyou and Christopher Pratt onboard the mighty Charal, a radical new-generation foiling IMOCA that has proven itself to be among the very quickest boats in the fleet. Since early teething pains after its initial launch, the boat is trying for back-to-back wins after its recent clean sweep of Défi Azimut. To do so, Charal will have to fend off the newly launched Apivia of Charlie Dalin and Yann Eliès and a hard-charging 11th Hour Racing entry skippered by American Charlie Enright and his French co-skipper Pascal Bidégorry. In an impressive effort during just their second race in the IMOCA fleet, the upstart American team has consistently moved up the leaderboard and is oftentimes the fastest boat in the fleet. As of this writing, Apivia and 11th Hour Racing are 70 and 72 miles behind Charal, respectively, and both doing 19 knots compared to Charal’s 20 knots. With some 1,800 miles left to sail until the finish in Brazil, it’s still anyone’s race.
While the racing at the head of the fleet is top-notch, the biggest headlines in the race at this moment are unfolding far astern with the recent loss of a keel by Alex Thomson and Neal McDonald on the new Hugo Boss. After showing blinding pace off the start, the newly launched Boss — sailing in its debut race — took a westerly routing option that turned out to be the wrong call. Hovering around 20th place for much of the race, Boss’s race went from bad to worse when they struck an unidentified object at high speed, which left their canting-keel mechanism severely damaged. The keel only remained attached to the boat by the hydraulic ram that allows it to cant. After a long day of stabilizing the boat followed by some much-needed rest, the British duo has opted to cut the ram and drop the keel down to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, as leaving it attached was deemed to be a greater risk to the boat. With water-ballast tanks filled and both foils fully deployed, the boat is said to be quite stable and the duo is not in immediate danger. The closest point of land appears to be the Canary Islands. Purely speculative, but we would imagine the team will charter a large powerboat and stage a rescue effort from there.
While the Transat Jacques Vabre continues to rage on, two other major French races are now again underway, or soon will be. The second leg of the Mini Transat race has restarted from the Canary Islands. The 81 solo sailors are racing downwind in perfect trade-wind conditions to Le Marin Bay on the Caribbean island of Martinique. At the head of the fleet, François Jambou onboard 865/Team BFR Marée Haute Jaune — the same boat that Ian Lipinski sailed to victory in the 2017 edition — has a five-mile advantage over Tanguy Bouroullec’s revolutionary foiling boat. Quite impressively, the leading production boat is mixing it up with the lead prototypes as of this writing.
The inaugural Brest Atlantiques race is set to begin tomorrow in Brest, France. The start was delayed to allow the passage of a major storm named Amélie, which brought winds of up to 100 mph and left much of France without power. Four Ultim class trimarans are set to start the inaugural edition of this 14,000-mile race. Each of the maxi-tris, three of which are now fully foiling, will be racing with two sailors onboard plus a media man. We will continue to keep an eye on all of these events.