Transat Jacques Vabre 2023: IMOCA 60s are final fleet to start

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10 days after they were originally scheduled to depart, the IMOCA 60 fleet have finally started their Transat Jacques Vabre 2023, with sporty upwind conditions set to test the fleet on their first night of racing

The Transat Jacques Vabre 2023 officially started on Sunday 29 October, but with a particularly strong depression scheduled to cross the fleet on Wednesday 1 November, the decision was made to send the Class 40s and Ocean 50s on a 320 mile passage to Lorient on the French Atlantic coast, where they paused their racing. Meanwhile, the IMOCA 60 fleet were held in Le Harve with no options for stop-over ports which could accommodate the 40 foilers. That left the Ultime fleet the only class to set off on their Atlantic crossing as scheduled.

Finally well over a week after their planned start time, the IMOCA 60s have set off, with the start gun firing for the class at 8:30am GMT today, Tuesday 7 November. They follow the restart for the Class 40 and Ocean 50 classes who resumed their racing on Monday 6 November.

For fans wanting to watch the IMOCA 60 fleet set off, it was an early start, with the 40 IMOCAs docking out at 4am local time in order to be ready for the early morning start – a first in the 30 year history of the race.

By 5:30am, the Paul Vatine basin in Le Havre was empty and the 40 IMOCAs had all made their way to the race course. The first 24 hours of racing should contain few surprises, with a front which due to pass through the English Channel early Wednesday morning. Thereafter conditions will be a lot more uncertain. On paper, the northern / western route looks to be faster than heading South. But as the Swiss sailor Simon Koster (Hublot) puts it, “the question is to judge whether it is possible to execute [the northern route] as well as the computer does, which does not know the sea. On this route, it is possible to wait a long time to put something on the bowsprit [and head downwind, the favoured conditions for the foilers].”

Yann Eliès (Paprec Arkéa) wasn’t putting much faith in the modelled northern route advantage either: “We’re all looking for southern routes to get [south], but for the moment, they’re too expensive!” After twelve hours of tacking in the Channel and some big breeze near Ouessant, the teams will be able to feed new weather files into their computers at which point it might be clearer as to whether the best option is to head straight towards Cape Finisterre or if they should put a little west in their route.

The waves will be a major factor in the teams decision making process and with 4-5m swells predicted on further into the Atlantic, it may be that some of the non-foilers choose the northern / western route, while the foilers look for calmer seas to the south.

With a decent breeze at start time, all teams were carrying some reefs and their reduced sail plan not only reflected the breezy conditions, but also the winds expected in the coming hours as the IMOCAs head up the channel into a headwind.  Groupe Dubreuil and Maître Coq led off the startline, with the two stablemates For People and For The Planet also getting good starts. But it was, Charal which showed the best turn of pace to leeward of these two demonstrating that the new IMOCAs can foil even upwind.

The only hitch in the start came courtesy of Bureau Vallée, which crossed between the inner distance mark buoy and the committee boat and therefore did not cross the line defined by the Sailing Instructions. He receives a 5-hour penalty.

As for one of the favourite’s to win the event, the all-conquering Charlie Dalin on Macif Santé Prévoyance, it had already been announced that he could not compete in the race for health reasons. However, in order to keep his qualification process for the next Vendée Globe underway, his medical team allowed him to cross the startline before immediately retiring from the race.

You can keep up to date with the racing on the Transat Jacques Vabre race tracker.

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