King of the Atlantic: Thomas Ruyant wins IMOCA class in tense Transat Jacques Vabre

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Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière on For People have finished first IMOCA pairing in the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre after a tense race which saw tough conditions and a wide spilt in the record 40-boat fleet

Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière on For People this morning took first place in the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre in the IMOCA class.

The win firmly establishes Ruyant as the king of the transatlantic races, having defended the Transat Jacques Vabre win he and Lagraviere took two years ago. Ruyant also won last year’s Route du Rhum solo transatlantic race from Saint Malo to Guadeloupe in his previous IMOCA, adding to his previous Mini Transat win in 2009, 1st in the Route du Rhum in 2010 on a Class40, and the 2018 Transat AG2R in the Figaro 2

It also establishes his latest generation IMOCA For People, only launched in March this year, as the de facto boat to beat, and further reinforces the success of the two-boat training programme Ruyant is working on with Sam Goodchild, whose For Planet finished an impressive 3rd.

Jubilation and relief for Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagraviere as they win the IMOCA class in the 2023 Transat Jacques Vabre on For People. Photo: Jean Marie Liot/Alea

In second place was another new boat, a near identical sistership of For People, Yoann Richomme’s Paprec Arkéa, sailed with Yann Eliès.

This year’s Transat Jacques Vabre has been a challenging one for many reasons. The fleet was held ashore for eight days after a series of vicious low pressure systems swept the North Atlantic when the race was due to start, finally setting off from Le Havre on Tuesday, 7 November.

The record entry of 40 boats still faced tough conditions in the early stages, with headwinds of up to 40 knots and breaking seas contributing to some significant damage, including a broken boom on Groupe Apicil and torn mainsails on Paul Meilhat Biotherm and Isabelle Joschke’s Macsf. Another significant early retiree was Charlie Dalin and Pascal Bidégorry on Macif, who retired on medical grounds.

Early IMOCA leaders

For People was an early challenger for the lead, along with Jérémie Beyou’s Charal, and Paprec Arkéa. Not far behind, and chasing hard, were Justine Mettraux and Julien Villion on Teamwork, and Sam Davies and new co-skipper Jack Bouttell on Initiatives-Coeur 4.

A major tactical split came after four days of racing, when Mettraux led a breakaway group opting for a more direct northerly route to Martinique, while the rest of the leading pack dove south to get into tradewinds sooner, though sailing some 400 miles further.

There was a record 40-boat fleet for the IMOCAs in the 2023 Transat Jacques Vabre, which faced a long eight-day delay and tough conditions at the start

Mettraux’s co-skipper Julien Villion, a highly respected weather strategist in his own right, explained: “At the end of the day on Friday, the fleet was split between those in favour of a southerly route, which is the transatlantic route via the trade winds, and the route we’ve chosen, called the direct route, which is fairly close to the great circle and by-passes the anticyclone on the other side.

“So we’re still upwind, but we have the advantage of not having lost any wind. We’re not likely to come across the ‘southerners’ again for a long time, at least a week. We’re in the minority now, so we’ll see where all this takes us. We’ve really taken the time to make this decision, and take all the elements into account, now we just hope it’s the right one!”

Early forecasts suggested that the direct route would be fastest, and the fleet remained split, with up to 1000 miles between the leaders of the two groups, until the final approach. Pip Hare and Nick Bubb on Medallia were among the boats that opted for the northerly route, having had to take a penalty and make some repairs off Finisterre. However, in the final few days the northerly group had to dodge a ridge of high pressure and lighter winds, while the southerly pack was able to remain hooked into solid easterlies to secure the podium places.

Transat Jacques Vabre winners

Ruyant and Lagravière’s elapsed time for the 3750-nautical mile course is 11d 21h 32m 31s, having actually sailed 5,425 nautical miles at an average speed of 19 knots.

Ruyant and co-skipper Lagraviere meet the press in Martinique after winning the 2023 Transat Jacques Vabre

The winning design For People came about through a partnership with naval architect-skipper Antoine Koch collaborating with Finot Conq, while the near identical Paprec Arkéa took 2nd place having been the quickest boat of the fleet in the downwind trade winds conditions. Koch, meanwhile, was racing with Ruyant’s team mate Sam Goodchild on For Planet (Ruyant’s previous boat) – the pair finishing third. The results of this Transat Jacques Vabre show these collaborations to be absolute powerhouses in the latest generation IMOCA fleet.

After winning, Ruyant commented: “There are a few moments I won’t forget. Five days into the race, we were worn out after a tough start to the race with a front and a ridge of high pressure. We were in the Canaries.  We looked at each other and said we were sailing the fastest monohull in the world and we were so lucky to have that opportunity.  That’s when things really fell into place between us.

“It was intense throughout. You don’t win races like this without keeping at it. The whistling noise of the foil is painful. But the fact that it is hard is what attracts us. The Vendée Globe is a different race, even if I have a good boat and a good team. We don’t know what will happen in that race, but of course, it is a goal for us.

His co-skipper Morgan Lagravière added: “The noise is unbearable. We have ear plugs in all the time, but it will take a few days to get over it. But this boat offers a huge pleasure and performs so well. We tried to find the right settings and adjustments to get the most out of her. We continue to discover her. The designers and team did so much work to come up with what is a revolutionary boat.  That is exactly the term I would use.”

“I think we spent more time at the helm than the other boats. Our boat was good for that. You feel the boat when at the helm. Some of the others can’t really spend time at the helm as their boat isn’t designed for that.

Second-placed Paprec Arkéa is a near sister ship to IMOCA winner For People, both Antoine Koch/Finot-Conq design collaborations

“At one point we found ourselves alongside Paprec Arkéa. That was a key moment, because it spurred us on to push harder. They made a small mistake and that’s when we got away. We saw that at the helm we could gain a real advantage, so that’s why we spend so much time at the helm.”

Ruyant’s team mate Sam Goodchild observed a few days ago: “Thomas is just great on these Transatlantics, it is no coincidence that he has won them all, the Mini, Class40, the AG2R, he knows how to push this boat well and designed it with Antoine, so they know what they have and it was built to improve on the weaknesses of this boat.

“They are a very good duo and Morgan really knows how to make the boat go fast. So they have experience, talent and a good boat. They have the deadly combo of all three!”


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