Four Barcelona World Race skippers on the Transat Jacques Vabre podium

Jean-Pierre Dick and Jérémie Beyou take victory in the Atlantic's great double-handed classic. Alex Thomson and Guillermo Altadill take second place and François Gabart comes in fourth. Kito de Pavant finishes in fifth place with Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret in eighth. Vincent Riou was forced to withdraw at the Azores.

Interviews DEC 13, 2011 01:00

A total of eight skippers from editions one and two of the Barcelona World Race took the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre on the 2nd of November at the French port of Le Havre. The legendary two-crew Atlantic crossing takes place every two years and is an unmissable feature on the racing calendars of most of the skippers preparing for the two big IMOCA Class competitions: the Vendée Globe and the Barcelona World Race. Since the regatta began there has been a category for multihulls represented by the Multi 50s. This year, for the first time there were also 40 Class monohulls racing in the competition.

Of the 13 starters, four new boats from 2011 

The were 13 IMOCA Open 60s registered for this edition of the race, with four new designs launched this year which have also stirred up some excitement on the class technical front: François Gabart's MACIF, Mike Golding's Gamesa, Armel le Cléac'h's Banque Populaire and Bernard Stamm's Cheminées Poujoulat. These brand new machines took on some of the best experienced IMOCA Class projects. On the starting line at Le Havre were Virbac-Paprec 3 with Jean-Pierre Dick, winner of the most recent edition of the Barcelona World Race who teamed up with Jérémie Beyou for this regatta who raced on Delta Dore in the first edition of the Barcelona World Race; on board Hugo Boss, the former 2007 Estrella Damm was Alex Thompson who joined forces with Guillermo Altadill, also a former skipper on the boat in the first edition of the Barcelona classic; on Groupe Bel Kito de Pavant had fixed some keel problems and took on the race alongside Yann Réginau; Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret came to the regatta with Mirabaud with little time to prepare their new rig having dismasted in the Barcelona World Race; Marc Guillemot's Safran, winner of the last edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre, with co-skipper Yann Eliès; and there was Vincent Riou's PRB, a new boat and the twin of Safran's hull which made her début in the latest Vuelta a España and which Riou skippered with Hugues Destremau for this Transat. 

As with all crossings from France to the Caribbean, the Transat Jacques Vabre is a difficult and at times very tough course. Finishing in Puerto Limón, Costa Rica, the regatta follows a hypothetical 4,730 mile course, with the IMOCA Open 60s putting the island of the Dominican Republic to starboard. One of the great strategic difficulties is the management of the anticyclone at the Azores and handling the great fronts circling the northern Atlantic at this time of year. Every year there are some pretty radical tactical calls and they definitely set the pace ahead of the West Indies, whilst the final stretch across the Caribbean to Puerto Limón really tests the sailors' mettle with some very shifty conditions, often including a gripping final dash towards the finishing line with added drama from numerous pockets of zero breeze. 

Northern option wins out 

The key moment this year was north of the archipelago of the Azores when Jean-Pierre Dick and Jérémie Beyou on Virbac-Paprec 3 and Alex Thomson and Guillermo Altadill on Hugo Boss chose to stay on a routing further north, closer to the Great Circle line, whilst the rest of the fleet chose to go in search of the trades further south. The former, despite having to take on some areas of unstable breeze, clearly came out on top, whilst the group to the South fell victim to a ridge of high pressure that was particularly hard on Groupe Bel with Kito de Pavant and Yann Réginau as well as on Mirabaud with Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret. 

Virbac Paprec 3 and Hugo Boss stood out from the rest of the fleet, battling hand to hand with the balance eventually tipping in favour of the French boat, with speed peaks topping her rival's. Jean-Pierre and Jérémie reached the Mona passage with an 80-mile lead on Alex and Guillermo and they moved any other option out of the equation up to the finish. The French pair's win was indisputable and it meant the climax to an extraordinary season for both skippers, with Jean-Pierre winning the Barcelona World Race and Jérémie the Solitaire du Figaro in the same year. 

Entering the Caribbean Hugo Boss had MACIF with François Gabart and Sébastien Col 230 miles astern, and the former Estrella Damm held second place relatively comfortably until Puerto Limón. It was also an important result psychologically for British skipper Alex, having suffered a recent streak of bad luck. The Briton had the invaluable assistance of Guillermo, who knew the boat well having sailed her in the first edition of the Barcelona World Race with Jonathan McKee, withdrawing from the competition at Cape Town with rudder trouble. Despite having only a short time available to prepare the boat and the race, this partnership dished up some very good results indeed. On reaching Costa Rica Alex said: “Guillermo is a great seaman. He's been around the world eight times and has more mileage under his belt than almost all of us put together. We worked well together. We are both pretty straight and frank and we say what we think. There were no problems at all”

Guillermo also had good words to say about Alex and was very happy with the yacht's performance: “We had a few small breakages, the normal sort of things for the conditions we had, but the boat handled perfectly”

The fight for the third step on the podium went to Banque Populaire with Armel le Cléac'h and Christopher Pratt who passed MACIF to the South of the Dominican Republic. François Gabart was happy with his recently launched yacht's performance in the offshore regatta and with the spectacular struggle up until the very end with the also brand new Banque Populaire. “It wasn't a good idea to push a brand new boat too hard”, said François at Puerto Limon. “A few boats had to abandon the race and that says it all. We don't regret deciding to going South as we don't know what might have happened if we'd gone North. We've got some small breakages, but just the normal sort of thing for a new boat. The worst was an electrical fault in the Caribbean which left us with no position reports for days”

Sailing with Yann Réginau, Kito de Pavant took Groupe Bel to fifth place, a result which is also a psychological boost for the French skipper following withdrawals from the Route du Rhum and the Barcelona World Race. Kito was clearly happy with the boat's performance at the finish: “We took the decision to go South together. We knew it was a risk and that we could get stuck in lulls and that's what happened. The worst part was getting past the ridge of high pressure. The boat performed to perfection. I'm really starting to have complete faith in her”. 

Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret reached Le Havre with very little time indeed to sort out a rig after dismasting in the Barcelona World Race. The eighth place finish was very satisfactory for both sailors. “We are happy. This was a regatta which was important for us to finish. We chose the route that would be kindest on the boat”. 

Helicopter airlift rescue for Bernard Stamm and Jean-François Cuzon

The regatta saw Akena Verandas drop out with a broken mast, PRB withdraw after a fracture to a forward bulkhead, DCNS 1000 had energy issues and left the race and Cheminées Poujoulat sprang a leak and abandoned racing. 

The night of the 6th and 7th of November were particularly tough on the boats to the South and is where PRB and Cheminées Poujoulat found themselves in trouble. S-SW winds of 35 to 45 knots hammered the fleet and stirred up some big swell. On PRB Vincent Riou and Hugues Destremau detected a fracture to a forward bulkhead. Vincent announced that the overall safety of the boat had been compromised and chose to set course for Horta in the Azores. 

Just a few hours earlier Bernard Stamm and Jean-François Cuzon hit an unidentified floating object and could only look on to see a leak put their survival in danger on board. As agreed with the Race Director Jean Maurel, Bernard let off the emergency distress beacon having seen that conditions weren't going to permit a tow to the Azores until at least five days' time. A helicopter from the MRCC at Punta Delgada rescued both skippers, lifting them off the boat safely and transporting them to the archipelago. Six days later Cheminées Poujoulat was towed to the island of Terceira. On 23rd November Bernard Stamm's boat was loaded onto a cargo ship bound for France.

Overall Race Results 

1. Virbac-Paprec 3. Jean-Pierre Dick - Jérémie Beyou. 15 d, 18 h, 15 m,  54 s.

2. Hugo Boss. Alex Thomson - Guillermo Altadill. 16 d, 9 h, 20 m, 0 s.

3. Banque Populaire. Armel le Cléac'h - Christopher Pratt. 16 d, 15 h, 0 m, 23 s. 

4. MACIF. François Gabart - Sébastien Col. 16 d, 16 h, 50 m, 12 s.  

5. Groupe Bel. Kito de Pavant - Yann Régniau. 16 d, 18 h, 4 m, 32 s. 

6. Safran. Marc Guillemot - Yann Eliès. 16 d, 19 h, 27 m, 52 s. 

7. Bureau Vallée. Louis Burton-Nelson Burton. 17 d, 16 h, 45 m, 40 s. 

8. Mirabaud. Dominique Wavre - Michèle Paret. 17 d, 19 h, 39 m, 26 s.

9. Gamesa. Mike Golding - Bruno Dubois. 17 d, 21 h, 42 m, 10 s.