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A Crowded Atlantic

The Class40 fleet at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre

The Class40 fleet at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre

For offshore racing fans, this past autumn was an exciting one, with scores of solo sailors and doublehanded crews crossing the Atlantic in the Transat Jacques Vabre, Mini Transat and Globe 5.80 Transat.

The first transat of the season was the Mini Transat, kicking off on September 27. The event takes place over a roughly 4,000-mile course that comprises two legs: from Les Sables D’Olonne, France, to Santa Cruz de La Palma in the Canaries; and from Santa Cruz de La Palma to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Two fleets of Mini 6.50s compete—a “production” class of pre-approved designs, and a “prototype” class that allows for innovation and is often a testing ground for systems that often eventually make their way up to bigger raceboats. Between the two fleets, 80 solo sailors registered for the event.

Don McIntyre’s Globe 5.80 Transat kicked off its first edition this year

Don McIntyre’s Globe 5.80 Transat kicked off its first edition this year

On October 31, two days after the Mini Transat’s second leg began, the brand-new Globe 5.80 Transat, another solo-sailing event, also got underway with a fleet of just six. In response to the rising costs of participation in the Mini Transat, Globe 5.80 founder Don McIntyre devised this race to be sailed aboard a one-design fleet of 19ft plywood sloops. In addition to being much cheaper than a Mini, the Globe 5.80 has a less extreme SA/D ratio, making it kinder on its skippers. The two-part course began with a 600-mile “qualifier” leg from Lagos, Portugal, to Lanzarote, a Spanish Island off the coast of Morocco. After a brief stopover came a 3,000-mile Atlantic crossing to Antigua. At press time the race was still underway. Visit globe580transat.com for details.

The doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre’s 15th edition, which began on November 7, included an impressive 79 boats competing in the IMOCA 60, OCEANFIFTY, Open40 and Ultime classes. Plagued by light winds, this year’s race covered nearly 8,000 miles, from Le Havre, France, to Martenique, with a turning mark at Fernando de Noronha off the coast of Brazil. The IMOCA 60 class was of special interest as many of the skippers are well known as a result of their efforts in the Vendée Globe and Volvo Ocean Race. The upcoming inaugural edition of The Ocean Race (the successor to the VOR) will also include a fully crewed IMOCA 60 class as part of the mix.

Malama crosses the finish line after a tough race

Malama crosses the finish line after a tough race

Unfortunately, it was heartbreak after heartbreak for America’s de facto IMOCA 60 team, 11th Hour Racing, which entered not one but two boats, Alaka’i and Mālama. The first to run into trouble was Alaka’i, co-skippered by Simon Fisher and Justine Mettraux, who have proven themselves a successful pairing this year, scoring a spot on the podium in the Rolex Fastnet and a second-place finish in the 48-hour course of the Le Défi Azimut. Unfortunately, their Transat Jacques Vabre only lasted four days before they were dismasted in about 15 knots of wind just before reaching Spain’s Cape Finisterre. Both skippers were unhurt, but it was a disappointingly early end to their race—all the more so because they were in seventh place at the time of the dismasting.

As for Mālama, co-skippered by team co-founder Charlie Enright and Pascal Bridegorry, things weren’t much better. The boat hit the water in late August just days before competing in the Le Défi Azimut, in which it suffered a tiller bar breakage and was forced to retire early. The crew, which had been setting its sights set on the Transat Jacques Vabre all along, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work out some of the new boat’s kinks. But the boat wasn’t done having problems, and nearly two weeks into the Transat Jacques Varbe, its keel faring broke away mid-Atlantic.

The 2021 Mini Transat fleet was 80 boats strong

The 2021 Mini Transat fleet was 80 boats strong

“While reaching along in what I will refer to as a typical doldrums squall, we hit 28 knots of boat speed with the J2 and a full main. Shortly thereafter, the boat essentially tripped over itself, and we were no longer able to achieve speed,” Enright says. “I took a look in the endoscope and saw what I thought was a line... We tacked the boat, hove-to with the keel to leeward, and I went over the side to inspect. It wasn’t a rope at all. It was the intake tube that lives in the aft keel fairing…the aft keel fairing itself was gone.”

Although the crew was able to keep limping toward the finish, it ended up slipping from seventh place to 13th.

“Despite the results on the water in this final race of the year, 2021 has been an important milestone in our campaign, particularly with Simon and Justine leading the standings of the IMOCA Globe Series going into the race, in their first year of sailing together,” Enright says. “Our entire team’s focus now turns to The Ocean Race 2022-23 and our fully crewed entry, while we continue to work with the marine industry to innovate new solutions for positive ocean health.”

We at SAIL wish them the best of luck in both endeavors.

January 2022

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