The 2011 Transat Jacques Vabre (TJV), which is traditionally dominated by the French, featured standout performances by sailors from the United States, New Zealand, the UK and Northern Europe in the 16-boat Class 40 fleet. Among the nine teams that finished were American Jesse Naimark-Rowse and British sailor Hannah Jenner aboard 40 Degrees, who together battled multiple storms between Le Havre, France, and the finish in Costa Rica to take third in class. The pair’s success was all the more remarkable given they had barely sailed together before the start. SAIL caught up with Naimark-Rowse to get the inside scoop.
SAIL: How did you and Jenner end up doing the race together?
JNR: I had been brought in through Owen Clarke Design to do some rig tuning and other optimization before the TJV. Hannah had been forced out of the Global Ocean Race due to lack of funding. The owner of 40 Degrees decided at the last minute to race the TJV with Hannah, and then came to the conclusion that he was really too busy with work and asked me to take his place.
SAIL: What were the challenges of joining the campaign at such a late date?
JNR: Lack of time on the boat and with my co-skipper. We set off immediately on a 500-mile qualification sail, which helped alleviate any concerns about us not being able to sail together. That went quite well, which was a really good sign. I think my biggest concern was that we had an all-new sail wardrobe and had never lined up against any of the other boats with it. This left us with a great unknown as to how our speed was going to be in various conditions against the rest of the fleet.
SAIL: This was a tough race. What was it like knowing your competitors were dropping out all around you?
JNR: It was really unfortunate to hear about all the abandons in the early parts of the race. We were particularly sad to hear about [the British boat] Concise as Ned [Collier-Wakefield] and Sam [Goodchild] are talented young sailors and were leading the race when they dropped out...It left us feeling very aware of how we were treating our boat and checking constantly to make sure there were no signs of any major failures.
SAIL: What were the high and low points?
JNR: The biggest high of the race is easy: punching through the final weather front and almost immediately jumping to third in the ranking. We committed ourselves to a really tough route, and there were times we questioned it while sailing upwind in 50-plus knots and violent waves. The satisfaction of this all paying off was huge. In the last 100 miles we were becalmed under terrible rain squalls with shifting wind while our nearest competitor to the north was still posting speeds of 10 knots straight toward the finish. We knew we had a good margin on them, but it is not a good feeling to think that you could possibly lose a podium position right at the end.
SAIL: Do you think your finish, and the sixth-place finish of team 11th Hour Racing, with American Nicholas Halmos and Kiwi Hugh Piggin, says something about North American sailors and their ability to compete in these events?
JNR: I think our podium position and the solid result from 11th Hour Racing absolutely shows that North American sailors can be competitive in this realm of offshore sailing. Maybe when one of us wins a race we can prove that at another level! I found we were all getting a very high level of respect from the French sailors after the race, and they were all very positive about making the class more international and encouraging us to race more—and bring some friends.
Photo courtesy of Transat Jacques Vabre