Ocean Racing Crowds the Atlantic

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Part of the IMOCA Open 60 fleet heads offshore bound for Brazil shortly after the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre

Part of the IMOCA Open 60 fleet heads offshore bound for Brazil shortly after the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre

This past fall, the North Atlantic was absolutely lousy with race boats zipping back and forth, as the biennial Mini-Transat and Transat Jacques Vabre races not only happened to coincide with the second stage of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race but were followed soon after by the first leg of the Atlantic Anniversary Regatta, organized under the auspices of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. Add in a pair of round-the-world record attempts aboard a couple of maxi-tris out of France (of course!) and you have a crowded piece of water, indeed!

The first to hit the starting line was the Mini-Transat fleet, comprised of just over 80 solo sailors aboard 56 “production” Mini 6.50 21-footers and 25 “prototypes,” featuring an assortment of the various cutting-edge technologies for which the class is renowned: everything from blunt “scow” bows to lifting foils.

Gloomy conditions and a nice breeze sent the Mini-Transat fleet on its way at the start of Leg 1

Gloomy conditions and a nice breeze sent the Mini-Transat fleet on its way at the start of Leg 1

A two-stage race, the 21st running of the event kicked off October 1, with the start of the first stage from La Rochelle, France, to Las Palmas in the Canaries. The second leg, which finished in Martinique, began a month later, on November 1. In all, the event covers a staggering 4,050 miles—staggering when you stop to think it’s done aboard high-powered racing sloops a good bit smaller than many daysailers.

The second bunch to cast off lines was the seven-boat VOR fleet and the three-dozen doublehanded crews taking part in the Transat Jacques Vabre, both of which set sail on November 5. The Volvo start marked the beginning of a 7,000-mile marathon from Lisbon, Portugal, to Cape Town, South Africa. For the Transat Jacques Vabre fleet, after starting from Le Havre, France, the course followed the same trade route taken by the coffee-trading sailing ships of old down to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.

Like the Volvo fleet, competitors in the TJV must contend with the doldrums as well as the trade winds of the North Atlantic. Unlike the VOR, however, which is sailed aboard one-designs, the fleet was comprised of a variety of different grand prix boats, ranging from Class 40 monohulls to Multi 50s, the same IMOCA Open 60s that race in the Vendée Globe and a trio of “Ultime” maxi-tris. The race also included some of Europe’s biggest offshore sailing stars, like solo round-the-world record holder Thomas Coville, of France, in the Ultime class, and Spanish sailor Alex Pella, who took part in last year’s successful crewed round-the-world record attempt aboard IDEC.

MACIF makes knots with French solo-sailor François Gabart at the helm

MACIF makes knots with French solo-sailor François Gabart at the helm

Speaking of record attempts, the first to set out this winter sailing season was French solo-sailor François Gabart, who cast off from his home port of Port-la-Foret aboard the maxi-tri MACIF on November 4 to try to beat Coville’s record of 49 days 3 hours and 4 minutes. Similarly, in search of a new crewed round-the-world record were Yann Guiscard and 11 other sailors who at press time were on standby to shave a little off IDEC Sport’s mark of 40 days 23 hours and 30 minutes aboard their own maxi-tri, Spindrift.

Finally, there was the Atlantic Anniversary Regatta. At press time, just under two-dozen racing yachts were preparing to set out from Lanzarote, in the Canaries, bound for Grenada on November 25. Among the competitors taking on the 2,995-mile course were everything from the Class40 Red to Ludden Ingalls’s cutting-edge super-maxi Cqs.

Mapfre battles some big seas during Leg 2 of the Volvo Race

Mapfre battles some big seas during Leg 2 of the Volvo Race

Interestingly, the second half of the Atlantic Anniversary Regatta—which is marking the 150th birthday of Germany’s Norddeutscher Regatta Verein and the 50th birthday of Sardinia’s Yacht Club Costa Esmeralda—goes from Bermuda back to Hamburg, Germany, in 2018, making it the first regatta to cross the Atlantic Ocean twice in both directions.

As a side note, at the same time these dozens of different dedicated racers were slicing their way back and forth, the annual ARC and ARC+ cruising fleets—which included a dedicated racing section in 2017—were also making their way east-to-west across the North Atlantic, bound for St. Lucia. Good thing it’s a big ocean! 

January 2018

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