We are now 7 days in to the Transat Jacques Vabre and the first play has settled.
The boats that took their chances in the West have lost out against the more conservative boats that chose to stay closer to the Rhum line sailing less distance and staying along the Portuguese cost. One of the main reasons for this paying off was the opening of a small weather window that saw some nice NE wind to the east of the Azors high pressure allowing them a fast VMG approach to the Canarys.
The boats in the west pounded upwind in some difficult conditions with a slow moving Low pressure not delivering the freeing wind they required to make speed and reach south.
A little look in to some of the players;
It is a real shame to hear that Alex Thomson Racing on Hugo Boss has hit something and seems to be retiring from the race as she will not get to test herself across a range of conditions. They showed great speed at times out there and a pretty reliable boat.
As expected Charal with Jérémie Beyou & Christopher Pratt has great pace and except for small electrical issues has had no big problems. They are sailing really well making good decisions and showing the best all round boat speed. The new boats have to learn quick to catch up for the Vendée Globe next year (this is an interesting race now- the race to find boat speed!!)!
PRB Kevin Escoffier - PRB was awarded a 1.5h penalty for breaking an engine seal whilst carrying out a repair but they still have great boat speed and have come back up to 4th place.
Apivia Voile - Charlie Dalin is going strongly, especially for her first race. I am sure there is plenty more potential to come from this boat! With Charlie Dalin and Yann Eliès onboard they are solid and making the boat work well out of the box.. pretty impressive.
For me there are two boats sailing exceptionally well in the IMOCA 60 fleet, making good decisions, sailing fast for their boat age and configuration. That is Groupe APICIL and Voile Banque Populaire both boats minimizing risk and sailing the shifts and pressure really nicely within the bunch- The co skippers really showing their class and what they bring to the game onboard these boats, Armel Le Cleac'h and Yoann Richomme and both amazing sailors and it is a fantastic opportunity for their skippers to gain experience and accelerate their learning.
It is very interesting to see the psychology behind the decision making across the fleet and understand how different skippers see and analyse risk. (I am not sure we can ever know the full picture and what is going on in every boat or even what their objectives are, but from the tracker this is what it feels like to me;)
The boats that stayed in the East sailing the shorter distance and, in my mind, taking less risk are all regular and good Classe Figaro Bénéteau sailors/ one design racers that have been racing regularly over the past 10 years in the class. They seem to take less risk and play the shifts and boat modes more. This is similar to the way you have to sail in the Figaro class, any big moves away from the fleet and the rhum line can be a big risk and although can pay off sometimes for one of leg wins it more often than not may not pay in the long game. So to go on a flyer you have to be pretty sure. And if this is the case most of the fleet will see the same weather pattern and routing so you will not find yourself alone taking that option and therefore the risk is reduced even though sailing away from the rhum line. This is drummed into you in the Figaro and sailing several races in a year (in a one design) you get the best opportunity to witness this and quickly learn to refrain from the big risks… unless you are bored of course… This in turn then means that you focus heavily on more micro gains in the weather, changing mode on the boat and playing with set up to get more potential out of the boat.
The bunch in the West seems to me to be sailors that race on a less regular basis throughout the year in one design fleets. They have either been in the IMOCA class for a while racing on average 1 or 2 races a year against different speed boats (you historically finish around 50% of IMOCA races), or come from the Class 40 fleet again where they have focused on big events and one off races, with all the boats going different speeds. Or from record attempts where you have to search for the gain to break the record and you have no other boats to compare yourself against sailing at the same time as you in the same available weather(you don’t see the small losses and gains available in the micro picture). Or they have been out of regular racing for some time.
My conclusion is therefore;
Generally, the more racing you do against similar matched boats the more risk averse you become and better at understanding what this means, how to judge and control the bigger picture relative to the fleet.
The more you race open design classes or focus on record setting or less you race the more extreme in your decisions and more likely to follow a routing to chance a higher reward (which may or may not pay off) this may also be seen are racing the weather rather than the fleet.
Anyway, the race is far from over!! The next hurdle awaits these skippers just over the horizon – the Doldrums or “Pot au noir” en francais. This can be a very fickle and patchy area and boats can stop up and be passed easily. Concentration and planning will be key here to keep the boat moving through these conditions. Also which design will go well? In two/ three days’ time we will see how the equator will shape up before they enter the trades south of the equator where we expect to see the new boats perform well.