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Transat Jacques Vabre Preview
by Tim Kent, Harken US Sales Manager

This weekend will be the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre, a 4,300 mile doublehanded ocean race from Le Harve, France to Salvador, Brazil. This race is has traditionally been dominated by over a dozen of the wonderful ORMA 60 trimarans, followed by the Open 60 monohulls, a scattering of 40 and 50 foot tris and Open 50 monohulls.

However, the ORMA 60s were devastated by a tough Rhoute du Rhum solo race in which only one boat finished without stopping and several boats were lost following capsizes or other severe damage. This year, only five of these greyhounds will be on the start line. Replacing them as the marquee class this year is the seventeen-strong Open 60 fleet. Most of the boats are brand new or extensively refitted, with skippers such as Vendee Globe winner Michel Desjoyeoux, serial circumnavigator Mike Golding, French ocean racing vet Loick Peyron, and others taking to the course in new boats. Two-time winner of the Around Alone/Velux 5-Oceans Bernard Stamm is in the boat that won this race two years ago, the ex-Virbac, and Jean Le Cam, the runner-up in the last Vendee, is in his extensively refitted boat. One of these skippers is a likely winner of the TJV.

The new 60s are notably wider and more powerful than the previous generation of boats, and the doublehanded crews will be able to push them to the limit. The big question is whether these new boats will make the trip without running into teething problems. Every one of them is planning on the Vendee Globe nonstop around the world race that will start in the fall of 2008; the TJV is the beginning of the tune-up period for that race. Most of the skippers planning on the Vendee will be participating in a solo return race after the TJV to qualify for Vendee.

The bulk of the boats in the race are from the Class 40 fleet. Thirty-two boats from this relatively new class will take the starting line – fully one-half of the Class 40s that have been built! These water-ballasted, fixed-keel fiberglass boats are the new hot box rule ocean racer for those whose budget is nowhere near the millions required of an Open 60. For a fraction of the price of their bigger sisters, the Class 40s have the beamy, powerful hull form of the Open class boats. The class has attracted ocean racing vets without huge sponsors and accomplished amateurs who can go head-to head with the pros.

The designers in the class mimic the Open 60 class and more, with Finot, Owen-Clarke and Lombard joined by other hot designers, making the form in this class tough to call. Walking the docks, the boats sport a wide variety of approaches to everything from carrying downwind sails to sheeting headsails and mains, to cockpit layouts, interior accommodations, and water ballast placement. Last weekend’s prologue race saw some of the newer designs lead the way home, but a race around the buoys is no predictor of what will happen on the ocean. Bruno Jourdren on a brand new VLP design was the first home, followed by the young English sailors Tom Gall and Daniel Gohl on an Akilaria 40 and by and another Englishman, Peter Harding on an Owen-Clarke design. The first Pogo 40 home was the only all-woman team in the race, Jo Royale and Alexia Barrier on Pindar. Skippers to watch are the talented and experienced Florence Arthaud and Vendee vet Bertand de Broc.

This will be a fascinating event to follow in every class. The monohulls will start Saturday the third, with the multihulls starting the following day. Weather for the start will not feature the boat-breaking gales of past years so the fleet should escape the Bay of Biscay with minimal damage, making for a classic race to Brazil. Click here for the event website.

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