Edmond de Rothschild, ready for a debut performance
Start day in Gustavia! The Transat Saint-Barth Port-la-Forêt set sail this Sunday 6 December at 15:00 GMT. A fleet of seven Imocas following Guéguiner's withdrawal on Friday will be vying for supremacy in their negotiation of the North Atlantic. Ahead of the solo sailors lie nearly 3,400 nautical miles and some varied, albeit ideal weather conditions for a gentle introduction to proceedings prior to getting into the thick of things once they hook onto the train of Atlantic lows. At the helm of the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild, Sébastien Josse is the only representative of the new wave' of 60 footers in the Vendée Globe, those equipped with lifting surfaces or foils rather than classic straight daggerboards. Following the retirement in the Transat Jacques Vabre, the sailor and the whole of Gitana team were very keen to make the start line of this latest transatlantic race. The aim is naturally to rack up some experience on the latest Gitana and find the right trim to achieve the necessary alchemy to get the best out of this new steed with a view to the Vendée Globe.
After arriving in St Barths on Thursday evening following a crewed delivery trip of around ten days, the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild wasn't in the West Indies for a spot of tourism, indeed he's already on his way home. However, this express pit stop did enable his shore crew on site to perform a complete check-up of the Verdier design, including verifications as to the use of the rig, the keel, the deck fittings as well as the hydraulics after an initial transatlantic spanning some 3,300 miles. Meantime, Sébastien Josse managed to put the forty-eight hours in port to good use by getting some rest and preparing the weather.
A few hours before casting off, he shared with us his vision of the course and the conditions that await the fleet of this Saint-Barth Port-la-Forêt: This Transat is fairly sharply defined with an initial section in the tradewinds and a tropical ambiance, then a fairly brutal transition, which will see us plunge into a virtual winter atmosphere in a matter of hours with a series of lows to propel us towards Europe. The weather pattern for the start looks fairly simple. We're likely to have medium conditions at the start, with a tradewind of around fifteen knots building to 25 knots in the squalls, of which there are a lot in this part of the world at the moment. The first few days of racing (3 to 4 days) are set to take place in this configuration and thus enable us to get some distance away from the Antilles arc on a beam reach. Next up, the tradewind will gradually rotate as it eases on the approach to the edge of the Azores High. At that point we'll have to negotiate the transition in order to hunt down the first low, which will serve as a veritable launching pad for the European coastline. In terms of weather conditions, this second phase of the race is more reminiscent of the Roaring Forties in the South, at the entrance to the Indian Ocean. As such, it's very good training, explained the skipper of Gitana: However, at this stage of the game, the weather models are divided. The CEP (European model) and the GFS (American model) are not in sync and though the former sees us quickly hooking onto the first depression, the latter seems too fast for the second, so it places us a few more miles further north before we can benefit from the powerful WNW'ly winds
And so it is that we'll have to sit it out for a few days before we find out what's on the menu for the second half of the course in this Transat Saint-Barth Port-la-Forêt. No matter though, the solo sailors certainly have enough on their hands in the meantime, even if Sébastien Josse willingly described these first few days of racing in the tradewinds as a gentle introduction: The conditions for this race start will enable us to get into the swing of things before the hard hat' ambiance that awaits us once we hit the train of depressions. In the first few days, the main challenge will be to properly manage the trajectories so we can get nicely around the Azores High. Our sail choices will be very important, but there won't be any tactical blinders to pull. Managing the transition towards the lows will be a lot more strategic, but it's still too early to talk about that!
A first in solo configuration
Sébastien Josse's last race in solo configuration aboard a 60-foot Imoca dates back to the Vendée Globe 2008-2009, nearly six years ago. Since then the sailor has joined Gitana Team, where he's been able to practice his scales in his bid to become a multihull specialist. It is with this comprehensive, versatile stock of knowledge that the skipper from Nice returns to the Imoca Ocean Masters championship. Just a few hours away from his first solo transatlantic with the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild, he couldn't disguise either his excitement or his desire to get going: I'm really happy that we've been able to make this start line. It's entailed a lot of work for all the members of Gitana and I thank them for that. Now, it's my turn to play. It's rather like I'm going back to school today! I love solo sailing. I think I still have the right reflex actions but managing myself on this new machine will be interesting to work on. These 3,400 miles of racing will be very precious for our winter refit, which is when we'll be able to carry out the last major works prior to the Vendée Globe.
Gitana is placing at your disposal a cartography that is dedicated to following this transatlantic race: http://gitana-team.geovoile.com/saintbarthportlaforet/2015/. The positions of Edmond de Rothschild and its six rivals will be updated every hour. However, a position blackout will be observed between 22:00 and 04:00 GMT to let the strategic play have free rein!
The Transat Saint-Barth Port-La-Forêt
This solo transatlantic race, which is now contested between the Caribbean Islands and France, was first initiated in 2007, with its second edition held in 2011. A return' transatlantic sprint at the end of the Jacques Vabre, the race that originally went by the name of the BtoB (Back to Brittany) is an integral part of the IMOCA Ocean Masterscircuit with a year to go until the start of the Vendée Globe. The perfect opportunity as well as a full-scale test for those solo sailors keen to head back to Europe in competition mode, the Transat Saint-Barth - Port-La-Forêt is an event that also serves as a qualifier for the legendary round the world race. The weather conditions that the sailors may encounter at this time of year make this a demanding transatlantic race that is likely to sift out the key protagonists.
Singlehanded transatlantic race
From St Barths (French West Indies) to Port-la-Forêt (Finistère, Brittany)
3,400 theoretical miles (direct route)
Start on 6 December at 15:00 GMT, scheduled finish between 16 and 20 December
Positions updated every hour, except between 2200 and 0400 GMT to leave the competitors room for strategic choices
Seven entries: Fabrice Amedeo, Newrest-Matmut / Eric Holden, O Canada / Sébastien Josse, Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild / Paul Meilhat, SMA / Enda O'Coineen, Kilcullen Voyager / Thomas Ruyant, Le Souffle du Nord / Morgan Lagravière, Safran