The symbiosis of a duo
In less than forty-eight hours, the 38 duos competing in the Transat Jacques Vabre will set sail on the 13th edition of this famous double-handed transatlantic race bound for Brazil. Aboard the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel, well-versed in these pre-start phases, are calmly preparing for their race and are still willingly fulfilling their media obligations. Tomorrow, with the last briefing scheduled at 09:00 UTC, which will notably reference the weather for the initial hours of racing, the atmosphere will gradually change as the sailors get into the zone.
The art of double-handed racing
On paper at least, double-handed transatlantic races enable the sailors to get the very best out of a machine. In this way, the Transat Jacques Vabre is the dream shakedown for the recently launched Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, which is just itching to express her true potential as an offshore steed. Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel know that the 4,350 miles between the start and Salvador de Bahia will be full of pitfalls, but oh how many lessons will be learned along the way on both a technical and a human level.
Some two days before the big day, the sailors talk to us about their pairing and what life will be like aboard the latest addition to the Gitana fleet, the first offshore racing maxi-trimaran to fly in the open ocean.
Sébastien and I don't have a fixed way of working. We don't have a watch system set in stone, instead we adapt ourselves to the weather conditions, to getting the boat making headway and to our level of fatigue. This is particularly the case during the first few days at sea, which are likely to be intense, with little respite for the skippers, explains Thomas Rouxel, before Sébastien Josse takes up the discussion: She's a physical boat and every manœuvre is very demanding and requires a certain amount of method. To optimise these phases and with a view to performance, we try to perform them together as much as possible. For now, the forecasts for the start aren't bad as they aren't indicating too many manœuvres for exiting the English Channel, but there will be some sail changes required to adapt to the wind, which is gradually set to build as we approach the north-west tip of Brittany.
The deck layout on the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild has been studied in depth and it is geared around racing singlehanded or shorthanded. The same level of thoroughness has gone into the ergonomics of the main pod, which comprises the cuddy area and the living space itself with the chart table, the galley and the bunk. It's a space which spans just 6m2 but where the sailors benefit from all the comfort possible on this type of machine. Though the manœuvres are performed by the two of us, for the meals it's every man for himself! says Thomas Rouxel with an air of mischief, but the boat is really well thought-out and pleasant, because the living space backs onto the cockpit so you don't feel as if you're alone aboard.
Video The Gitana Team's special mediaman, Yann Riou delves into how the duo operates using some on-board images.
A duo of experts on shore
In terms of the weather strategy, routing is permitted in the Ultime category. It is a measure primarily adopted for safety reasons given how demanding piloting such machines is when they're fully powered up and the constant surveillance required from the crew. Indeed, double-handed, it's an impossible ask to spend several hours at the chart table dissecting the grib files and then selecting the best route to follow. During the Transat Jacques Vabre, Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel will be able to count on the expertise of a talented duo back on shore. Day and night, from their HQ in La Rochelle, Jean-Yves Bernot, the famous meteorologist, and Antoine Koch, a key member of Gitana's design office and a sailor to boot, will provide the routing and strategic monitoring for the Edmond de Rothschild duo.
Weather routing is a very good safety element, but for all that it's not a question of being remotely guided in our trajectory without any consideration on our part. Jean-Yves and Antoine prepare some detailed reports for us and suggest strategies to us and then those of us on-board decide what we're going to do according to what kind of shape we're in, the condition of the boat and the actual conditions on the water. We've been working with Jean-Yves and Antoine for a while now, since the Route du Rhum 2014, but this first race is the first one for the Maxi and in this regard, we need to find our bearings and see if the envisaged polars are true to form or not, concludes Sébastien Josse
Thomas Rouxel, a relaxed rookie
On Sunday, Thomas Rouxel will set sail on the Transat Jacques Vabre for the very first time. Completing this baptism of fire aboard the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, the first multihull from the new era of flying boats, is a real honour for the sailor from Brittany: Being a part of the very first race for this boat is a great privilege. There's a mixture of apprehension, which is logical when setting off on an exercise of this nature where you're not completely in control, and an inevitable excitement because the boat is an inspiration. When Sébastien and Cyril Dardashti, the manager of Gitana Team, offered me a ride in this adventure, I jumped at the chance! I'm itching to get out on the start line on Sunday.
Why Thomas Rouxel? This is a question Sébastien Josse has had to answer again and again over recent days. The skipper of Edmond de Rothschild, winner of the 2013 edition in the multihull category with the stable's Multi70, replies straight out: Thomas is someone who's company I enjoy in life and with whom I share a common vision of how to race a boat and he's racked up some great experience offshore with the Volvo and the Jules Verne Trophy. He's a sailor I trust 100% and it's important to set sail on a double-handed transatlantic on a boat like the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. He was an obvious choice for me.