Beating towards Ascension
Yesterday, the ULTIMs celebrated their first week of racing in the Transat Jacques Vabre 2023. However, now is not really the time for celebration aboard the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. For Charles Caudrelier and Erwan Israël, the hours spent in the doldrums have been particularly gruelling both physically and in terms of the ranking. Since then, the Gitana Team duo has put this tough passage to the back of its mind and has been able to make the most of the more favourable conditions to recharge their batteries and get back on the hunt. Third this Monday evening, theoretically around thirty miles shy of the firm leader, the Maxi Banque Populaire XI, they are continuing to apply themselves and take it in turns with the trimming to optimise the trajectory and speed of the five-arrow giant.

Since yesterday, the fleet of giants has been sailing in the southern hemisphere. Having left to port the course mark of São Pedro e São Paulo, a group of rocks and reefs rising up out of the North Atlantic some 1,000 kilometres to the north-east of the city of Natal, the ULTIMS have one by one crossed over the equator into the southern latitudes. Right now, they’re close-hauled in the SE’ly trade wind, beating towards Ascension Island, the next course mark to round before they set a course towards the finish in Martinique.     

A very sticky doldrums 

Contacted at the radio link-up on Saturday morning, Charles Caudrelier announced: “Today, the doldrums look fairly easy, but according to the latest observations the clouds are not very dynamic." However, well honed in the exercise of negotiating the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, thanks in particular to his past round the world passages, the skipper didn’t forget to use the conditional tense, which is essential in the doldrums: “Our boats can negotiate the doldrums very quickly. If there’s just a sniff of breeze, we can very quickly pick up the pace to 20 knots and we don’t have to endure a rather laborious 300 miles for half a day. We can also take double that time or worse if there’s no breeze though. It can be a whole different ball game depending on your passage time. Things change very quickly from east to west in this zone so you have to monitor the on-board radar and the satellite images from our routing cell. There are no magic solutions in the doldrums and experience does not give you any greater certainty.” 
Indeed, not everything went to plan in the end! Back to within twenty miles or so of Banque Populaire’s stern, with SVR – Lazartigue slowly making headway further to the west, the men of Gitana Team could only watch as the exit door got further away from the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild’s bows, just like their rivals, all thanks to an unfortunate cloud developing above their masthead: the famous squalls synonymous with this area! Getting free of its clutches proved both long and laborious.  Despite the inconvenience, Charles Caudrelier remained philosophical yesterday: “That’s how it goes, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose… that’s the name of the game in the doldrums!”   

The entire fleet back out on the racetrack again tomorrow 

Over recent days, France has been swept up in a series of autumnal storms, the intensity of which has forced Race Management in the Transat Jacques Vabre to revise its initial plans. Though the five ULTIMS were able to set sail as planned last Sunday and then dive southward before the arrival of the first depression, Ciaran, and continue on their way without interruption, the other fleets have not enjoyed the same conditions. Indeed, despite also departing Le Havre on 29 October, the Ocean Fiftys and Class 40s have sought refuge in the port of Lorient, Brittany throughout the past week. This morning, at 09:30 UTC for the  trimarans and 09:45 UTC for the monohulls, it was finally time for them to rediscover the open ocean. The exchanged smiles in the early hours of this morning, dockside in Lorient La Base, spoke volumes about the eagerness of the forty-six duos to get back out on the racetrack. Tomorrow, it will be the turn of the IMOCAs to cast off. They’ll leave the Bassin Paul Vatine in Le Havre very early for a start off Cap de la Hève at 08:30 UTC.           

Position report on 6 November, 18:00 UTC 

1. Maxi Banque Populaire XI some 3,781.7 miles from the finish   
2. SVR – Lazartigue + 27.5 miles 
3. Maxi Edmond de Rothschild (Charles Caudrelier / Erwan Israël) +  31.8 miles   
4. Sodebo Ultim 3 + 141.8 miles 
5. Actual Ultim 3 + 193.9 miles                

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