Thierry Duprey du Vorsent, Frédéric Le Peutrec, Erwan Le Roux and Yann Guichard, the four members of the Gitana Team take stock a day before the starting shot is fired on this atypical transatlantic yacht race from Le Havre to Salvador de Bahia. The trimarans will be switching from the northern to southern hemisphere, including therefore the tricky passage through the Doldrums over the Equator. But before reaching warm waters and the erratic winds of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, the fleet has to make its way out of the English Channel and across the Bay of Biscay. Looks like competitors are in for a lively start to the first phase covering some 5 200 nautical miles – a highly important stretch from a tactical point of view.
« The first tricky bit is making sure you are on form in the early hours. You have to get in as much sleep as you can. It basically boils down to one or two hours a day for the first few days. We know we'll be going flat out with the two fronts up ahead. One on Sunday afternoon and the second overnight from Monday to Tuesday. We're going to have to pull out all the stops without pushing the machines to breaking point, manœuvre as and when necessary, without exploding. Exiting the Channel is always a bit tricky. You have to keep an eagle eye out for shipping, cargo vessels, fishing vessels… The main thing is avoiding being distanced. The difference between the leaders and the tail enders can quickly run to a hundred or so miles by the time we get to Lisbon. Afterwards, the trade winds tend to favour the leaders, the gap can increase still further. We're all on a level pegging in rough seas and the alternating high winds and steady blow will be affecting the whole fleet until midday on Tuesday.
Shortly after the start, night will fall, the sky will be moonless. It'll be cold, the sea rough and violent wind shifts, increasing in strength from time to time. That requires a high level of reactivity. Under-canvassed, the boat suffers, just as it does too if over-canvassed. We're in for a dynamic start and we just have to get into the race from the word go.
Everything has to work on these boats as the slightest technical hitch can assume catastrophic proportions if you find yourself with no searoom (too close to land or shipping…). A lot happens in a short space of time (several wind rotations, two cold fronts to cope with, squalls and strengthening winds, manœuvres close to land). Those who can make a quick getaway will increase their advantage at the start. You have to head quite far out to sea for the transition between this lows pressure system buffering Cape Finisterre and the NW breeze to run down to Portugal and the trade winds. When conditions are easier, you recover more quickly from the inevitable fatigue of the first couple of days, increasing the gap from those further downfield. Those who make that fats getaway will be seriously advantaged for what follows. »