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Crisis Averted in “Tonique” conditions

Main photograph ©Jean-Marie Liot / Alea.

An eventful first 24 hours of racing for IMOCA fleet in the Transat Jaques Vabre.

The start of the 16th edition of the Transat Jaques Vabre race has been extremely eventful for Ollie Heer and co-skipper Nils along with many of the other duos racing in the IMOCA fleet to Martinique on the 3750nm course.

The fleet of 40 IMOCAs finally left Le Havre and got underway under a beautiful wintry sun at 09:30 CET on Tuesday November 7th. Tensions were high in challenging conditions after an 8-day delay to the race start to allow storm Ciarán to pass through, which brought winds speeds of over 70 knots and 12m high waves in the bay of Le Havre.

It was an early morning call for skippers on start day, who were required to be off the dock by 04:30 to catch the high-tide lock opening at 05:30. Although the storms had passed, the conditions were far from benign, with winds of over 30 knots and a confused and lumpy sea state. Ollie and Nils had a slightly frustrating start, a little further back from the starting line than they would have liked but were soon in the thick of the action on the straight-line course towards the Cherbourg peninsula. The conditions appeared to suit the foiling boats and the fleet divided into two groups very quickly. By mid-afternoon Ollie and Nils had made up several places to 23rd and established themselves amongst the leaders of the non-foiling group and were looking solid.

A severe front, forecast to pass over the fleet during the first night hit harder than anticipated. Conditions were described by skippers as ‘extremely punchy’, ‘bouncy’, ‘treacherous’ and all skippers agreed it was an exhausting first night at sea.

At first light, Ollie and Nils were about to tack onto the rum line, but during set up discovered the port D1 section of their rigging had become detached in the night. This section of standing rigging helps ensure the mast stays upright even under considerable loads. The pair immediately dropped their mainsail and turned downwind to reduce pressure on the mast. They managed to create a temporary fix which would allow then to sail slowly under headsail to the nearest safe haven but knew this wouldn’t be adequate to continue safely with a full sail plan in strong winds across the Atlantic. The decision was made to divert to Camaret, a port on the Brittany coast where they met with members of the shore team who worked through the night to reattach the D1.

Ollie knew this unavoidable diversion would send them to the back of the fleet and was understandably disappointed and frustrated but was determined to fix the problem and was cheered on by hundreds of messages of support from family, friends and followers (thank you!!).

The boat set off again early on Thursday morning, nearly 500 nautical miles behind the fleet to play catch up. The 6-hour stopover in Camaret means that Ollie is now battling the latest low-pressure system causing strong winds and high seas in the Bay of Biscay whilst the bulk of the fleet have already escaped to the South of this storm where conditions are getting easier.

Oliver Heer Ocean Racing were not the only team to experience difficulties in these “Tonique” first 24 hours. Bureau Vallee and Medallia both infringed the starting rules and were awarded 5-hour penalties. Monnoyeur returned almost immediately after the start to Le Havre for repairs and Be Water Positive skippered by Scott Sawyer had a medical emergency onboard and abandoned the race and returned to their homeport in the UK. Both Medallia and Maître Coq V suffered mainsail damage in the first night; Medallia are hoping to repair theirs whilst at sea, and if this is not possible, will be forced to sail with a 2nd or 3rd reef, meanwhile Maître Coq V have pulled into Vigo for repairs. Currently undergoing a pit-stop in Lorient are Lazare with water-ingress from a damaged hull after colliding with an unidentified floating object. Groupe Apicil also stopped in Lorient to switch out their broken boom and are now underway and chasing the fleet down just 50nm behind Oliver Heer.

Most of these teams are trying to resolve their issues and get back into the race as quickly as possible. Sadly, both MACSF and Biotherm with damaged mainsails look unlikely to be able to rejoin the fleet.

Conditions are now expected to lighten, and the trades are firmly established below the Canaries and so we hope the next 24 hours are somewhat less exciting!


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