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The review of the 13th edition of the 2017 Transat Jacques Vabre: Four record-breaking fleets

The review of the 13th edition of the 2017 Transat Jacques Vabre: Four record-breaking fleets

As they counted down to the start in Le Havre, all the skippers said the 13th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre would be fast and furious - they were right. The four fleets saw twists and turns and fierce competition all the way to the line, with nothing decided until the final day, and in the case of an incredible three-way battle in the Class40, the final hour. Records were broken, and some boats too, but those that could be were fixed in pit stops and 31 of the 37 boats that left Le Havre in Normandy France arrived safely in the Bay of All Saints. Salvador de Bahia, the finish for the first time since 2007, welcomed them all home with customary warmth and style.


An upset. It is difficult to say that when the winner was the boat and skipper that hold solo round-the-world record. But on paper Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was the bigger – at 23metres it was 50cm to wide to get into Bassin Paul Vatine with the other Transat Jacques Vabre participants – and faster than Sodebo Ultim’.

Sébastien Josse, skipper of Maxi Edmond de Rothschild said it would be an 8-day finish, but in the end it was even quicker.

Having match raced each other down the Atlantic, Thomas Colville and Jean-Luc Nélias struck a blow for experience by holding off Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel on their newly-launched Maxi Edmond de Rothschild.

“It's a great win; we've built a great story with Jean-Luc and Sodebo, we can both break records and win races,” Colville said. "It was a huge contest from the first night. Leaving Le Havre we knew it would struggle with them. From the first night, we felt that it was going to be super close. We saw them pass by us in the same wind and I can tell you that Maxi Edmond de Rothschild overtaking you upwind in 40 knots is some sight.”

Josse, still getting used to a boat launched just three months ago will become more philosophical about the result with time. “We do this to win races, so inevitably there was a lot of disappointment at the finish,” he said. These are full-on races and you need a bit of time to come back down to earth. We had small problems with the foils that prevented us from flying. But I know that this second place is encouraging.”

François Gabart, who beat Colville in the 2015 Transat Jacques Vabre, sent a message of congratulation from deep in the South Atlantic, where he was nine days into his attempt to break Coville’s solo round-the-world record.

For Coville it was a second Transat Jacques Vabre victory to add to his 1999 win on a very different beast – an Imoca 60ft monohull under the same colours.

Key moment

The decision by Sodebo Ultim’decision to position themselves further west on paid out in stunning fashion as they turned a 70-mile deficit into a 60 mile lead. On November 8, Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel were forced to gybe and sail in the wake of Sodebo Ultim’.

Did not finish

(Three started, two finished)

The smaller Ultime, Prince de Bretagne (Lionel Lemonchois / Bernard Stamm) who had already been forced to make a pit stop in the Canaries, dismasted just 93 miles from the finish and had to be rescued and towed home by the Brazilian Navy patrol boat.

1st Sodebo Ultim’ – Thomas Colville and Jean-Luc Nélias

Finished: Monday, November 13, 2017 at 10:42:27 (UTC),

Race time: 7 days 22 hours 7 minutes and 27 seconds

Miles traveled: 4,742 nautical miles, average speed 24.94 knots.


2nd Maxi Edmond de Rothschild  – Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel,

Finished: Monday, November 13, 2017 at 12:30:24 (UTC),

Race time: 7 days, 23 hours 55 minutes and 24 seconds

Miles traveled: 4,838 nautical miles, average speed of 25.21 knots.

Distance to winner: 1 hour 47 minutes and 57 seconds

[Sodebo Ultim’  beat the previous record of 10 days 0 hours 38 mins set by Franck Cammas and Steve Ravussin on Groupama 2 in the 60ft multihull class in 2007 (the last time the race finished in Salvador) by 2 days 2 hours and 31 mins.]

No third place. Prince de Bretagne forced to abandon.


Arkema’s win struck another blow for the underdog in this Transat Jacques Vabre 50ft multihull class, as they beat the favourites, FenêtréA-Mix Buffet, to Salvador de Bahia. The Multi50 fleet, with foils for the first time, had looked more competitive than ever in Le Havre.

It was ninth-time lucky for the 53-year-old Lalou Roucayrol. When his co-skipper, Karine Fauconnier, was injured in training three months ago, Roucayrol was looking for the best to help win his first Route du Café. In Alex Pella, the formidable and multi-skilled, multi-starred Spanish sailor, making his third appearance, he found both that and hunger. Both had finished second in the Transat Jacques Vabre before.

“This is my ninth Transat Jacques Vabre, and before the start, I felt good,” Lalou Roucayrol, skipper of Arkema said. Two years ago, I had to make a stopover in Salvador de Bahia because the boat was almost cut in half and we had to laminate so we could re-start for Itajai and finish the race. We kept our foot on the gas, we were fast, it was a fight from start to finish.”

FenêtréA-Mix Buffet skippered by the “dream team” of Erwan Le Roux and Vincent Riou, had five Transat Jacques Vabre victories between them. Arkema had set a fast early pace out of Le Havre, but after exchanging the lead from the start, it looked like normal order had been established when FenêtréA-Mix Buffet took the lead as they passed the Canaries.

Key moment

Arkema achieved their win with a masterful comeback in the Doldrums, taking 160 miles in 42 hours off FenêtréA-Mix Buffet.

“There was no frustration of being second, we had a long time to digest it,” Erwan Le Roux said. “It was a great race, they set the level high from the start. The Doldrums knocked us, it was really the carnage, and then Lalou came back like a rocket. Then, to crown it all, in his wake we broke our halyard gennaker. With the foils, it's not the same, you’re going faster. And it feels different, we were on the verge of flying.”

24hr Record

Rather than trying to cover or protect their lead, Arkema pushed home their advantage after the Doldrums, breaking the Multihull50 24-hour speed record. They sailed 568 miles in 24 hours at an average speed of 23.6 knots between November 14 at 10:00 UTC and November 15 at 10:00 UTC (the previous record of 524 miles was held by Ciela Village on the Transat Quebec / St Malo in July 2016). The records is awaiting confirmation from the WSSRC.

Did not finish

(Six started, four finished)

Drekan Groupe

After capsizing in the North Atlantic just before 21:00 UTC on Wednesday, November 8, 380 miles from the island of Terceira (Azores), Eric Defert and Christopher Pratt were rescued on Thursday morning by crew from the Dutch cargo ship, Beautriton. Both sailors were safe and sound.

Ciela Village

Thierry Bouchard and Oliver Krauss, then in fifth place, announced on Saturday, November 11 that they would be diverting to Mindelo (São Vicente), Cape Verde fix their autopilots and other problems. They discover a crack in the hull and do not restart.


1st Arkema – Lalou Roucayrol (France) and Alex Pella (Spain)

Finished:  Thursday, November 16, 2017 at 07:49:19 (UTC)

Race time: 10 days 19 hours 14 minutes and 19 seconds

Miles traveled: 4,671 nautical miles, average speed of 18.02 knots


2nd FenêtréA-Mix Buffet  Erwan Le Roux and Vincent Riou

Finished: Thursday, November 16, 2017 at 15:26:23 (UTC)

Race time: 11 days, 2 hours 51 minutes and 23 seconds

Miles traveled: 4,726 nautical miles at an average speed of 17.71 knots

Distance to winner: 7 hours 37 minutes and 4 seconds


3rd Réauté Chocolat  – Armel Tripon and Vincent Barnaud

Finished: Friday, November 17, 2017 at 08:19:22 (UTC)

Race time: 11 days, 19 hours 44 minutes and 22 seconds

Miles traveled: 4,728 nautical miles at an average speed of 16.66 knots

Distance to winner: 1 day 0 hours 30 minutes and 3 seconds

[Arkema beat the previous record of 12 days 06 hours 13 minutes and 59 seconds set by Franck-Yves Escoffier and his son, Kevin Escoffier on Crêpes Whaou! in 2005 by 1 day 10 hours 59 minutes and 40 seconds.]


On paper this was most clear-cut of the class victories with the boats that finished on the podium holding their places for most of the course. But the race never quite felt like that.

In 13 days of racing, Jean-Pierre Dick and Yann Eliès on St Michel – Virbac, the heavy favourites at the start in Le Havre, made no serious mistakes. They patiently built their lead mile by mile and looked uncatchable since they emerged from the Doldrums.  But as Eliès repeatedly said, quarter-joking, “we have a cushion it’s just not that comfortable.”

Key moment

Having seen their lead reduced to less than 30 miles during the first few hours of the Doldrums by SMA, St Michel-Virbac felt the heat, but a day later they had re-established their ascendancy. They stretched out to a 70-mile lead as they reached the southeast trade wind first.

St Michel-Virbac were helped by the fact that the other latest generation foiling Imoca all have new skippers getting used to their boats. SMA is a 2011-boat without foils. But their performance has been commanding.

This is the perfect race that I’d imagined with Yann,” Dick said. “It's amazing to be have been able to realise it. A fourth victory is great. I like this race, the duo side of it.”

Eliès will now take over the helm of St Michel-Virbac as he prepares to sail it in the 2020 Vendée Globe.

Arriving in the port of Salvador of Bahia, the destination where he announced himself on the world stage 14 years ago, brought back memories. It was his first victory on the Transat Jacques Vabre on his iconoclastic Farr-plan boat that was “my first real statement,” he said.

Paul Meilhat and Gwénolé Gahinet on SMA showed their class by keeping four foiling Imoca behind them and never letting up the pressure on the leaders – one slip and they would have passed them. Dick and Eliès had picked out their training partners on SMA as their biggest rivals before the start and the camaraderie between the duos was clear at the finish. “We have no regrets, we feel like we have sailed well, but they (St Michel-Virbac) made the right choices too,” Meilhat said. “We’re proud to be second behind them. It's not because they have foils they’ve won.”

Morgan Lagraviére and Eric Peron finished a solid third Des Voiles et Vous! but behind them there was carnage in a suddenly active and spreading Doldrums that trapped some Imoca for almost three days. Malizia II, Bastide Otio and Initiatives-Cœur were the big winners relatively as they positioned themselves east Generali and Bureau Vallée 2 were the big losers on the west.

Kito de Pavant and Yannick Besthaven on Bastide Otio finished a tremendous fifth given that their boat was 5-10 years older than those around them.

13 boats started, 13 finished.


1st St Michel-Virbac  – Jean-Pierre Dick and Yann Eliès

Finished: Saturday, November 18, 2017 at 20:11:46 (UTC)

Race time: 13 days 7 hours 36 minutes and 46 seconds

Miles traveled: 4,652 nautical miles, average speed of 14.55 knots.


2nd SMA Paul Meilhat and Gwénolé Gahinet

Finished: Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 02:33:03 (UTC)

Race time: 13 days, 13 hours 58 minutes and 3 seconds

Miles traveled: 4,600 nautical miles, average speed of 14.11 knots

Distance to winner: 6 hours 21 minutes and 17 seconds


3rd Des Voiles et Vous! – Morgan Lagravière and Eric Peron

Finished: Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 14:06:44 (UTC)

Race time: 14 days, 01 hours 31 minutes and 44 seconds

Miles traveled: 4,714 nautical miles, average speed of 13.96 knots

Distance to winner: 17 hours 54 minutes and 58 seconds

[Dick became the only sailor in the history of the Transat Jacque Vabre, in any class, to have won the race four times.  The 52-year-old skipper from Nice, won the Imoca class in 2003, 2005 and 2011.

[St Michel-Virbac also established a new record time for the Imoca class to Salvador with Dick beating his own record of 13 days 09 hours 19 minutes and 2 seconds set with Loïck Peyron on Virbac-Paprec in 2005 by 1 hour 42 minutes and 16 seconds.]


In one of the closest finishes in Transat Jacques History, Maxime Sorel and Antoine Carpentier on V and B, claimed victory after their match race down the coast of Brazil. Aymeric Chappellier and Arthur Le Vaillant on Aïna Enfance and Avenir. arrived second in the Bay of All Saints, just 17 and 42 seconds behind.

Sorel, who finished second with Sam Manuard, the designer of his (and the second-placed) 40ft monohull in the last edition of this bi-annual double-handed Route du Café, in 2015, only finally moved into the lead at 14:00 UTC on the day they finished (Wednesday, November 22).

And after over 4,500 miles of crossing the Atlantic, Phil Sharp (Britain) and Pablo Santurde (Spain) on Imerys Clean Energy were only 35 miles behind in third and finished in the early hours of Thursday morning. For much of the race down the Atlantic there had been less than five miles between the three boats.

"Thanks for the welcome on the line, it was crazy,” Maxime Sorel said. “This victory feels magnificent because there are two outstanding competitors behind us. We left Le Havre together, we arrived in Brazil together, everything came down to the last night.

V and B made a comeback after fearing they were out of the race after suffering damage crossing the cold front on the second night after the start. On Tuesday, November 7 after pressing at the front of the fleet, the duo were forced to drop their sails for two hours to laminate a cracked front bulkhead. They drop back to tenth and bear away east. It is a piece of DIY they will monitor nervously all the way to the end.

24hr Record

V and B surged back through the field in the drag race south in 35-knot north-easterlies, breaking the Class40 24-hour speed record in the process. They made

377.7 nautical miles between Thursday, November 9, 07:30 (UTC) and Friday, November 10 (07:30) at an average speed of 15.7 knots.

The record was even more keenly felt on board the lead boat by Pablo Santurde as he held previous record of 373.3 miles set in 2016 with Gonzalo Botin on Thalès II.

Sharp and Santurde won the race-within-a-race between the older generation boats, beating Bertrand Delesne and Justine Mettraux (Switzerland), on TeamWork40 into fourth. TeamWork40 had briefly closed the gap as the front three got caught in the Doldrums and five miles separated the front four. But they were dropped quickly in the reaching conditions after the exit.

“What an incredible fight we have been through over the last two and a half weeks,” Sharp said. “An intense three-way boat design battle against the Mach 3s Aina Enfance et Avenir and V and B, a battle against different weather extremes, and a battle against our own personal limits.”

Key moment

Sharp and Santurde led the race for 12 days but in a boat that is a generation older than the two ahead was technologically outrun in the final straight in beam reaching conditions after the Doldrums.

“Whilst Phil’s Mach 2 is a great all-rounder, the Mach 3 evolution was designed to achieve different goals,” Manuard, the boat’s designer explained. “Clearly the gains are in reaching and they also have a sweet spot in certain downwind conditions. Phil and Pablo have done an amazing job, once again proving what great sailors they are.”

The advantage was a fact that the French skippers were keenly aware of as they passed Imerys Clean Energy in the same wind on Monday, November 20. “We felt for Phil and Pablo (Imerys Clean Energy) because they couldn't do anything,” Antoine Carpentier, co-skipper of V and B, said. “We spent the day overtaking them in the trade winds, we went 1.5 knots faster. We didn't dare to get them on the VHF for fear that it is badly received.”

In the end what perhaps separated the two Mach 3 designs was Sorel’s extra experience. “They Aïna Enfance and Avenir are where we were two years ago,” Sorel said.

Did not finish


(15 started, 12 finished)


1st V and B  – Maxime Sorel and Antoine Carpentier

Finished: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 at 23:19:15 (UTC)

Race time: 17 days 10 hours 44 minutes and 15 seconds

Miles traveled: 4,513 nautical miles, average speed of 10.77 knots


2nd Aïna Enfance and Avenir Aymeric Chappellier and Arthur Le Vaillant

Finished: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 at 23:36:57 (UTC)

Race time: 17 days, 11 hours 01 minutes and 57 seconds

Miles traveled: 4,525 nautical miles at an average speed of 10.79 knots

Distance to winner: 17 minutes and 42 seconds


3rd Imerys Clean Energy Phil Sharp (Britain) and Pablo Santurde (Spain),

Finished: Thursday, November 23, 2017 at 04:33:41 (UTC)

Race time: 17 days, 15 hours 58 minutes and 41 seconds

Miles traveled: 4,539 nautical miles at an average speed of 10.70 knots

Distance to winner: 05 hours, 14 minutes and 26 seconds

[V and B beat the previous record of 22 days 13 hours 2 minutes 22 seconds set by the Italian duo Giovanni Soldini and Pietro D’Ali on Telecom Italia in 2007 (the first time Class40 had been included in the Transat Jacques Vabre and the last time the race went to Salvador) by 05 days 02 hours 18 minutes and 07 seconds.]