27 Oct The 2023 Transat Jacques Vabre Race Preview
The 2023 Transat Jacques Vabre Race Preview
On Sunday, 95 boats with 190 sailors will be lining up for the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie-Le Havre. This year is the 30th anniversary edition of the legendary double-handed transatlantic race that continues to see increased interest with each edition.
This famous race reels the crowds, and sailors, back every two years and this edition promises to be as good or better than those that have come before. For this 15th edtion, four classes will be on the start line, from the monster Ultims and Ocean Fifty trimarans to the blistering IMOCAs and hugely competitive Class40s. For every sailor in Le Havre preparing to take on this marathon there will be nerves and trepidation, but the minute the start gun fires that will wash away while the focus sets in.
Scott Shawyer will be hoping to become the first Canadian to finish the Transat Jacques Vabre since Mike Birch, in the first edition in 1993. A fierce competitor and no stranger to adversity, Scott is using this race onboard his Owen Clarke designed IMOCA, Be Water Positive, as a step along the path to the 2028/29 Vendée Globe.
Despite being a relative newcomer to ocean racing, Scott’s co-skipper Nick Moloney is not. Nick has competed in two previous Transat Jacques Vabre, as well as the 2004 Vendée Globe, the America’s Cup and a host of other events. Scott will have a fantastic opportunity to learn more about life at sea on what will be his longest non-stop race to date.
Their boat, Be Water Positive, has had an extensive refit under the management of 5 West over the last year. Designed Owen Clarke for the 2012 Vendée Globe under the colors of Acciona, she is a more traditional, non-foiling IMOCA. This year, Scott has competed in the RORC Transatlantic Race from Lanzarote to Grenada, in the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race in May, as well as the Rolex Fastnet Race in July; Both these events were vitally important to prepare both Scott and the boat for the Transat Jacques Vabre, undoubtedly his hardest challenge in sailing yet.
The top end of the IMOCA fleet is filled to the brim with incredible designs and vastly experienced sailors. Having a look at the fleet on the eve of the race, it will be hard to discount boats like For People, Charal, MACIF Santé Prévoyance and Paprec Arkéa from taking the podium positions. These brand-new designs from three different designers have not only shown their pedigree in the races leading up to the Transat Jacques Vabre, but are stacked with experience. Between the eight sailors, they have a total of thirteen wins in this race. Clearly, the competition will be tight at the head and there will be no time to relax.
As with all ocean races, it’s not always about how fast your boat is; To finish first, first you much finish, as the old adage goes. Reliability is something that the IMOCA fleet has been focussed on for a number of years now and every team will need to work their hardest to make it to that finish line in Fort-de-France.
In May’s Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race, Be Water Positive was in close contact with a little pack of non-foilers in Monnoyeur – Duo For A Job, skippered by Benjamin Ferré and Pierre le Roy, and Fives-Lantana Environnement, skippered by Louis Duc and Halvard Mabire. Scott and Nick would do well to stay with these two in the Transat Jacques Vabre. Monnoyeur-Duo For a Job is a previous Vendée Globe winner, under the colors of MACIF in 2012, and Louis Duc onboard Fives-Lantana Environnement is a veteran of six Transat Jacques Vabre. Between the three boats, there’s a good spread of designers, boat age and experience of skippers – it will be exciting to watch, if not a little nerve-wracking.
Regardless of the competition around, with a fleet of this size, Scott and Nick will not have an easy ride of things. The depth of talent in amongst the boats of a similar generation to Be Water Positive is hard to ignore. Legends of the sport like Mike Golding (Singchain Team Haiku) and Roland Jourdain (Freelance.com), who have more than 15 Transat Jacques Vabre entries between them, are sailing on boats just a little older than Be Water Positive, so there’s a fantastic opportunity for Scott to learn from some big names of the sport.
The Transat Jacques Vabre is can always be relied upon to throw something in the way of the sailors willing to take it on. The competitors will be well aware of the risk of North Atlantic storms sitting in their way as they attempt to head south towards warmer climes. This year looks no different, with a low pressure system making its way eastwards, likely to impact the weather at the start.
Looking at the forecast today, the sailors could be looking at over 30 knots of wind and rough seas come the gun. As well as the bad weather, the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre is particularly challenging thanks to Le Havre’s location in the English Channel. Not only will the intrepid sailors have to deal with high winds and lumpy seas, but they will need to be on high alert for other competitors and commercial traffic transiting the busiest shipping channel in the world. Not an easy task by any means.