For Damian Foxall and Sidney Gavignet, the 5,450-mile journey across the Atlantic is a lonely one

Ahead of the beginning of the Transat Jacques Vabre, Foxall and Gavignet tell Stuart Alexander about the dangers of 70-foot trimaran they will embark their quest for victory on

Stuart Alexander
Wednesday 30 October 2013 16:47 GMT
Comments
The Transat Jacques Vabre route from Le Havre to Itajai, Brazil
The Transat Jacques Vabre route from Le Havre to Itajai, Brazil (www.transat-jacques-vabre.com)

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

There are no rescue boats in the middle of the Atlantic. There may be a passing ship, though the majority are quite well north, and there may be a fellow competitor. But Irishman Damian Foxall and his co-skipper Sidney Gavignet will have to rely on themselves and each other as they tackle the 5,450 miles from Le Havre to Itajai, Brazil.

They are racing a 70-foot trimaran in the bi-ennial Transat Jacques Vabre (TJV) carrying the colours of Oman Air and they have seen two sister boats capsize spectacularly this year, on both occasions with a crewman badly injured.

There is also no ambulance service mid-Atlantic, no A&E standing by to mend broken bones and bodies. “We know why those two capsizes occurred and we have developed some techniques to avoid it happening to us,” said Foxall tucking into his favourite sushi on the dockside of the Bassin Paul Vatine.

“I have capsized once in a 60-foot trimaran, so stepping on to our 70-footer in January this year had an element of having to get back on the horse, but seeing what has happened has had an effect. You can’t sail these things in a gung-ho sort of way. We had better be careful.”

In some extended training sessions, including a qualifier around the Fastnet Rock, the confidence in each other and the chemistry between them has developed.

“We know each other very well,” says Foxall, who won with another Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Dick, the Barcelona doublehanded non-stop round the world race. Dick’s 70-foot tri was one of the two to capsize, breaking the mast in three, cracking vertebrae in Dick’s back and knocking him and Roland Jourdain out of the TJV.

The other to flip was Spindrift 1 when racing in Dublin as part of the Route des Princes. Skipper Yann Guichard’s brother Jacques broke his pelvis in five places and is just about recovered over four months later, Yann, co-skippering with Dona Bertarelli, was on the start line off Cadiz on Wednesday in the 131-foot trimaran Spindrift 2 for an attempt to break the Route of Discovery record to San Salvador.

“We have had to recalibrate the way we think,” says Foxall, now based in Quebec with wife, son and daughter. We cannot push ourselves and the boat to the limit and beyond, we don’t want to feel we have to go into the red to perform. But we know we have the tools to do the job ahead.”

There is a rich vein of irony when he says: “We are in the match racing class.” Other classes starting ahead of him include 26 40-footers, 10 Open 60 monohulls and six 50-foot multihulls. It is a reference to their being just two MOD70s left, the Omani Musandam and Gitana XV.

Irishman Damian Foxall, who has a number of circumnavigations under his belt, partners Sidney Gavignet on the 70-foot Oman Air-Musandam for the Transat Jacques Vabre from Le Havre to Itajai, Brazil.
Irishman Damian Foxall, who has a number of circumnavigations under his belt, partners Sidney Gavignet on the 70-foot Oman Air-Musandam for the Transat Jacques Vabre from Le Havre to Itajai, Brazil. (LLOYD IMAGES)

Seamanship is important to complete the course, strategy, helped by weather router Jean-François Cuzon, is ever-present, and tactics, trying always to outwit the Gitana pairing of Sébastien Joss and Charles Caudrelier, can sometimes override strategy. They all know each other well, none expects any wild gambles.

The language on board the Omani boat is a mixture of French and English, the approach to sailing it is fully integrated, which leaves the most subtle of differences when it comes to the treat they both allow themselves on what should be a 14-day race. Gavignet takes a plentiful supply of chestnut purée; for Foxall it is Nutella. Same spoon, though.

Just 24 hours into the Mini-Transat race from Douarnanez to Pointe-à-Pitre, and after the start was delayed for 15 days, the 84 competitors have been ordered off the leg one track to Lanzarote to seek shelter from more bad weather in Sada, near the north-east Spanish port of La Coruña.

Thomas Coville remains on standby in Brest, waiting to start his attempt to break the singlehanded non-stop round the world record held by Francis Joyon.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in