Transat Jacques Vabre: Start of the race could be put back because of treacherous weather


Stuart Alexander
Friday 01 November 2013 19:02 GMT
Sam Goodchild (top) will mirror co-skipper Ned Collier Wakefield’s ambitions to hit the front of the Class 40 division in the Transat Jacques Vabre from Le Havre to Itajai, Brazil.
Sam Goodchild (top) will mirror co-skipper Ned Collier Wakefield’s ambitions to hit the front of the Class 40 division in the Transat Jacques Vabre from Le Havre to Itajai, Brazil.

Weather which has blown the first leg of the Mini-Transat to bits, kept Thomas Coville pinned in Brest waiting to start a round the world record, but released Yann Guichard and Dona Bertarelli’s 131-foot trimaran on its Route of Discovery record attempt, on Friday threw uncertainty into the start on Sunday of the double-handed Transat Jacques Vabre (TJV) race from Le Havre to Itajai, Brazil.

The organisers and race director Silvie Viant were due to brief all the skippers on Friday morning but instead imposed a 24-hour delay on their decision to start. Both the French and British met services agree on a forecast of a major blow on Sunday night. The Americans think there is a 30 per cent. chance of it having blown through.

Which all conspires to produce exactly the conditions which competitors hate most; uncertainty when they are raring to go and mentally preparing themselves for the competition at hand.

So, no extra pressure then for one of the leading British teams? They were leading last time when they had to pull out, something that has left a long-term scar. They have a brand new boat which is supposed have a distinct performance edge. They are the young turks in the heart of the French bastion of the Bassin Paul Vatine in Le Havre waiting to start the 20 TJV.

Former America’s Cup king Dennis Conner titled his book “No excuse to lose” – but that really would be a pressure step too far for the British duo of Ned Collier Wakefield and Sam Goodchild.

It is time for the new generation of British ocean racers, including the singlehanders, to take centre stage and there are just a few stages which count. The Vendée Globe is the singlehander pinnacle, the new-look Volvo, where a Chinese team becomes the third confirmed entry, tops the pros’ list of crewed round the world races, the other big transatlantic is the Route du Rhum and the America’s Cup is in its own stratosphere.

Goodchild has graduated from Artemis (Scottish investment house) school of shorthanded sailing, including a crack at that curriculum vitae must of the Figaro Solitaire.

Collier Wakefield is a graduate of the architecture school at Oxford Brookes University and had both the good fortune and good sense to go and work for Tony Lawson, a keen backer of yacht racing, particularly the Class 40, 26 of which line up for the TJV, one of which is his.

But the experience of 2011 has tempered any possible youthful bombast of Collier Wakefield, 25, and Goodchild, 23. “We need to be meticulous about checking a new boat which was delivered a bit late” and “we don’t want to push the boat too hard in the early, possible difficult, conditions” add a cautious note to the thought that “then we can put the hammer down.”

The longest they have had working up the Jason Ker-designed boat is 36 hours. “We are as prepared as we can be; it is the testing on which we are short,” says Goodchild, sort of from Falmouth, sort of in nomad mode. But the Battersea-based Collier Wakefield is reassured by the huge amount of support they have had from not just suppliers and builders but fellow competitors, what he calls “a great blanket around us.”

So, both are determined not to push too hard and to keep something in reserve for what is expected to be a very tricky final 1,000 miles. They need to keep in touch at the beginning and not be caught in a trap in the Doldrums along the way. Caution or no caution, boy do they want to win.

As does the Anglo-American pairing of Hannah Jenner and Rob Windsor. They both spend an unconscionable number of relationship-wrecking days a year, Jenner from her partner in Hamble, England, Windsor from his in Long Island, plying their trade as sailing professionals.

They met doing separate campaigns in the TJV in 2011, again in the Atlantic Cup earlier this year, and then found the opportunity, with the 11 Hour Racing Foundation, which promotes eco-friendly practices and energy conservation, to put their 2013 TJV campaign together.

For them, this is not a business and it took several times around the houses talking about being passionate about sailing and the oceans for them finally to admit that, yes, they were as competitive as hell and really, really wanted to win. They just didn’t want to tempt fate by saying so.

No romance, no coyness, no gender battle, just good buddies with a bundle of experience. “It’s an awesome challenge,” says Jenner, who has also skippered an amateur-crewed Clipper Race challenge yacht. Like Collier Wakefield and Goodchild’s dose of reality pills, it is just the sort of pairing that could achieve success by being journeymen sailors, rather than superstar wannabes.

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