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The Macif trimaran crew talks about what they have been through

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Brest Atlantiques – MACIF trimaran is back in the race
Brest Atlantiques – MACIF trimaran is back in the race

On Tuesday, François Gabart, Gwénolé Gahinet and Jérémie Eloy were making headway at nearly 30 knots on a course leading to the Cape, the southernmost headland on the African continent, where the Brest Atlantiques’ second course marker is located. During a radio session, the MACIF trimaran’s skipper talked about what the trio had been through since Rio, sailing close-hauled in a very rough sea for three days and the state of the boat after 16 days at sea – roughly half way – and the real significance of the 140 miles that separates the MACIF trimaran from the leader, the maxi Edmond-de-Rothschild. So here is the transcript.

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François how is the MACIF trimaran crew this Tuesday?

François Gabart: “Not bad! We had a fairly quick transition day yesterday and we returned to heavy swell and speeds nearing 30 knots, i.e. 60 km/h.

You must be feeling the cold, mustn’t you?

F. G.: “I have my all-weather gear on and my boots and hats are within reach. We’ve just gybed on the edge of the ice, 46 degrees South. We’re not far from the most southernmost point of the Brest Atlantiques, the coldest region on the course. As of tomorrow evening, we will start feeling a little warmer as we get closer to the Cape.”

The battle with the Edmond-de-Rothschild maxi, Sodebo and Actual Leader is quite something!

F. G.: “Gitana is running very fast, at great speeds, but we’re not far off. We’re hanging on to try and catch up with them. In the last 24 hours, the weather has been in our favour. We gained a few miles yesterday and we lost a little during the night. Midway, we’ve a gap of just over 100 miles between us and Gitana, and there’s still a long way to go: 7,000 miles. Sodebo has a problem, but Actual Leader is close, roughly 200 miles away, which is something to be reckoned with. The four boats are experiencing something quite unusual. They are at very close quarters after fifteen days of racing. It is a pleasant surprise to see us all battling it out at this stage of the race.”

Half way there, do you think you are close to settling on a route plan for the next part of the course?

F. G.: “We’re a little late in relation to the weather statistics we worked on earlier. On my record single-handed round the world (the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry trophy), after 16 days of racing, I was vertically below Madagascar. In our predictions, we should already have been arriving at the Cape. The weather was fairly favourable up until the Doldrums, but then the weather made things difficult as we approached the Brazil coast. And, since Rio, on a section that should have gone fairly quickly, we ended up sailing close-hauled in a sea that was not conducive to good speeds. We found ourselves just ahead of the low, as expected, but with a very eastern wind and a very rough head on sea. What will our estimated time of arrival be in Brest? It’s still too early to say, but it’ll be early December.”

Since you left Rio, you have experienced some really rough conditions. Do you remember ever having seeing that before?

F. G.: “Naturally, I’ve experienced some difficult times in the past. What makes what we’ve just been through different, is that it lasted for three days, without any real change. That said, a sailor’s memory is selective and you quickly forget tough times. Thank goodness for that, as you’d never set sail again (laughs).”

You must be relieved to have this complicated bit behind you!

F. G.: “You hang on in there. There’s not much manoeuvring to do, but it’s still very tiring. It’s difficult to rest, sleep, eat, and move around the boat. I’m just glad no one hurt themselves, despite the times we flew across the boat. That’s the main thing. The boat required quite a lot of time-consuming small jobs, which we began when the conditions improved. As for the boat, she’s not in the same condition she was in when we left, particularly with the rudder change, but the crew is in great form, even if we are lacking a little sleep.”

With the benefit of hindsight, was your stop over for 19 hours in Rio really necessary?

F. G.: “Without the rudder, the boat was only working well 90% of the time, which means that we were unable to control her for 10% of the time. It would have been very difficult, particularly in the no-sail area due to ice. We wouldn’t have taken that risk. When you sail alongside icebergs, as we are doing now, it wouldn’t be reasonable to sail without a rudder, even if it is always difficult to accept losing time. The team worked really well. It was a tough call and we succeeded in getting back to sea in good conditions. I have no regrets.”

Did it have an effect on your pace?

F. G.: “It’s always strange to stop on a pontoon when you’re racing, but it did mean we were able to sleep and recharge our batteries. We had no difficulty getting back into the race immediately afterwards. We didn’t cut corners on this stopover. The watchword was: “No rushing”. The weather situation meant that by leaving a little later we were not that disadvantaged, due to a ridge, which acted like a barrier ahead of Gitana. If we had left 24 hours earlier from Rio, we would have been a hundred miles better off, but we would not have gained 12 or 14 hours on Gitana. Despite damage to the four boats, we are at close quarters, particularly as it’s really rough ahead.”

When do you think you’ll get to the Cape?

F. G.: “We’re going to round Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 17 years, on Wednesday night, maybe in the early hours of Thursday morning. It could be daylight at 04:00 UT, at the Cape. If we could see Table Mountain, it would be more enjoyable and not quite as dangerous. In the meantime, we will have an area of flat calm to cross tomorrow evening. We will then sail up the Atlantic along the African coast, running past Namibia, an area I have never sailed in before. The goal will be to sail wide of the St Helena high, which we will run round by the south. We will sail fast, even though the conditions won’t be perfect. The trade wind isn’t very strong and the high is split into several areas. Then, it’ll be back to the Doldrums, where you always need a little luck.”

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