Breakages shake up 10-day countdown to start of Route du Café

The countdown to the start of the 14th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre – the world’s longest and toughest two-handed transatlantic sailing race – officially started on Friday with all bar one of the 60 boats entered having moored safely in the Bassin Paul Vatine by the 2pm deadline. The 10-day of festivities and nerve-shredding last-minute preparations can begin.

A race which tests boat and crew to the limits has already had a foretaste of what might be to come when it starts on Sunday, October 27 at 13:15. Only the Class40 Banque Du Léman is missing from the pontoons in Le Havre after damaging a bulkhead. Race management have allowed them to divert to La Trinité-sur-Mer, where the boat was built. They should arrive in two days. But all the skippers experienced what autumn can deliver here with its famously stormy starts.

Already a favourite in the IMOCA60 class, Arkea – Paprec (Sébastien Simon / Vincent Riou), one of the six brand new flying foilers, has suffered a blow to its chances of victory after breaking the port foil last night near Le Havre. Despite the damage the skippers and technical team are in no doubt that they will be on the start line.

For Britain’s Miranda Merron (Campagne de France) moving back up to the IMOCA60 class from the Class40, with her partner on land and sea, Halvard Mabire, it was good to arrive in one piece. “Le Havre and the TJV hold great memories for me because it’s where I discovered the wonderful world of offshore racing with Emma Richards 20 years ago,” Merron said. “We got here at two in the morning from Cherbourg yesterday, it’s not far but you never know in these boats. It’s been quite stressful but we had a lovely free flow through the lock into the pontoon and it’s great to be here.”

The challenges for the 120 skippers and 60 boats spread over the three classes (3 Multi50, 30 IMOCA60, 27 Class40) are many and varied. Old hand, Kito de Pavant has seen it all before, but even he has had his nerves tested with co-skipper Achille Nebout.

His Class40, Made in Midi, suffered a broken mast during its stability test at the end of September. He rented Jean Galfione’s boat at the last minute and then broke the boomsprit in delivery – so, his countdown will be among the most pressurised.

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