Alex Pella, the world-record breaking sailor, said today (Wednesday) that the Transat Jacques Vabre 2017 will mark the emergence of a new future for multihulls.
With all eyes on just how fast the latest 30-metre Ultime to launch is – Maxi Edmond de Rothschild will be making its debut in Le Havre, Normandy on the start line on Sunday – Pella, co-skipper of the Multi 50 Arkema, believes the class will shine in this 13th edition of the “Route du Café”.
“When we arrived last Friday and I saw the fleet, I said ‘wow’ because for me it’s the first time that there’s such a fleet in this class,” Pella said. “Normally, when I’ve been here in another class, I’ve seen only two or three good boats. But now I think this race can change the future of the class. Now, the future of the multihulls is the Ultime class and Multi 50 because there’s a really big difference between them.”
Pella knows a thing or two about multihulls – he was part of the incredible team on IDEC 3 that smashed the Jules Verne round-the-world record in January. He is not campaigning for the class either – this is his first race in a Multi 50 and he was a last minute replacement in August after Karine Fauconnier was injured in training. It is more the view of an experienced sailor – Pella, from Barcelona, turns 45 on Thursday – who can cast an eye across all four classes and 38 boats here. Another crowning glory was becoming the first Spaniard to win a transoceanic single-handed race when he won the Route du Rhum Class40 in 2014.
His co-skipper, the equally experienced, Lalou Roucayrol agreed. “There has been a big change within the Multi 50 class,” he said. “We wanted to get professional and the class introduced not just foils but rules on materials that mean all the boats have to be modern and competitive now.”
There are six Multi 50s here, five competitive and four with foils all vying for victory. At just over 15 metres – half the length of Ultime – have a budget that is more accessible to those starting out in multihulls. Roucayrol revealed that Arkema spent €1.5 million to build the boat he launched in 2013, and spend €800,000 a year on the campaign, of which €200,000 has gone on their Mini 6.50 boat this year. The Ultime is a big step up, with budgets around six times that.
But those extra Euros may be felt in the first few days of racing, which are already promising to typically bracing North Atlantic weather in November. The weather and routing chatter on the pontoons began in earnest yesterday and 35-40 knots was being predicted after the start on Sunday.
“I think we’re going to have to cross a big front there’s going to be potentially 35-40 knots downwind the other side of that,” Britain’s Phil Sharp (Imerys, Class40) said. “That’s what when we get really offshore west of Ireland – and it looks like we’re going to have to head west to look for this northerly wind, to avoid headwinds. When we hit that we can escape south – and we’ll be escaping very fast. We can surf at up to 25 knots and that’s fast enough when you’re on a boat like this.”
Pella at first affected to say that such pontoon chatter is “pollution” – “I haven’t been looking at the forecast all the time,” he said. “There are two people on the team checking. We haven’t done a real briefing. The other thing is that in these kind of races, North Atlantic (strong wind) starts are as usual, as these sounds of the pontoon, for me it’s pollution, people are nervous. This is the race where you have the Channel, the point of Brittany, the front, traffic and cold.” But he did concede that the Multi 50 are more vulnerable in these conditions, even with the foils – “by comparison IDEC 3 it passes over the waves very well,” he said.
Later he admitted that it might be better for them to push out of the starting blocks to get ahead of the front. “To win the race, you have to finish the race and to break things at the start is stupid,” he said. “But if you see the forecast it looks like it’s better to be in the top positions at the beginning because the front is coming from behind. You can makes plans, but you have to take the decision when you’re there.” It is hard to keep a sailor from his routing.