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Apr 20, 2004

The Transat ag2r Lorient-St Barts Sets Sail

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transatThe Transat ag2r is a transatlantic sailing race that starts in Lorient in Brittany, France, and arrives in St Barts with one stop on the island of Madeira (cancelled this year due to a late start). This race, in which all the boats are identical 33’ Figaro Beneteau single-hull sailboats designed by architect Marc Lombard, takes place every other year with two sailors per boat. Each with the same fittings, the same sails, and same safety equipment, the boats are outfitted in the same manner. The one big variable is the weather and the role it plays in choosing the best itinerary during the race. A little bit of luck also plays an important role here as well.

Thirty-one boats were on the starting line for 7th edition of the Transat which was due to set sail on Saturday, April 17 at 3:00pm (French time). Due to bad weather conditions in the Bay of Biscay, the race committee decided to delay the start until Wednesday, April 21. The sailors were in favor of this decision, as they were not looking forward to facing winds averaging 50 knots and swells of 18 to 24 feet. The sailors, not to mention the boats, would have had a hard time navigating for several days with such strong winds.

1105 miles separate Lorient from Madeira and the boats usually take about a week to reach the port of Funchal. During the last edition of the race, the boats left Madeira together to continue the journey toward St Barts; setting sail 72 hours after the first boat has arrived in the bay of the Portuguese island. In order to make up the days lost with the late start of this year’s race, the Fiagros did not stop in Madeira, but simply went around a buoy in front of the island where they were timed, and continued onward. This marks the first time that these particular boats will have crossed the Atlantic in one fell swoop. Radio Saint Barth’s special Transat correspondent was in Lorient to report on the start of the race and a series of interviews and race reports were heard on the airwaves in the Northern Islands, where the progress of the race is closely followed.

Sailors from St Barts took part in the last two editions of the race. In 2000, the duos of Guillaume Barraud/Christopher Jonsson and Markku Harmala/Richard Lédée represented the island. The latter team also participated in the race in 2002 along with tandem Luc Poupon/Jeff Lédée. This year, there are not any boats from St Barts in the race (sad to say) but there are big names from the French sailing world such as Florence Arthaud who is sailing with Lionel Péan, or Marc Thiercelin and Eric Drouglazet. Among the favorites this year, one can also list competitive young sailors such as Armel Le Cléach and Nicolas Troussel, Erwan Tabarly (Eric Tabarly’s nephew) and Jean-Luc Nélias, Pascal Bidegorry and Sidney Gavignet , as well as Jérémie Beyou and Kito de Pavant. Among the oldest and most experienced of the sailors Gildas Morvan and Dominic Vittet, Bruno Jourdren and Jean Christophe Mourniac, and also Bertrand de Broc and Rodolphe Jacq (Jacq won the 2002 edition of the race, sailing with Hervé Laurent. Their winning time was 22 days, 13 hours, six minutes and 55 seconds) and they are also among the hot picks this year. Among the 31 pairs of sailors, only one is 100% feminine: the duet of Jeanne Grégoire and Samantha Davies, and Englishwoman who has sailed with Ellen Mac Arthur. All of the sailors in the race, hope to put the Figaros to the test and break all time records and cross the finish line first in Saint Barth. The competition will be tough!

During each edition of the Transat, the school children in St Barts follow the progress of the boats as they cross the Atlantic. Each class has its own boat, with the names pulled out of a hat on April 14 at the municipal library. First deputy mayor Yves Gréaux, and Marielle Gréaux of the Municipal Tourist Office were on hand as the kids selected the little pieces of paper with the names of the boats. This year, the school Sainte Marie in Colombier decided not to participate as the students have a full plate already and are busy with other projects. Each class from the nursery school in Gustavia and Lorient will have one boat while the older students have two boats per class. The sailors are expected to start arriving in the Port of Gustavia around May 10.

Cécile Lucot


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