29 October 2023

The most challenging Transat Jacques Vabre of all time started at 1:41 pm on Sunday, October 29. The Class40 IBSA crosses the starting line upwind, with a 2-metre wave and south-westerly wind with gusts of 40 knots; but this is only a sample of what Alberto Bona and Pablo Santurde del Arco will find already in the English Channel and immediately afterwards, heading towards Lorient. It will be a short but intense stage, around 300-mile long, in this disrupted Transat Jacques Vabre in which – following this morning’s decision – the Ultims sailed off along the planned route to Martinique, while the Class40s and the Ocean Fiftys will reach the first safe port in Brittany and then will stop. The IMOCAs, on the other hand, stayed in port in Le Havre for the moment, because no port along the route would have had space to welcome and protect them during the storm which is coming in the next few days.

The start sees the Class40 IBSA in the windward group, fourth at the offshore mark, located in front of the Le Hève lighthouse, where hundreds of people braved the gusts to see the boats pass the clearance buoy. Above the cliff that protects the beach of Le Havre, mounted policemen check that people do not lean over the rock while watching the boats from the stands of a natural stadium lashed by gusts. All eyes to the sea to see, just below the coast, only the Class40 fighting upwind: for the other classes, the Ultims and the Ocean Fiftys, no close hauling, and a straight start towards the Bay of Biscay. Alberto Bona – reduced mainsail and smaller jib – starts well, in the windward group; he hauls up as much as possible to stay high on the mark and avoid getting too close to land. He turns the clearance buoy in fourth position, changes tack and begins his race towards Lorient, still in the leading group.

But let’s go back to dawn on Sunday. At 7:30 am all the crews are lined up along the quay. At 8:00 am the organisation announces yet another change, dictated by the “unnavigable storm” which will hit France and England from Tuesday. The IMOCAs will remain on land until further notice, and Giancarlo Pedote takes the opportunity to go and say goodbye to all the Italians of the Class40s, a gesture that further testifies to the solidarity and respect among this Italian wave in ocean sailing.

The Class40s takes the place of the IMOCAs in the long procedure to leave the port. The Class40 IBSA departs from the dock at 9:01 am. Hugs and kisses, the mooring lines remain on land, they sail out of the basin in the rain. The soundtrack is applause, with everyone cheering everyone, because here not the individual sailors are celebrated, but the courage to go to sea, the spirit of adventure, the challenge. There is a bagpipe sound in the background, which inevitably marks the important moments of ocean regattas.

Then the second lock opens, and it’s open sea; as it happens in Normandy almost every day, the rain turns into sun and the wind increases, swelling the waves. It’s time to leave the protection of the last dam. Now it will get serious, the most important and toughest regatta of the season has begun. The first stage is short, but running fast is now imperative for Alberto and Pablo, both to keep the time as low as possible and to avoid finding themselves in Biscay with the front arriving.

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