Two boats achieved stunning victories in the latest edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre, establishing leads before the halfway mark that they extended to the finish: the 30-metre Ultim trimaran Maxi Edmond de Rothschild and the IMOCA 60 LinkedOut. LinkedOut eventually finished a full 20 hours ahead of their nearest rivals (by comparison, in the Vendée Globe, the leaders finished within a single evening).
Both were remarkable wins in the famous doublehanded transatlantic race, in which many of the biggest stars of offshore racing were competing, including Charles Caudrelier, Amel le Cleac’h, Yannick Bestaven, Thomas Colville, Kevin Escoffier and Brian Thompson.
LinkedOut’s success, and that of co-skippers Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière, came as a surprise to some, as the 2019 foiling design had not appeared to reach her likely potential in previous races. Yet she held a lead of almost 200 miles at the finish in Martinique.
So what factors lay behind their success? The starting point was a change of mode to better suit two-handed racing after the 2020 solo Vendée Globe, in which Ruyant finished less than 12 hours behind winner Bestaven.
The 2021 season had presented a new opportunity and challenge for the IMOCA class in the form of The Ocean Race Europe, though few teams took up the gauntlet. Speaking in Le Havre before the start of the TJV, Ruyant hinted this had been an important element in his boat’s preparation, even though LinkedOut finished 3rd out of the five entries. “The pre-season crewed races have given us tremendous progress in the micro details of the definitive understanding of our boat,” he noted.
LinkedOut team manager Marcus Hutchinson confirmed that the crewed event was a key part of their boat development. “This was a great opportunity for us,” Hutchinson told me after the TJV finish, explaining that the boat-on-boat speed comparisons most racing sailors are accustomed to, whether competing in one-design or IRC fleets, are next to impossible for solo and doublehanded IMOCA sailors to achieve. They simply have too many other priorities to juggle and, in any case, on a long race, the lateral separation of the boats quickly becomes too big to make meaningful comparisons.
However, short two- or three-day legs with a team of four, on a race with little opportunity for the fleet to rapidly spread out, are a different matter. “Having other boats around gives reference points against which to measure your performance and try different settings – that’s rare in IMOCA racing,” Hutchinson added.
One of the most important outcomes was a big jump in downwind VMG speeds, especially in light and medium winds. This would prove decisive on the final stage of the TJV from the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha to the finish in Martinique.
Before the start Ruyant had been clear that he expected LinkedOut to have an advantage on this leg: “We expect downwind VMG conditions – the boat’s favourite point of sail.” But no one outside their team could have predicted the performance Ruyant and Lagravière would notch up at that stage. LinkedOut wasn’t simply a bit quicker – she completed the last 2,000 miles an astonishing 12.5% faster than near-sistership Apivia, despite the latter having only been an hour behind at the turning mark off Brazil.
Managing your own reserves as well as the resources onboard proved important, as the race was longer than many anticipated
Credit Mutuel was a favorite in the Class 40 fleet, but a collision with an unidentified floating object scuppered her chances
Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière aboard LinkedOut chasing Apivia for the lead on day three
The process of refining the performance of a new IMOCA is not straightforward. For instance, LinkedOut was fitted with third-generation foils after The Ocean Race Europe to replace the set damaged during the Vendée Globe. The water ballast system was also tweaked before the TJV.
“The boats are all in a constant state of evolution,” says Hutchinson, “but every change means the whole process has to start again.” Given the boats generate gigabytes of data, this is a huge undertaking – the team has two engineers focussed full-time on data analysis.
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