When MACIF finished first in Match of the Giants, as the first Ultime to finish the Transat Jacques Vabre two handed Transatlantic race from Le Havre to Itajaí, Brasil, co-skipper Gabart completed ocean racing’s Triple Crown, adding the Transat Jacques Vabre title to Route du Rhum and Vendée Globe wins. He becomes only the second sailor after Michel Desjoyeaux to collect all three titles.

MACIF, the brand new 100 foot (30m) VPLP designed trimaran sailed by French co-skippers François Gabart and Pascal Bidégorry won the Transat Jacques Vabre’s ‘Match of the Giants’ early this Saturday morning. They crossed the finish line of the biennial coffee route race from Le Havre to Brazil in the dark of the Itajaí night at 05:59hrs and 27 seconds UTC (00:59hrs 27local) to complete the 5400Nms course in 12d 17h 29m 27s. When they took their winning gun their nearest rivals, Thomas Coville and Jean-Luc Nélias on Sodebo Ultim’ were 88 miles in their wake, going on to finish runners up seven hours and 18 minutes later at 13:17 hours and 38 seconds (08:17hrs local). MACIF miss out on the course record of 11 days five hours, set by Seb Josse and Charles Caudrelier on the Multi 70 in 2013 by one day 12 hours, largely accounted for by a much slower Doldrums passage.

As the Transat Jacques Vabre welcomed the Ultime class – the giant multihulls – for the first time only two of the four starters finished. But the match between MACIF and Sodebo Ultim has been engaging and exciting throughout. Many observers had painted MACIF as the underdog, simply because this was the first ever race for Gabart’s new boat which took two years from design sign off to its launching only two months ago. Sodebo Ultim’ ranked as a narrow favourite on account of the fact she is slightly longer, wider, heavier and more powerful than the pristine MACIF and Gabart and Bidégorry had pledged their primary objective was to learn the new boat and not break it. Although Coville had to retire from last year’s Route du Rhum after hitting a ship on the first night, he has sailed many more miles on his boat (the massively updated ex-Geronimo) including two Atlantic crossings this year.

Victory for Gabart means he becomes only the second sailor to win all three of France’s ‘triple crown’ of classic short handed and solo ocean races – the Vendée Globe solo non stop around the world, the Route du Rhum solo Transatlantic and the Transat Jacques Vabre two handed Transatlantic.

Gabart won the Vendée Globe in January 2013 at his first attempt at the age of 29, then 51 weeks ago won the IMOCA class to Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe in the Route du Rhum. This is his third Transat Jacques Vabre race, his first victory after finishing second in 2009 which was his ocean racing debut when he sailed as co-skipper on Groupe Bel with Kito de Pavant.

In 2013 Gabart and Desjoyeaux had to retire when their mast broke off Salvador de Bahia, Brazil when they lead the last edition of this race. Desjoyeaux won the 2007 Transat Jacques Vabre, the Route du Rhum in 2002 and two Vendée Globes, 2000-2001 and 2008-2009.

Gabart’s very shrewd choice of co-skipper is a fundamental component of MACIF’s win. Bidégorry is undoubtedly one of France’s very top navigators as well as a fabulously talented, extremely tough and driven allround sailor, a great technician and very successful skipper in his own right. Basque born Bidégorry came late to competitive sailing but has won in everything from D35 lake catamarans, through the Solitaire du Figaro, to MOD70 tris across the Atlantic and round Europe, skipper the giant Banque Populaire tri to hold the North Atlantic record and the all out 24hrs distance record at 908 miles. He joined Gabart straight from the Volvo Ocean Race where he was navigator on DongFeng the Chinese-French entry which lead the race after the first three legs. This was Bidégorry’s 34th Transatlantic race or record run. He finished second in the IMOCA class in the last edition and won the ORMA 60 footers fleet in 2002 on Banque Populaire with Lionel Lemonchois.

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Kings in the land of the giants – 2015 Transat Jacques Vabre

Sodebo Ultim’ lead out of the Channel and across the Bay of Biscay, both tris outrunning the worst of the weather. MACIF were never more than 70 miles behind Coville and Nélias. Defining moves, according to Bidégorry this morning, were when they gybed inside the more westerly line taken by Sodebo, just as they lined up to pass west of the Cape Verde islands. MACIF lead briefly here but stayed close to take the match of the giants into the Doldrums. Gabart and the wily Bidégorry took a nice wind shift on their exit from the Doldrums, keeping them further east of Sodebo. From there, in the SE’ly trades MACIF were quicker, extending first into the strengthening, lifting breeze while their single foil, set for port tack, gave them a noted speed edge on Sodebo Ultim. As they raced down the Brazilian coast MACIF was 258 miles ahead. But a the stormy low off Cabo Frio, just east of Rio, proved a final hurdle to slow them allowing Sodebo to catch miles. And when Gabart and Bidégorry sealed the maiden race triumph for MACIF this morning, their rivals were just 88 miles behind.

Winning the first ever race for the new VPLP design is a certain endorsement that Gabart’s five years programme has started on the best possible footing. Still in early development stages of their foil package, MACIF raced with only one foil, set for port tack. The boat is slightly shorter than Sodebo Ultim’ but 1.5 tonnes lighter and slightly narrower and is evolved for solo records and racing with a smaller, more compact pod on the main hull. Gabart’s record programme is billed to start out next year with the Route of Discovery – east to west between Cadiz and the Bahamas – the Atlantic and the Mediterranean before going on to a solo round the world record challenge in 2017.

There is no change at the head of the IMOCA class where leaders Vincent Riou and Seb Col are on course to retain the IMOCA class title Riou won on the last edition with Jean Le Cam. His PRB is 31.7Nms ahead as they approach the latitude of Salvador de Bahia with 1269 miles to go. The first IMOCA should finish on 11th November.

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Kings in the land of the giants – 2015 Transat Jacques Vabre

Fromt the boats:

Pascal Bidégorry, co-skipper MACIF: “Pascal Bidegorry: ‘I have one memory, when we were passing Guernsery and we took a big hit on a 125 deg reach and the boat hit 40kts. Another image is when we gybed inside our rivals on Sodebo just at the Cape Verdes. That was our defining moment of the race. Before that we had sailed really well and that was without the foil. We had found the right setting, we took our opportunities. And then there was our windshift on our more easterly exit of the Doldrums. It was bliss. We were reaching at 30kts. With this stuff at the end they were not so far away. It was complicated for us. We have had to fight and work a bit these last 24hours. At 0.8 of a mile from the finish our gennaker dropped to the deck. Boom! However we have a bit of success right now. The boat is born, it is proven, it is good, a super boat. ‘

Any problems?
François Gabart:
“We did not capsize. But in fact not too many technical problems. It was exceptional for a new boat like this. We had very little problems. And I have to thank our team for that, they worked for two years from the conception of the boat and it only went in the water two months ago, to be able to start, to race the course and to win. So Bravo to the team. We are only finishing that work. The biggest problems have been in the last couple of days in the area at the back of the boat, a little problem with the rudder, and a little bit of electronics with the pilot.”

After winning the Vendée Globe and the Route du Rhum at his first attempt, how does Gabart rank this win?
François Gabart: “It is the next thing, I don’t really rank them, it is down to the history and chronology. It is a chain of events and this is the next thing. But ten years after Pascal’s win and my first Jacques Vabre was in 2009 with Kito de Pavant, it was no a win but nearly was, so it is the next thing. Two years ago with Michel (Desjoyeaux) the mast broke at the latitude of Salvador de Bahia, it is never easy”

Thomas Coville, skipper of Sodebo Ultim: ‘It is not a disappointment. We are pleased to have a fight to the end. We pushed on the first night and the last. Last night we pushed just for us, for the pleasure of pushing the boat hard. It was a beautiful race, great to share and njoy it with two. It is magic to sail two up on these two boats. In fact, last night, I realized how privileged we are to sail on a boat like Sodebo. Thank you to Sodebo for this Ultime adventure , it was daring. I also had the privilege to sail alongside a man like Jean-Luc Nélias, thank you to Jean-Luc.

Jean-Luc Nélias, co-skipper of Sodebo Ultim: ‘It was played out on the tactical-strategy level at that gybe at Cape Verde. Macif were later in gybing than us and we were outside to the west. That gave them a position at the entrance of the doldrums in a slightly lateral position. We thought our position was the best. But eventually it is they who came out best. This is often the case in the Doldrums. You make your play and we are never sure what will work. He came out first from the Doldrums, got the strongest wind and in a mulithull that is massive. The initial differences are very important and multiply quickly.”

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