“ I think it is fair to say that The Transat bakerly returned in style. We saw some incredible mileages by the biggest boats in the fleet but behind them the race was as tough as ever and every skipper who attempted what remains one of the great challenges in solo sailing deserves huge credit.”
As The Transat bakerly 2016 came to an end today – with the last finisher crossing the line off New York - the race owner and organiser, OC Sport Pen Duick, confirmed that it will be in the calendar for 2020, following on from the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe in 2018.
Hervé Favre, the Event Director of The Transat bakerly, said the two races - both of which are owned and organised by OC Sport Pen Duick - are now offered as an alternating and complementary pair of classics for professional solo single-handers. Both races will continue to feature the same classes as in The Transat bakerly - namely Ultimes, IIMOCA 60s, Multi50s and Class40s.
“The idea to re-launch The Transat bakerly this year was for us to have a classic solo race on offer every two years and we hope that this race will in future attract as many entries as the Route du Rhum,” said Favre. “We hope that having the two races now firmly established on the racing calendar will help sailors and their sponsors to plan their campaigns around them.”
Reflecting on The Transat bakerly 2016, Favre said the first staging of the event in eight years had been a big success with 25 yachts on the startline and the Ultime class – led by Francois Gabart on Macif - making its debut in the race in spectacular fashion.
“I think it is fair to say that The Transat bakerly returned in style,” said Favre. “We saw some incredible mileages by the biggest boats in the fleet but behind them the race was as tough as ever and every skipper who attempted what remains one of the great challenges in solo sailing deserves huge credit.”
The Ultimes apart, the other big innovation – the addition of a non-timed, pre-start stage or Warm-Up from St Malo to Plymouth – had been a success with sailors, sponsors and the French public and Favre confirmed it will be part of the next race in 2020.
“The warm-up from St Malo gave the French public a wonderful opportunity to get involved in the race and sample the race village atmosphere,” said Favre. “It proved a big hit with the sailors and their sponsors, many of whom were unable to make it to Plymouth.”
Favre’s comments came as the final competitor to reach the finish – Hiroshi Kitada in the Class40 Kiho – crossed the line off Sandy Hook. Kitada now enjoys the distinction of being the first Japanese sailor to complete the race after 22 days, 18 hours and three minutes at sea.
“I am very happy, I can’t find the words to express how I truly feel,” said Kitada as he stepped ashore in Manhatten. “I did not understand why everyone was asking me why I chose to take part in this race to begin with, but I realised how difficult it was after I started.
“I am very proud of what I have been through. It was very hard, but I am glad that I did it. If I had to summarise the last three weeks of racing, then the practice of martial arts comes to mind. It takes stamina and you have to learn to fight everything you come up against.
“I want to thank everyone, be it the organisation, the team or my competitors - they allowed me to be part of this race’s family. I still need time to realise what I have done, I’m not even aware of it yet. The day is beautiful, there is sun, skyscrapers and I’m in New York,” Kitada added.
The Japanese sailor reached New York 14 days behind the Gabart who took line honours after a downwind sleigh ride across the Atlantic in just eight days, eight hours and 54 minutes. Gabart’s average speed of 23.11 knots was more than three times that of Kitada.
In between those two boats, the drama of one of the great transatlantic races was played out. The majority of skippers were French but there were five from other nations, including two Germans and two Britons. Six skippers – or one quarter of the fleet – failed to finish, including the Briton Richard Tolkien who transferred from his damaged yacht to a cargo ship in the mid-Atlantic. For almost all the skippers, apart from those of the Ultimes, there was one big storm in the north Atlantic to survive and then a series of less powerful depressions to negotiate.
The Transat bakerly showcased some fascinating match-races between some of the best sailors in the world including Gabart against Thomas Coville in the Ultimes, Armel Le Cleac’h against Vincent Riou at the head of the IMOCA 60 fleet and a three-way battle at the front of the Class40 fleet between eventual winner Thibaut Vauchel-Camus and Isabelle Joschke and Phil Sharp.
Among the most closely-watched rivalries was that between IMOCA 60 class winner Le Cleac’h on the foiling Banque Populaire and runner-up Riou on the more conventionally-configured PRB. Le Cleach’s winning margin was not huge but he controlled Riou for much of the race, showing that even in a mostly upwind race, the foilers have the advantage.
Favre believes this contest has demonstrated that foiling is now indisputably the way to go, as the class prepares for the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race this autumn. “The fact that a foiler won the IMOCA 60 class is significant – it is the way of the future – there is no turning back from foils now,” said Favre.
Although the racing fleet is now safely docked in New York, there remains one sailor still at sea. Loïck Peyron set out from Plymouth sailing alongside The Transat bakerly fleet on board Eric Tabarly’s old ketch Pen Duick II. His aim was to pay tribute to Tabarly, and other great sailors who took on this race in the past, by completing the course in the boat Tabarly used to win the race in 1964 and in the same trim as it was then.
However, the tough upwind conditions in the north Atlantic in the early summer of 2016 took their toll on Pen Duick II which sustained damage to her headstays, forcing Peyron to turn round on his 13th day at sea when halfway to America. Today the modern legend of French sailing is just 150 miles from the French coast as he brings his “old girl” back home to lick her wounds.