Sunday is a day of rest in France, but not universally at the Transat Jaques Vabre offshore race, where Banque du Léman finally arrived at lunchtime to complete the starting line-up and crowds thronged, despite a spot of autumnal freshness.
With a week to the start of the race next Sunday, Banque du Léman, the Swiss Class40 skippered by Simon Koster and Valentin Gautier docked in the Bassin Paul Vatine in Le Havre on Sunday afternoon. That completed the 60-boat line-up for the 2019 Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre. The brand new Class40 – they launched on September 26 - damaged a bulkhead during qualification for the race and was permitted by the race management to fix it in La Trinité-sur-Mer (where it was built).
“The bulkhead had a little crack after the qualifier,” Koster said. “We went to La Trinité-sur-Mer on the Friday (October 11), but we only discovered the crack on Tuesday. We didn’t see it right away. It took three days to fix.”
But there was never any question in their minds that they would be on the start line. “We’ve seen so many big problems solved in this sport in such a short time,” Koster said. “There’s not a lot of things that really stop you from racing if you put enough people and hands on the problem. We can see Kito de Pavant (who broke his mast on the first Made in Midi and his bowsprit on the boat he rented for Le Havre) is here, so, he’s found a couple of solutions!”
There will be no time to relax now. The pontoons have not been alive to the sound of drills and manic activity as they have for some previous editions. But while some teams are having a few days off now, Koster and Gautier have a long list to work through. Lucky for them the delivery to Le Havre was relatively simple (“as bouncy as always” leaving La Trinité said Koster) after leaving on Friday evening.
Samuel Manuard, whose designs have come to dominate the Class40, keeps pushing the limits with each generation and doubtless Banque du Léman will be no exception. But they are up against crews that know their boats and the class much more intimately.
“It’s impossible to put a boat in the water one month before the start and say we are the big favourites,” Gautier said. “We’re in a phase where we’re learning about the boat every time we sail.”
Or as Koster said: “We feel like we’ve got a good machine, but we don’t really know how to use it yet and it’s not fully optimised yet.”
They still have quite a lot to work out. There are many different forms of duo in this long transatlantic double but usually the project belongs to one skipper and they choose a co-skipper. In this case they chose each other.
“We realised we had the same goals,” Gautier said. “The Class40 is a two-handed class. But the step up is quite hard from the Mini in terms of money, so putting two projects into one made it easier. And after that, managing the project is easier, because we were two from the start. When I see how much we’ve had to rush for the last three months, if I, or Simon, was alone it would have been impossible to complete it. We’ve tried from the beginning to not be two solo skippers working in parallel, but to really…
(Koster completes his sentence!) “…make the most of everyone’s strengths and try to use the knowledge we’ve gained in past projects and split those tasks up so we don’t duplicate.
Koster, an electronics engineer, spent more time at the boatyard and Gautier handled the management, communication and sponsorship.
And how will they divide things on the boat?
“We haven’t raced a lot, so it’s difficult to say,” Gautier said.
“We’ve always raced alone and the big thing will be to have someone to discuss your choices with,” Koster added. “That will be a big change from the Mini and we’ll have a lot more information as well. It will be about figuring out how we work together most efficiently.”
If one says go left and the other says go right at the Doldrums, how will the decide?
“Flip a coin,” Gautier said. “No, we are both Swiss and in Switzerland we have a big tradition of consensus, so we will figure out a way.”
That would be useful for Brexit negotiations…
“We didn’t join Europe twenty years ago, so we can’t say anything on that subject (laughs), we’re maybe not the best to discuss it.”
They have enough on their plate.