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16.11.2009 Back to news

Groupe Bel second... in pursuit of her "identical twin"

Transat Jacques Vabre 2009
© Guilain Grenier
The hunt is on in the Trade Winds. Following the storm during the first week, another "battle" has begun; that of sailing as fast as possible and surfing as far as the tropics. Safran, sailed by Marc Guillemot and Charles Caudrelier is still leading the cavalry, but, since this morning, they are no longer being pursued by Mike Golding Yacht Racing, but a red cow charging them as hard as she can! The image of the duel between Safran and Groupe Bel is also worthy of note because both these boats were designed by the Van Peteghem-Lauriot Prévost and Guillaume Verdier office, making them virtually identical.

The leading trio now appears to be almost unattackable in these trade wind conditions, which are more favorable for fast racing than they are for important strategic orientations. Safran, Groupe Bel and Mike Golding Yacht Racing are 50 miles distant and the gap between them and the rest of the fleet is increasing. Veolia Environnement, 4th since the 11:00 ranking, clocks in at 280 miles from the leader. However, the fleet could slow down and become grouped together again as they approach the Antilles Arc.
For the moment, Groupe Bel is attacking. As they gybed, Kito and François moved into second place during the night, reducing the distance between them and Safran by half, and are now only 31 miles away from her. “It is always good to be second”, said François Gabart on the radio this morning. “It makes you smile that much more! You can see the “Laughing Cow” now that she’s no longer wrapped up warm in the reefs along the boom.  Since she always has a smile on her face, we enjoy this and take pleasure in cutting through the water. We are going as fast as we can, and we’re surfing. Watch out Safran, we’re coming!”

Duel between "identical twins”

The scenario of this transatlantic race highlights the undeniable potential of Safran and Groupe Bel, the two VPLP-Verdier plans of the fleet. Same architects, same hull design and even structure; the philosophy of these two boats meets their designers and skippers desire of achieving a simple, light, versatile boat that’s easy to handle. For all that, they are not 100% identical. Marc and Kito each adapted their boat to their needs and their sailing habits: standard mast, retractable rudder and tiller for example for Safran; wing mast, rudders in the hull bottom and steering wheels for Groupe Bel.

No matter what, in these pure surfing conditions, the two “identical twins” are really having a ball, which Groupe Bel’s skipper is only too happy about:   “Safran is attacking really hard. They had the best conditions before everyone else, because they've been leading for some time, but now things should change. The wind is going to slacken ahead, which will help us catch up. In any case, we are well ahead of the rest of the fleet and that means we will be able to see what’s coming.  However, we are remaining very vigilant. Things can happen fast, and no one is free from going off course.”

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