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Transat AG2R

Dutchman Sander Bakker and Englishman Ian Munslow after 4 days into the Lorient - St Barth race

lundi 26 avril 2004Redaction SSS [Source RP]

Former mini sailors, Dutchman Sander Bakker and Englishman Ian Munslow are 4 days into the first Figaro race of the season in the seventh edition of the double handed AG2R and currently lying in 27th place out of a fleet of 31, just 53 miles behind the leaders...

The dutch-english pair (behind) during the prologue in Lorient
Photo : Ch.Guigueno /


As a result of the feisty weather conditions sweeping across the Bay of Biscay, it was decided on Saturday morning, just hours before the proposed start in Lorient, to postpone the kick off to 1300 hours GMT the following Wednesday. Fortunately this didn’t come as any great surprise to Bakker and Munslow thanks to the inestimable talents of their weather router, the renowned Lee Bruce. It was later agreed by all concerned that rather than the planned stopover in Madeira there would instead be an obligatory point of passage off the Portuguese island so as not to affect the finish times in St Barts as well as the subsequent Figaro races. Refunds of the inscription costs were offered to any sailor not wishing to adhere to this new format outside the Notice of Race though this wasn’t followed up.

At the skippers briefing on Saturday night, the familiar image of calm and professionalism, Gilles Sabin, President of the Race Committee, was hailed by comments from the French skippers. Some doubted that the organisation had the right to erase the stopover in Madeira as it wasn’t stipulated in the Rules while other perhaps more sporting players reminded them of the fact that the important thing was that they raced on equal terms. Several of criticisms were directed at Bénéteau itself with the overall structure of the boats put in question. One comment in particular from the French contingent expressed a deep concern about the seaworthiness of a boat that couldn’t go out in 30 knots of wind...

Bakker and Munslow both have vast experience of Mini sailing and agree that construction wise the Figaro Bénéteau 2 is a failure. “The laminate’s crap, the ballast tank falls off, the keel’s wobbly, and it’s anyone’s guess if the rudder’s ocean-going. Word has it that if you buy your boat on a Monday or Tuesday you’re alright - otherwise you end up with something like this. Essentially it’s one-design sailing in wooden shoes and 160,000 Euros seems like a lot of money for a bit of oil and dirt you have a job calling a boat.”

The following day on the pontoons the crews were resigned to being holed up in port as the wind howled through the fleet’s rigging and 69 knots of wind was recorded by the Beg Meilen signal station on the Ile de Groix, just off Lorient. On Tuesday it was forecast that there would be a slight lull in the south-westerly wind to 20/25 knots on Wednesday though the seas were likely to remain very heavy to big. Rumours were positively humming through the French gossip channels and the majority of people outside the organisation were dubious of the proposed Wednesday start as well as the cancelled stopover. According to the French magazine, the obligation to pass via Madeira was retained for safety reasons - directing the competitors away from the poor weather conditions beside the Azores - as well as for the more mundane reasons of prize money for the leaders at the gateway into Madeira, Funchal. Some skippers would have preferred to make directly for St Bart’s in the wake of the Route du Rhum but the prizes have remained, albeit altered to 30,000 euros for the first gate at Madiera and 60,000 for the general.

The most important thing in all this shuffling of time and place is the enforced autonomy in our duos’ approach to the weather without the benefit of a new analysis in Madeira. What that means is that the race is likely to remain more open as the first into the island won’t now be able to cash in on a time bonus. Similarly, the skippers won’t be able to gear themselves up to focus on just the second leg - they’ll have to be capable of holding their lead over 3500 miles.

Organisation onboard is affected by the course change too. Instead of the 40 or so litres of diesel required to run the engine to recharge the batteries, the crews had to take on about 60. The same thing goes for the water and food. Some crews were reinforcing certain points of the sails prior to the actual start and extra sheets were taken in case of wear. Bakker and Munslow fortunately benefited from North Sails’ excellent overnight sail repair service in nearby Vannes after tearing the edge off one sail and virtually ripping out the clew on the main on Saturday’s skirmish around the bay to plump up the morale of the public and sponsors who had come from afar in the hope of witnessing the start.

D-Day and on !

The kick off finally kicked off on Wednesday 21 April - all we know is that our boys did not hit a rock prior to the start and miss the whole shebang and set out some 6 hours later - as cannot be said about renowned French sailor Yannick Bestaven and his partner Véniard. So all was well...

After getting into the stride of things, Friday saw the wind being whipped up progressively to 35 knots and after 48 hours of racing most of the fleet - particularly those in front of Bakker/Munslow, were to the south of the rhumb line. By Saturday 24 April the Bakker/Munslow duo were enjoying long surfs under spinnaker in the breeze off Cape Finisterre ; peaks of 20, 22 knots adding a touch of colour to the speedo. The French/English female ensemble made up of the now experienced Figaro sailor Jeanne Grégoire and Sam Davies in her second season, had pulled of a blinder on a winning westerly shift to head the fleet temporarily, tailed by the dastardly Banque Populaire duo (Bidegorry/Gavignet) and the Groupe SCE-Le Télégramme tandem (Le Cléach/Troussel).

In this honey of a sleigh ride there was some damage announced amongst the fleet...torn or rather exploded spinnakers, damage to the pole attachment along with other minor wounds but nothing too major - everyone is still racing. Since then the group have been continuing their descent down the Iberian peninsula at a much reduced pace and with the fleet bunched so close together it isn’t necessarily a bad thing that our duo are not currently out front as you have the evidence before your eyes as to where it’s working. Few have gone for any major coups, opting instead to use and abuse some small tactical hits. FTH Thirard/Caen La Mer (Dejeanty-Chivot), Egeria (Bakker/Munslow) and Connivence (Einhorn/Peron) making some notable comebacks.


The three duos leading the campaign down towards Madeira are Morvan/Vittet, Gregoire/Davies, Joudren/Mourniac. They have streaked away on their westerly option to 53 miles ahead of Bakker/Munslow, but the road it is a long one, and questionably the most experienced all-round sailors in the fleet Péan/Arthaud are lying 318 miles behind them in last position after a shocking and so far rather fruitless quest in the Orient...Perhaps they know something we don’t... Hostilities are due to start up again though now that the wind has backed from the north, north-east at 15 to 20 knots and it is set to hold to help the fleet around Cape Finisterre and on to Madeira.

The Competition

Well, our boys are certainly up against the best of them...and they know it. Among the rockstars are former winners of the Solitaire du Figaro, namely : Armel Le Cléac’h, Kito de Pavant, Eric Drouglazet, Pascal Bidégorry, Dominic Vittet, Lionel Péan,... former Champions of France in single-handed ocean racing : Armel Le Cléac’h, Pascal Bidegorry Eric Drouglazet, Dominic Vittet, Jérémie Beyou, Gildas Morvan, a vice-champion, ErwanTabarly, ...some winner of the Transat Ag2r, Rodolph Jacq, crew with Olivier de Kersauson and multiple champion of the habitable monotypes with Bruno Jourdren, the Trophée BPE (St-Nazaire-Dakar) ; Dominic Vittet and former 60’ tri sailor and Tour de France à la Voile winner, Bertrand de Broc, Gildas Morvan, Charles Caudrelier-Bénac, have all scored highly in the Mini Transat, Armel Tripon (winner of last year’s Mini Transat) and Damien Grimont are both associated with the Figaro Gédimat along with Yannick Bestaven, Florence Arthaud, winner of the Route du Rhum 1990 and two participations in the Ag2r, Marc Thiercelin, Patrice Carpentier, former racers in the Vendée Globe, Sidney Gavignet, the fastest man across the Atlantic on the monohull (Mari-Cha IV), dinghy champions Benoît Petit, world champion in 470, Jean-Christophe Mourniac two time vice-champion of the world in F18, Eric Péron also in 470, ... Gérald Véniard, champion of Melges 24, Olivier de Roffignac, specialist in Pogo 6.50 and Mini, Yannick Cano and Arnaud Boisières...

Game Plan

Against this wall of talent, speed and weather are the two elements the boys are going to need to keep an eye on. In terms of rhythm, it is likely that it’s going to be similar to that of a Solitaire du Figaro but on an Atlantic scale. The trade winds should, theoretically, make the second leg slightly easier. They’re really going to need a clear head when it comes to transitions in the weather - that’s what’ll make the difference. The essential is not to fear the favourite. Though the Figaro specialists might go quicker than our boys on paper, they may not necessarily have the legs on such a long course. In terms of the weather, there are so many hazards that it’s rarely the favourites that win, we hope !

Info Kate Jennings

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• Latest 0935 UT ranking 25/04/04 09H35 TU

CLAS Boat/Crew N° Lat Long Dist to goal (Interpolé)

- 1 CERCLE VERT Gildas MORVAN Dominic VITTET 3 39 56 N 012 37 W 3107
- 2 Trophée BPE Saint-Nazaire - Cuba Jeanne GREGOIRE Samantha DAVIES 93 39 58 N 012 37 W 3108
- 3 D’AUCY Bruno JOURDREN Jean-Christophe MOURNIAC 43 39 58 N 012 30 W 3111
- 5 BANQUE POPULAIRE Pascal BIDEGORRY Sidney GAVIGNET 40 39 53 N 012 01 W 3117
- 27 EGERIA Sander BAKKER Ian MUNSLOW 23 40 31 N 011 40 W 3159

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