“Do everything to avoid tragedies”. At the start of the 16th Transat Jacques-Vabre on Sunday, and at the finish two weeks later in Martinique, the organizers took safety measures to prevent the tragic accident of the Route du Rhum 2022 from happening again.
“We cannot act as if nothing had happened,” explains to AFP Gildas Gautier, director of the Transat Jacques-Vabre, the famous double-handed transatlantic race, which sets off every two years from Le Havre since 1993.
A year after the capsize of a guest boat which was following the winner of the Route du Rhum in the last miles in Martinique, leading to the death of two of its occupants, a new fleet of more than 90 racing sailboats is preparing to take the open sea at Le Havre.
“The investigation has not yet been completed and the rules set by the Maritime Department have not changed regarding offshore racing. But we apply, for ourselves, the precautionary principle,” says Mr. Gautier.
To combat the chaos at the start, “we made sure that there were fewer VIP boats on the water,” says Gildas Gautier. Photo and video image takers will all be grouped together on one single feature.
Pilots carrying media and partners will all be required to attend a briefing. “These are people who know how to behave and they are prohibited from entering the course,” explains the race organizer.
Finally, the departures of the four categories of sailboats entered in the race will be given in waves of twelve minutes to avoid the mass effect and a “nautical fan zone” has been set up: a restricted perimeter where wishing boaters must gather. to observe the ships.
“We are trying to limit the populations that we can control,” says Mr. Gautier. But even with these measures on Sunday, the body of water is likely to be congested.
In recent years, the interest and number of participants in the three major offshore competitions (Vendée Globe, Route du Rhum, Transat Jacques-Vabre) has increased considerably and, with it, the risk of accidents at the start and finish .
“We are facing a real problem. Companies that commit a budget rightly want to have images to use and this requires mobilizing resources on the water. We must be able to continue to make people dream, but this will inevitably require more constraints in the future,” envisages Gildas Gautier.
“It’s unfortunate to say but what happened on Rhum was almost inevitable. In Saint-Malo, there were 138 racing sailboats and dozens of guest boats on the water, it's always dangerous,” confides an experienced skipper, who requested anonymity.
In Guadeloupe, on November 16, 2022, it was dark as Charles Caudrelier's maxi-trimaran approached and a motorboat, not authorized to sail in the middle of the night according to several local media, still came out with several people on board. VIP.
“A lack of visibility, racing boats which go faster and are therefore more difficult to follow, star pilots who are not necessarily trained, it is an accumulation of risk factors which must be avoided at all costs”, believes another sailor accustomed to transatlantic crossings.
On arrival in Martinique around November 12, the area authorized to follow the sailors will be reduced and, if the conditions are bad, the race reserves the right to prevent all following boats from going there.