On July 22, Justine Mettraux and Julien Villion will compete in the prestigious Rolex Fastnet Race, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year. Following Teamwork's relaunch on June 29 after a six-month refit, this is the first event in a program that will take the double-handed team all the way to the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre in November.
Between Cowes, the Irish Fastnet lighthouse and Cherbourg en Cotentin, the 690-mile course will be an opportunity to test their mettle against the 27 other IMOCA boats entered, some of them new, most of them upgraded. And why not shine on a complex course that the Jujus know well!
It has been lighting up the Celtic Sea with a flash every five seconds since 1854, and no self-respecting sailor is unaware of its legend. It began in 1925, and in a century of regattas, the Fastnet has seen it all. Joys, tragedies (the terrible 1979 edition), and every odd-numbered year, the consecration for those who register their name on its prize list. In 2023, 474 boats, including 28 IMOCA boats, will be taking part in this great celebration organized by the prestigious London-based RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club).
Justine Mettraux, who rounded the lighthouse for the first time in a Mini 650 in 2012, has sailed the Fastnet many times since, in Figaro or Class40, and finished a very fine third in the IMOCA class in 2021. "It's a very demanding course, mixing coastal racing and ocean racing, with the finish in Cherbourg spicing up the strategy even more," the sailor told us this week, on her return from a trip to Genoa to celebrate Eleventh Hour's victory in The Ocean Race. This success marks the end of a two-year collaboration between the Swiss sailor and the American team, with three round-the-world legs and three transatlantic races under her belt.
From one IMOCA to another
"Justine is starting to clock up a considerable number of miles on the IMOCA circuit," says her crew member Julien Villion, who met up with the sailor in Lorient for the first Teamwork training sessions in early July. "She doesn't show it much, but there's obviously the fatigue of a marathon year since the last Route du Rhum,... The whole team is looking after her and I'm not worried, as we know the machine perfectly and will soon find our common reflexes" says the navigator and strategist who has been with Teamwork since she entered the IMOCA circuit in 2022.
With its new paintwork and numerous refits, Teamwork has emerged from its long refit as a brand-new boat. Visually, there are few changes to be noted on this well-born VPLP design, since the new foils, for which the grafting of the shafts has been brought forward, will not arrive until 2024. However, the basic structural work has been carried out, which will limit construction time to the essentials in 2024, which promises to be a very busy year on the water. Also with a view to the next Vendée Globe, numerous solar panels have been installed on deck, a source of soft energy synonymous with safety and performance, since less gas oil will be needed on board. All in all, the boat's weight gain is minimal, "just a few dozen kilos, nothing to worry about on our boat, which remains very comfortable in light airs compared with the new generation" says Justine.
The opportunity to ask the sailor about Teamwork's ambitions for the Rolex Fastnet Race: "It's difficult to answer, as there are quite a few new boats and also new partners," she admits without evading the question. That's why it's going to be such an interesting race, to see where we stand. It's really the first test, and I'm confident in our potential to do well.
For on this type of course, pure speed is one thing, but it's often strategy that takes precedence, as there are so many tricky passages, as Julien reminds us: "The start and the windward passage along Cornwall, where you have to balance performance and safety, the passage of Land's End and the Isles of Scilly, then the Fastnet DST, which is never easy to negotiate, and of course the finish in Cherbourg. It's all very exciting, like a Figaro leg in a big boat!"
Between now and July 22, the timing is pretty tight, but still leaves the pair with a full week of training, including 48 hours offshore in racing conditions before the delivery trip to Cherbourg. After a stopover in the port of Cotentin, which channels departures to Cowes, Teamwork will head straight for the line on the night of July 21 to 22, sailing as a crew to store up precious moments of rest. In the opinion of both sailors, the start, with its horde of boats of all kinds, spectators and passenger boats, is one of the most stressful. But as Justine recalls, "In 2021, there were thirty knots upwind and we did pretty well!"
Verdict of this first test match between July 24 and 25 in Cherbourg!