They may have finished in second place in the Transat Jacques Vabre to LinkedOut, but no one can doubt that Charlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat on APIVIA have been the dominant force in the IMOCA Class this year and they were crowned IMOCA Champions for 2021.
Dalin and Meilhat took part in three of the four races in the 2021 championship. They skipped The Ocean Race Europe but won the Rolex Fastnet Race in August, repeated that feat in the Défi Azimut 48-Hours a month later and then followed up with a highly competitive performance in the Transat Jacques Vabre.
For Dalin, 37 and originally from Le Havre, this has been an impressively consistent season after taking line honours in the Vendée Globe when it is easy for teams to go off the boil as the double-handed calendar begins. But he and Meilhat, 39, got together early on and built a formidable partnership based on a warm friendship and a shared competitive intensity.
“It’s been a welcome double-handed year after the solo round the world race,” said Dalin after being presented with a unique trophy at a ceremony on the dockside at Fort de France on Martinique in the presence of young sailors from the Martinique Sailing League. A wooden model of an IMOCA, the trophy was designed and created by Thomas Vanwindekens, a building architect from Brussels (IMO-CUP).
“It’s good to be able to share discussions, decisions, manoeuvres and even stacking,” added Dalin with a smile, referring to the hard work on board APIVIA every time they tacked their boat, when sails and stores have to be moved from one side of the boat to the other. “And it’s also nice to be back with the boats of the circuit with this generation of very advance prototypes,” he said.
Meilhat realised very quickly that Dalin had plenty of energy to focus on his performance for 2021, even after the trials and tribulations of the Vendée Globe. “You think the skippers are ‘burnt out’ after the Vendée Globe and you think that the co-skipper can bring his motivation and his physical freshness. But right away, Charlie was already looking ahead to the 2021 season, so the motivation was very strong, but the freshness was well balanced too,” he said.
Perhaps the standout feature of the APIVIA year was the dominant performance by Dalin, Meilhat and their boat in the Rolex Fastnet Race. They came out of the Solent to windward and then produced a flawless strategy all the way to the Fastnet Rock and back to the new finish at Cherbourg. Dalin chose this almost perfect race as his own high point of the 2021 season.
“The exit from the Solent in the Rolex Fastnet Race left a big impression on me which was really a great memory for us, with really phenomenal speed compared to the others. First race, first victory with Paul – we really enjoyed it,” he said.
And the Défi Azimut 48-Hours was not too bad either. “In the 48-Hours we had a perfect sequence of manoeuvres and strategic choices,” added Dalin, “and in the Transat Jacques Vabre we have had many great memories too. We had a fabulous race on the way to Fernando de Noronha, where we reached very high average speeds.”
Meilhat, who won the Route du Rhum in 2018 on SMA, reckoned they could have broken records on a different course. “My only regret is that we had to turn right after Fernando because we could have broken the 24-hour record. These boats are magical – sometimes 12/13 knots of wind is enough to reach incredible speeds,” he said.
Dalin and Meilhat finished the season 12 points clear of Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière on LinkedOut, who produced a great season-ending performance to win the Transat Jacques Vabre on boat that has got quicker and quicker on every point of sail.
In third place in the championship are Sébastien Simon and Yann Eliès on ARKEA PAPREC who finished fourth in the Transat Jacques Vabre, with Jérémie Beyou and Christopher Pratt in fourth position, after coming third behind APIVIA into Martinique.