Way down south, more than 1,800 nautical miles southwest of Saint Malo, in the warmer climes and flatter seas west of the Canaries, François Gabart continues to blaze a trail to Guadeloupe chased by Francis Joyon.
But as the days and hours tick by in the 2018 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race, Joyon has found it harder to stay in touch with his younger rival. The skipper of IDEC Sport is now trailing Gabart’s blue and white rocketship, MACIF, by over 120 nautical miles.
The two leading boats in the ULTIME class in this four-yearly 3,542-mile race are now more than halfway to Pointe-à-Pitre and the routing shows that Gabart should be able to add yet another victory to his glittering CV sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning. This means the seven-day, 15-hour record set by Loïck Peyron four years ago is very much under threat.
Gabart is now moving into the trade winds and the downwind phase of the race and he is enjoying himself. “Things aren’t going too badly – I’m pleased with what I managed to do during the night,” he said earlier today. “I’m well positioned in comparison to IDEC…I’m not easing off and I am giving it my all…I’m obviously going to keep it up until the finish, although I am not about to go crazy either.
“In theory there aren’t any tactical choices here in terms of my course,” he added. “It’s just about settling in the trade winds now, but I need to avoid getting too tired…I don’t know exactly when we’ll be in the real trade winds – but it shouldn’t be too far away now.”
In the Multi50 contest the huge geographical spread of the fleet is continuing with leader Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires En Peloton-Arsep approaching the Azores, chased by second-placed Erwan Le Roux on FenêtréA-Mix Buffet. Third-placed Armel Tripon on Réauté Chocolat is 475 miles south-southeast of the leading pair as he glides past Madeira.
The front-running IMOCAs, meanwhile, are now out of the worst of the weather in the north Atlantic and heading towards the Canaries with Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss still leading around 145 miles west of Madeira. Behind him the German sailor Boris Herrmann on Malizia II-Yacht Club De Monacois listed as second on the Tracker because he is further west than Thomson but he is also 400 miles north of the British sailor.
In reality the race for the podium in this highly competitive fleet still looks to be between Thomson, Paul Meilhat on SMA, Vincent Riou on PRB and fifth-placed Yann Eliès on UCAR-Saint Michel. The next challenge is to get through a light airs patch before they hook into the northeast trade winds that will propel them downwind to the Caribbean.
Herrmann has been looking at the endgame of this race as he prepares for the light-wind phase to come. “The high is a bit dangerous,” he said. “The others in the east are heading for a good trade winds situation but then after the trade winds they will be dead upwind of Guadeloupe. I am trying to position myself a bit more on the rhumb line so when I leave the trade winds, I have a better routing angle.”
Unfortunately for the slower monohulls, among them the Class40s, the next 48 hours will be dominated by another west and southwest gale when the already tired and cold skippers will have to beat into more big seas as they try to get west and south and out of the disturbed air in the north Atlantic.
Yoann Richome has continued to extend his lead on Veedol-AIC with Britain’s Phil Sharp on IMERYS CLEAN ENERGY in second place and Aymeric Chappellier third on Aina Enfance Et Avenir. Behind them and now in 8thplace 24-year-old Jack Trigger from Britain, on his first solo transatlantic, is sailing an impressive race on Concise 8, having climbed from the mid-20s to the top-10.
“It’s good,” he said in his first media contact since the start on Sunday. “It has been tough. Last night was particularly hard to the point where I saw four knots of boatspeed and 40 knots of wind. I am having problems with my autopilot but I think I have fixed that. I am happy with my race from the beginning – very conservative so far, just slowly ramping it up and still holding back as I have another big depression coming through tonight and tomorrow.”
Trigger is hoping that his radical Class40 design will fly once he gets south into the trades. “That was always the plan to keep the boat in one piece and to keep me in one piece, then get into the more downwind conditions that the boat is suited to. Then I will try and up the pace a bit. I feel good,” added Trigger who is a Type 1 diabetic and has to continually monitor his condition. “The race is not easy,” he said. “It takes a toll on your body. It is possible to get some sleep but it is quite squally, but I feel pretty good and ready to go for it.”
One hundred and fifty miles north of Concise 8, the 52-year-old American sailor Michael Hennessey on Dragon in 14th position is ready for one more big bash into tough autumn Atlantic weather. “Looking down the track, it seems as if the 580 miles between here and the Azores creates one more chance for a beating,” he reported. “The weather turns nasty again in the early hours of Friday and should stay that way until Sunday at which time I should be at, or approaching, the islands for a southern fly-by.”
In the Rhum Multi class the big news of the day is the dismasting of Fabrice Payen’s blue and white trimaran Team Vent Debout, 230 miles off the Portuguese coast after the starboard chainplate gave way. Payen, who lost a leg in a motorbike accident four years ago and represents a charity that helps hospitalised children get involved in sport, was holding second place when his race came to an end. He is now motoring towards the Iberian coast.
The class continues to be led Pierre Antoine on Olmixwho is passing the latitude of Lisbon. He is more than 220 miles ahead of Étienne Hochedé in the trimaran PIR2 with Jean François Lilti on his home-built catamaran École Diagonale Pour Citoyens Du Monde up to third, a few miles back.
In eighth position, more than 450 miles off the lead, Loïck Peyron on the small yellow trimaran Happyis making steady progress around the northwestern corner of Spain after setting sail again from Gijón yesterday. In a survey conducted on the race by Odoxa-Groupama for RTL, Peyron emerged as the favourite competitor among the French public. The same survey revealed that more than 1.3 million spectators visited the race village in Saint Malo in the 10 days up to the start and that more than 13 million people in France were planning to follow the race online and in the media.
In the Rhum Mono class Sidney Gavignet is in a world of his own, nearly 200 miles ahead of his nearest pursuer as he also passes the latitude of Lisbon. “Last night was colder but soon we will be into the warmer stuff,” he reported from on board Café Joyeux.
“I’ve been dreaming a lot. I understand that many people ashore are inspired by what has been happening. It’s not easy to be completely immersed in the here and now out here. I’m trying to do that, just be in my bubble, and it’s enjoyable. But sometimes I talk to myself when my mind starts wandering into the future and say loudly ‘get a grip, Sid.’ And it’s good to use the vocal chords when you are alone.”
It is still not clear when the 20-30 or so skippers – mainly from Class40s, and the two Rhum classes - who have sought refuge in French and Spanish ports will re-emerge onto the racecourse. They will all be studying weather models for the Bay of Biscay which describe a very disturbed picture at least until Sunday, but then matters calm down on Monday.