As the Guadeloupean capital Pointe-a-Pitre prepares a big weekend welcome for the first finishers of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race from Saint Malo, perennial leaders François Gabart and Francis Joyon on their giant ULTIME multihulls are making, rapid progress downwind towards the line.
In an easterly breeze of 15 knots, MACIF and IDEC Sport are zig-zagging towards the finish at between 20 and 30 knots in perfect trade wind conditions. Gabart has under 800 nautical miles to sail to the Tête Anglais, the point offshore where a potentially troublesome final rounding of the most of the island starts.
Often, especially during the hours of darkness when the winds are light, this final stage has proven a sting in the tail. Gabart will have to monitor the movements of the wily, tenacious Joyon who has clung on well to MACIF’s coat-tails on board the trimaran which has taken line honours in the last two editions of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.
Even on the giant ULTIMEs where a tack or gybe is a half-hour operation Gabart will stick to first principles, staying between his rival and the finish line.
That principle applies also to Alex Thomson who is back in the lead of the IMOCA class on Hugo Boss. The British skipper has been significantly faster through the night than his two closest rivals and holds an advantage of just over 50 miles over Paul Meilhat on SMA. As the leaders get progressively into stronger breeze, Thomson can be expected to move further clear today.
Thibaut Vauchel Camus, who led the Multi50 class until yesterday morning, has stopped in the Azores to make repairs to the mainsail mast track of Solidaires en Peloton-ARSEP, while rival Erwan Le Roux hovers offshore making seven knots as he seeks a solution to his autopilot problems on FenêtreA-Mix Buffet. But Armel Tripon is streaking away in perfect Multi50 conditions with his Réauté Chocolat, making 19 knots and increasing his lead which stands at 130 nautical miles.
Class40 leader Yoann Richomme on Veedol-AIC is very much out of the woods now but this morning admitted he is battered and bruised. “I had a good check over the boat and I am happy to report no major problems. I am super-impressed with the boat; it took a real beating, it really was nasty. Even I wonder how it took it. I am fine as well. The skipper took a bit of a beating too and I have some bruises, one on my lower back, one on my arm, one on my calf. You get thrown about the boat so much.”
Leading by 64 miles over Britain’s Phil Sharp (IMERYS CLAN ENERGY), the 35-year-old French naval architect who qualified in Southampton added: “It is not easy. I no longer have wind instruments to see the wind angles and directions. I am not taking too southerly a route as I will end up dropping into the anticyclone too soon. I am going to get a bit west because there is a front which will open up the high pressure and we should be able to slip south faster on it.”
Meanwhile in the Rhum classes both leaders have substantial, hard-earned margins that increase each day. Antoine Pierre (Olmix) is in a class of his own over 370 miles ahead in the Multi division, while Sidney Gavignet is at one with his powerful 50-footer, Café Joyeux, loving every moment of what will likely be his last big ocean race.
Gavignet told the early morning radio call to Saint Malo: “A few hours ago I had just woken up and the boat was moving well, there are no more manoeuvres. It is a black night. There is no horizon and the boat goes along nicely at between 11 and 14 knots. The boat is great, so am I. And when I look at the boats spread all over the ocean, going in all different directions, I am happy to be where I am. I put my shorts on yesterday and there is less spray. It’s all good.”
“I don’t think I am in the transition zone yet but I am getting closer to it,” he added. “I have been looking at the weather and it seems like the transition goes down with us. There is another depression passing to the north and that will allow us to get through without slowing down too much. Everything is great.”
Finally here is Armel Le Cléac’h explaining how Banque Populaire IX came to grief so spectacularly on Tuesday. “I was sailing upwind in 35kts with a big sea but well within the limits which we had set beforehand with router Marcel Van Triest,” he said. “I was at the ‘piano’ (in the pit area from where sheets and halyards are controlled) trimming the sails because there were lots of gusts.
“All of a sudden the boat lifted and I did not know what was happening. The boat lurched as the leeward float detached itself and was capsizing. I could see it had detached and went into crisis mode immediately, getting into the main hull as quickly as I could. I don’t know what happened. It was brutal and quick.”