11 am update:
With just over 200 nautical miles to the finish line of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, François Gabart is still seeing his lead being eroded by the fast advancing Francis Joyon.
Since yesterday afternoon Gabart has been suffering a consistent speed deficit to Joyon, as MACIF’s lead has been cut from 120 nautical miles yesterday lunch time to 60 miles this morning. Now, with just 150 miles to go to the Tête à l’Anglais buoy, IDEC Sport is just over 30 miles behind.
There are only light winds around the Guadeloupe islands this morning with rain showers passing through. Weather models show there could be very little wind on the leeward (western) side of Basse-Terre island by the time the two skippers start sailing round it in the final miles before the finish off Pointe-à-Pitre.
As the island wakes up, there is growing speculation that Gabart may have a technical issue with his MACIF as a match race to the finish looks likely. The race Tracker on this site updates every five minutes once the finishers are within 30 miles of the island, so race fans can follow the final hours of what is turning into an epic battle
The race update 11/11 - 07:11
Just as there was at the conclusion of the first race in 1978 when Canadian Mike Birch won by 98 seconds, the 40th anniversary Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe is shaping up for an exciting finish.
During their seventh and final night at sea, French poster boy François Gabart has seen his lead on MACIF halved by the wily veteran Francis Joyon.
At midday yesterday Joyon was just over 120 nautical miles behind the seemingly invincible Gabart. Yet at 0700hrs CET this morning the difference between the two was just 58 miles and Joyon was still quicker on his older maxi-tri, IDEC Sport.
Now very much into the Caribbean weather regime with unsettled, shifting breezes and showery squalls, the final 55 or so miles from the Tete a l’Anglais rock, around Basse Terre island into the finish are not going to be easy because of the high land.
Gabart, the 35-year-old holder of the solo round-the-world record, said this morning he is preparing himself as best as he can for a final duel to the finish off Pointe-à-Pitre with rival Joyon, who at 62-years-old is completing his eighth and what many expect to be his final Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.
Speaking to the media at Race HQ in Pointe-à-Pitre this morning Gabart, who won the IMOCA class in 2014, said: “To go around Guadeloupe side-by-side might even be the final scenario. I'm preparing myself for that and I aim to be successful if it comes down to that. Francis has been coming back at me over the last few hours. Really, I do not know what will happen next. It promises to be a thrilling finish.”
Gabart added: “The final tour of Guadeloupe is never easy, especially around the course we have to do, with a buoy very close to land which takes us right into the lee of the islands. It is complicated and for all that the weather models are not that accurate. This finale is far from simple, it will be a bit spicy to the finish.”
Gabart is very much ‘the hunted’ this morning. Joyon’s speed averages have been incredible, at 33 knots for sustained periods in not much more than 15-20 knots of breeze. He said he expects to be at the Tête à l’Anglais buoy around 1600hrs CET, 10.00hrs local time, which would mean a perfectly-timed finish in the mid-afternoon for the thousands of passionate locals, many of whom have known the Route du Rhum all their lives.
Whichever skipper wins, the race record of seven days, 15 hours and eight minutes, set in 2014 by Loïck Peyron when Joyon came second, is set to tumble.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Alex Thomson continues to strengthen his position at the front of the IMOCA fleet, now leading by 78 miles from Paul Meilhat. The skipper of Hugo Boss is consistently faster than Meilhat on the non-foiling SMA, the boat on which Gabart won the 2014 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.
Meilhat admitted he is tired, constantly working to try and stay with Thomson: “I am exhausted because I have to stay fast and trim the sails all the time to be as fast as possible. And as soon as the wind builds by a couple of knots the boat starts to luff, and so you have to react. That is tiring.
“There is always a northerly swell and on port gybe (in the quartering seas) it is all too easy to start to luff up and so it needs constant attention. But the wind is building and I will take a reef soon. In 20 knots of wind foiling boats like Hugo Bossgo 15% quicker. That does not seem to be the case for PRB which may have something wrong as he does not go so fast. And me? When Alex Thomson is at 18 knots I am usually at 15 knots.”
Armel Tripon’s lead in the Multi50 class on Réauté Chocolat is now 275 nautical miles, while in Class40 Yoann Richomme (Veedol-AIC) is secure at 75 miles ahead of Phil Sharp (IMERYS CLEAN ENERGY) – and two knots faster.