Exhausted French skipper Vincent Riou brought his PRB across the finish line of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe after dodging a tiring mix of squalls and calms through the final 12 hours of his race, taking fourth place in the IMOCA class.
The 46-year old 2004-5 Vendée Globe winner from Loctudy in western Brittany missed out on third place by 21 minutes and 30 seconds, but after his fourth attempt at the 3,542 nautical mile ‘queen of the transat’ race, he finally improves on his best position of fifth.
Alex Thomson’s 24 hour time penalty ran out just before Riou finished. The British skipper was penalised for using his engine to get off a rocky cliff that he ran into while falling asleep and overtired early on Thursday morning, just seventy miles from the finish.
But the resulting third place on the IMOCA podium is no consolation for the British solo racer who is smarting from the error which cost him his first overall IMOCA class win.
“Like I said yesterday I disqualified myself.” said Thomson this afternoon on the dock to greet his friend Herrmann.
Riou, who started as one of the highly tipped pre-race favourites, was also disappointed with his result with speculation that his slower than expected speeds might be attributed to having lost or damaged a foil proving unfounded.
“This race was a bit of a disaster for me.” Riou grimaced, admitting that he fell into a downwards spiral of becoming increasingly fatigued, trying to push harder to catch up and making mistakes.
Losing his wind instruments, which control the autopilot in relation to the wind direction rather than to a fixed compass course, ran him ragged.
“My problems really meant I was fighting all the time rather than sailing how I usually do, instinctively and by feel. So I am happy this ordeal is over.”
He added. “ I don’t regret anything because I finished. But that is not what I set out to do. I did not come here to just finish," added Riou who has only finish two out of his four Route du Rhum attempts.
All four of the top skippers so far have commented on the levels of extreme sleep deprivation which are taking a toll with Riou commenting: “Besides everything else sleep deprivation really heightens your emotions. You go from laughing to tears in seconds. I am used to getting more sleep. Here I had no choice but to try to stay in this race. A fourth place in the Route du Rhum is not a disaster but it is not what I came for.”
The relentless pressure of maximising speed in the squally trade-winds when the skipper has accumulated eight or nine days of minimal sleep took a toll during Riou’s final days.
“Over the last four days I wrapped the spinnaker and I felt like I broke just about everything on the boat.”
By comparison to veteran Riou, known to be contemplating a fifth attempt at the Vendée Globe after finishing only one, Germany’s Boris Herrmann was a picture of smiles and contentment on arrival. Happy to jump from his Malizia Yacht Club de Monaco on to the dock for ‘selfies’ to the delight of the young locals on the dock to meet him, multilingual Herrmann was happy with fifth place.
“Secretly that is kind of where I was thinking I should finish in terms of ability and the boat. I figured a couple of good guys would drop out and they did.” Herrmann said.
A succession of breakages and small mistakes early in the race left the 37-year old three-time circumnavigator from Hamburg out of touch with the leaders. He attacked with a different, westerly course and largely held his own on the leaders thereafter.
“I am happy to have raced such a great fleet. I am glad to bring the boat here in one piece and me too, I am in good shape. The last 12 hours were hard with squalls and wind .shifts, 30 knots twice in the last ten hours. I think it was a good choice to go west. Of course I would have preferred to have been able to stay with the group. I lost a lot during the first day in the secondary low pressure system. I lost so much in the first two days I had to find another way.”
2 weeks in and attention shifts to a classic Class40 contest
As the 40th anniversary edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe starts its third week at sea, just under half of the 123 solo skippers who started from Saint Malo on Sunday, November 4th are still racing.
Tail-enders like Eric Bellion, tenth in the Rhum Mono class on his 63ft schooner (Commeunseulhomme), still have just under 2,000 nautical miles to go to complete the 3,542-mile course to Pointe-à-Pitre.
At a pace which is altogether more comfortable than his ninth place in the 2016-17 Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race, Bellion is just about to pass the latitude of the Azores and Lisbon.
Meanwhile up ahead of him the Class40 leaders are maintaining their frenetic tempo in the trade winds, secure in the knowledge that with just 600 miles to sail their race should be over early on Tuesday morning.
A steady margin of nearly 100 miles over his nearest pursuer (Phil Sharp on IMERYS CLEAN ENERGY) means long time leader Yoann Richomme (Veedol-AIC) should have enough time in hand to survive a potentially slow passage around the western coast of Basse Terre.
But as has been seen on this dramatic edition of the four-yearly race across the Atlantic, anything can happen during the final miles, especially at night when the easterly trade wind in the lee of the island dies to almost nothing.
Richomme will have one eye on the course record for Class40 which was set in 2014 by Spain’s Alex Pella at 16 days, 17 hours and 47minutes. Current routing predictions have him inside that mark.
One of the most engaging duels of this race has been the match race between Sharp and his long-time rival Aymeric Chapellier (Aina Enfance Et Avenir). They have been locked in a private battle for second and third since the Bay of Biscay and their duel will almost certainly be decided over those final miles into Pointe-à-Pitre.
As they trade gybes downwind like wearied prize fighters this morning, Sharp will cross less than one mile ahead of his nemesis, the duo still racing in clear sight of each other.
In turn this podium scrap is playing out nearly 100 miles ahead of fourth-placed French veteran Kito de Pavant (Made in Midi). Third in 2014, de Pavant, describes the downwind ‘zig zags’ this morning:
“A hitch to the west, a hitch to the south. As the wind direction changes all the time we are gybing all the time to make sure we are on the fastest and most direct course towards the finish. This is our game. In the two weeks we have been at sea Joyon and Gabart (ULTIME race winners) could have made a round trip, there and back.
“But these are rather nice conditions. There are no squall clouds. Now the wind is sustained and regular, as is the sea, and so we are charging on at a gallop. When the front of the boat pitches into the back of the next wave, we surge to 18 knots and the whole boat is under water, the hull, the deck the cockpit.
“Our group of seven cowboys has extended away,” added De Pavant. “Yoann is a long way ahead; Phil and Aymeric are going at it for second and third and we are left fighting for the chocolate medal. Arthur (Le Vaillant/Leyton) gets closer with each ranking, Luke (Berry/Lamotte-Module Création) is fast and shadows him. It is easy to forget where and when we started. And there will be stress to the finish.”