ARKÉA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest opens a new chapter in round the world racing

As a new chapter in ocean racing history was opened with the start of the inaugural ARKÉA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest, the sun shone on the Rade de Brest in the west of France and the modest NE’ly wind was scarcely enough to lift the giant ULTIM multihulls on to their foils to speed out on to the Bay of Biscay. In a modest 10kts of NE’y wind, in front of a sizeable spectator fleet which braved the winter chill on the water, Tom Laperche (SVR Lazartigue) made the dream start. Last to dock into Brest yesterday afternoon after his ULTIM had needed six weeks of repairs, Laperche hit the line at speed before building a narrow lead.

Considering the weather forecast for the six skippers who today started the first ever solo multihull race round the world on 32mx23m giant ULTIM trimarans, François Gabart’s 2017 mark of 42 days 16 hours is not in imminent danger.

Much of the passage down to the Equator will be upwind, slowed first by a low pressure trough off Portugal and then by a big Atlantic depression to be negotiated later this week. As yet there is no sign of any fast trade-winds sailing before they pass into the Southern Hemisphere.

“I did a rough routing this morning and they could be more than two days behind the record time when they get into the big south.” Sam Goodchild, Britain’s IMOCA Globe series champion skipper and aspiring Vendée Globe racer told the global audience watching the streamed race start early this afternoon.

But, for all that, none of thes latest generation, cutting-edge, giant foiling trimarans have ever been sailed at max speed across the south Indian Ocean and the Pacific oceans, so any initial deficit could still be overturned before Cape Horn.


A fitting departure
Brest and thousands of sailing mad Breton people delivered a fitting departure to a race which has been a dream shared by many for more than a decade. Since before sunrise crowds lined the race village pontoons to bid farewell to the intrepid six, sharing abundant moments of high emotion.

The final interviews offered an instant snapshot of the character and different mindset of each of the skippers. First to reach his Adagio Ultim was 42 year old Brest based Eric Péron. He races the oldest boat in the fleet, the 2014 launched non-foiling ex- Sodebo, which he has chartered to explore his personal limits and challenge his sense of adventure.

As he stepped aboard, leaving his wife and toddler daughter, Péron blinked back the tears before he greeted and thanked his team. A past competitor on the crewed The Ocean Race, he is a dedicated racer who knows if he finishes and does not pit-stop he has a good chance of finishing on the podium.

Sailing Actual Ultim – on which Gabart set the record in 2017 when it was MACIF 100, Anthony Marchand, 38, has comprehensive experience in many classes including eight La Solitaire du Figaros and more recently The Ocean Race’s Southern Ocean legs on Biotherm.

His words were well rehearsed and he showed no sign of nerves, “I slept well last night. I didn’t need to watch a movie last night, I had time to hang out, with a nice dish of Bolognese pasta with my sweetie. Right now I have a little knot in my stomach because it’s going to be a long day, full of emotions. These ‘Goodbyes’ are never very pleasant, everyone dreads it, but this is a special time to enjoy. The most beautiful minutes, though, will be the start.”

Tom Laperche, the youngest skipper in the race, brought his own brand of affable, unflappable youthful coolness, belying a steely focus. His SVR Lazartigue only arrived in Brest on Saturday after six weeks of repairs to damage incurred on November’s two handed Transat Jacques Vabre, structural problems which had clearly threatened his participation.

Born into an ocean racing family, racing round the world might be considered his destiny, but to have been already co-skippering an ULTIM with mentor, Vendée Globe winning François Gabart, at the age of 24 Laperche has plenty of ULTIM experience and will set a pace on the most radical, lightest boat in the fleet.

Laperche said “You don’t get many moments like this in your life. I have confidence in my whole team, they have prepared the boat wonderfully and we will be at the top level on the start line. There are so many people here this Sunday morning, that it really is something intense. I hope there will be as many people here when we finish. In recent weeks my team have re-examined every aspect of the boat and have worked a lot. I trust them. It’s amazing to feel like I’m leaving on this boat alone but with this whole team backing me and on this amazing boat. I leave here with lots of scenarios, lots of questions in my mind and at the same time, I am so very happy to have the privilege of sailing around the world on the SVR-Lazartigue trimaran. Believe me I’m going to make the most of it!”

Double crewed round the world race winner Charles Caudrelier knows his 2017 launched Maxi Edmond de Rothschild better than most know their boats and has had more racing successes than any in ULTIM fleet. The Verdier design is the most powerful all-rounder in the fleet and Caudrelier a committed winner. To the crowd he spoke firmly of the new adventure, the passage into the unknown of a solo high speed race of more than 40 days, something entirely new for him. Caudrelier said, “Racing solo I like, it is nothing new after La Solitaire and the likes of the Route du Rhum but the unknown is the length of this race and how I will cope with it, it is long to be alone. It’s a bit strange, we’re so used to starting races, except that what’s coming is longer than usual. We are privileged to be at the start of this race and we have to remember this every time we are scared or apprehensive and we tell ourselves that it’s going to be hard. We cannot complain.”

Coville the recordman
Thomas Coville was one of the crowd’s two standout favourites, not least long as he has a long history of starting and finishing records in France’s Ocean City and the City of Records. Starting his ninth round the world passage, the 55 year old knows what lies ahead and for sure can finish on the podium on his Sodebo Ultim 3, but admitted last night had been hard as this is his first race since both his parents passed in quick succession, “During our big operational briefing with the technical team last night we spoke of how this Sunday morning there would be a lot of emotions and that we had to stick to what we already knew how to do very well. And I dropped the atomic bomb, and we all started crying. This is my first round the world without my parents. They are somewhere else, and I’m going racing. Now I do it for myself but still with them. Last night was terrible, but maybe putting it into words freed something. But I am in the here and now, I feel very happy and very in tune with a very cool time in my life.”

Caudrelier shares the tag of pre-race favourite with 46 year old Armel Le Cléac’h who holds more round the world solo aces. The Banque Populaire XI skipper has now raced three times solo around the world since 2008 on successive Vendée Globe races, and has finished second twice and won in 2016. And he and Seb Josse have just won The Transat Jacques Vabre transatlantic. Le Cléac’h bowed to his superstition and avoided the trophy like it was protected by a force field.

Le Cléac’h said, “I don’t like getting too close to the trophy, it brings bad luck. The trophy is for the finish! I’ve been dreaming of a big race starting from Finistère for a long time. Now everything has come together for a great story. I grew up in this beautiful region, I learned to sail not far away from here, we couldn’t have hoped for a better send off before a solo round the world race on these boats. Now, it’s up to me to succeed in my mission.”


Complex weather, the elephant in the room…

The leaders should pass Cape Finisterre, off the NW corner of Spain, Monday morning after a relatively straightforward passage of Biscay. But the first major weather hurdle is a low pressure trough, a thalweg off the Portuguese coast which is the precursor to the big Atlantic depression.

Spanish weather ace Pep Costa who is working with the SVR Lazartigue meteo group explains, “It is quite tricky for the skippers because they have a thalweg (a trough) which they have to cross to the other side of, that means a transition zone of the wind from the north to the wind from the east.”

Australia-based Will Oxley who is in the weather routing cell for Coville’s Sodebo explains, “The Elephant in the room is the large front and low pressure the fleet it due to encounter on Wed 10th. All the set up revolves around when and where will we interact with the system? As we know, the weather routing programs know no fear and left to their own devices they are happy to send the Ultims into 6m swells and 45 knot gusts, so we need to manage that carefully.”

Follow the race tracking on

Photo Credits: Vincent Olivaud and Alexis Courcoux
Video Credits: NEFSEA Productions/PolaRYSE

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Race Yachts
Cyclops Marine
JPK August 2023