Carnage continues as leaders loiter in Transat battle

The leading pair of Ultime multihulls, opening the 5400 miles Transat Jacques Vabre course from Le Havre to Itajaí, are fighting through light winds just a few miles off the West African coast between Western Sahara and Mauritania while the last of the Class 40s are contemplating another Biscay bashing still 220 miles NW of Cape Finisterre.

In the IMOCA Class Britain’s Alex Thomson and Spanish co-skipper had been hove to since 1530hrs this afternoon trying to deal with an unspecified technical problem. They have slowed their boat. The two skippers are in regular contact with Transat Jacques Vabre Race Direction and with their own Technical Team ashore.

Stewart Hosford Managing Director of Alex Thomson Racing says “It is important that we ensure the repairs are made before continuing across the Atlantic. The skippers are well and working hard to ensure a swift solution to the problem if possible.’

As the leaders of the IMOCA class passed the latitude of Cape Finisterre this afternoon, hopefully with the worst of the weather left behind in Biscay, the leaderboard has a very familiar look as the teams from the Pole Finisterre occupy the top four places. Yann Eliès and Charlie Dalin on Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir lead PRB 4 by 12 miles with Armel Le Cléac’h and Erwan Tabarly up to third on the new Banque Populaire VIII as they reach again in WNWly winds The foil assisted Banque Populaire was quickest these afternoon by 1.5 to two knots 16 miles behind Queguiner. And so to date Banque Populaire is the only one of the latest ‘foil’ generation to have not reported any technical issues so far.

A broad swathe of light airs caused by an elongated Azores high pressure ridge has forced Sodebo Ultim’ and Macif to the skirt the coast to avoid the no-go area which bars the most direct route. This Wednesday afternoon the race leaders, Thomas Coville and Jean Luc Nélias on Sodebo Ultim’ were only three miles off the beach, gybing downwind in 10-12kts of SE’ly breeze. They are south of the latitude of Madeira, still making good speeds. In the lighter airs the newer, lighter Macif had caught back some miles on Sodebo Ultim’ but Francois Gabart and Pascal Bidégorry were still over 34 miles astern and on the opposite gybe from the leaders. Both will almost certainly pass east of, or through the Canary Islands.

Life may appear easier for the two leading giants. They have done their time scything through the depressions to their north, indeed largely outrunning the worst of the conditions, but the smaller Class 40s still have bad weather to come before they can escape Biscay. After the retirement of Team Concise yesterday with structural damage this morning it was their Frenc sparring partners Nico Troussel and Corentin Horeau who confirmed they have had to retire. Persistent problems with the autopilots on Bretagne Credit Mutuel Elite had rendered the duo exhausted. A gashed lip for Horeau this morning only served to underline how beyond tired they were and with no possible fix the pair which had lead the race until yesterday had no choice but to tell Race Direction of their retirement.

Class 40 has been pared back to a head to head match race at the front of the 12 boat fleet. 2011 winner Yannick Bestaven on Le Conservateur with Pierre Brasseur have Maxime Sorel and Sam Manuard on the 2015 Manuard design V & B five miles off their starboard hip but seeming to be significantly quicker on the mid afternoon position report.

Speaking late last night Lionel Lemonchois told of the capsize of and subsequent helicopter rescue from the upturned Prince de Bretagne, the 80ft tri he was racing with Roland ‘Bilou’ Jourdain.

“It is the sky falling on your head.” Double Route du Rhum winner Lemonchois said, “The helicopter arrived above us and then a guy lifted us off, one after the other, Bilou first and then me. In total, it lasted twenty minutes. It was very impressive to see it after its cable swung around above the boat swung in all directions, but soon we could see they do this kind of thing all the time because it was very slick and very professional. “

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