Suncream and shades are obligatory for the Ultimes as they shave the coast of Morocco, passing the renowned kite surfing spot of Dakhla today. For the Class 40s and the following IMOCA 60s it is still hard hats and protective eye wear as they battle with big winds and confused seas. Since yesterday the main goal of the bigger monohulls especially has been to try and outrun the latest, active depression which is hitting the Azores.
The top four IMOCA 60s, PRB, Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir, Banque Populaire VIII and SMA, are already passing to the east of Sao Miguel and should be spared the worst of the low. But all, to a man and woman, will be dreaming of getting out of the worst of the weather, getting the drysuits and boots off and enjoying downwind sailing with some sunshine.
After tearing a giant hole in their mainsail last night Arnaud Boissières and Stan Maslard reported they planned to return to their base in Les Sables d’Olonne.They confirmed their retirement at 1530hrs.
For the duo on Bastide-Otio, popular Sudiste Kito de Pavant and Yann Régniau, desperation was setting in because they have been working for three days with no Fleet and so no communication, no weather info and no idea what is going on with their rivals. Adding the fact they have some problems with damaged sails, the duo have decided to head for Cascais, Lisbon, Portugal to evaluate their options.
The race so far has been relentless. Early this morning and last night there was some respite in a bubble of light airs, but it was entirely temporary. Now of the 42 duos which left Le Havre Sunday there are 34 still officially racing. The eight abandons comprise two Class 40s, 1 Multi50, 1 Ultime and four IMOCA. Two IMOCA 60s are heading for repairs Hugo Boss and Otio-Bastide.
In order of withdrawal they are: Maitre CoQ, Edmond de Rothschild, Prince de Bretagne, Team Concise, French Tech Rennes Saint-Malo, Safran, Bretagne-Crédit Mutuel, and today Le Bateau de Métiers Aerocampus.
Meanwhile at the front of the pack
For the Ultimes it is about maximising VMG, net speed made as quickly as possible in the direction of the finish line. Downwind in good conditions the match race between Sodebo Ultim’ and Macif has been about the leaders getting down into the fresher pressure first and gybing angles. Thomas Coville and Jean Luc Nélias have eked out a lead of 53 miles now, but that is still nothing at all considering the active, complex Doldrums ahead.
Vincent Riou (PRB) said yesterday: “I'm happy to be in front, I would not like to be at the back because the winds will be strong.” And so it is proving for the middle and late order of the IMOCA and Class 40 will have gusts over 40kts and big, confused seas to contend.
Tanguy de Lamotte and Sam Davies are having a solid race in fifth, best of the older generation boats on Initiatives Coeur. O Canada have suffered a torn mainsail track and were trying to make a fix 130 miles NW of Cape Finisterre. Skipper Eric Holden reported: “I have ascended the mast to detach the headboard as the headboard car is jammed where the track is broken, so we have been able to lower the mainsail. We are in calm winds but the sea state if very uncomfortable for working aloft. We are assessing the situation and what our options are.”
In Class 40 the duel between Le Conservateur, Bestaven/Brasseur and V & B Maxime Sorel and Sam Manaurd continues at the same high level, three miles apart. But so too the fleet has paired off rather nicely with duels developing right through the fleet. In sixth Brazil’s first ever Transat Jacques Vabre entry in Class 40 is fifth. Eduardo Penido and Renato Aurajo are 20 miles ahead of seventh, while British-South African pair Philippa Hutton Squire and Pip Hare hold eighth.
This 12th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre lacks nothing for spice.