Ill fortune was in no way selective as it struck a wide cross section of the La Route du Rhum-Destination fleet over the first 24 hours of the 3,542 miles Transatlantic race which started from Saint-Malo, France on Sunday afternoon, bound for Guadeloupe.
Difficult sea conditions, squally winds which pumped up to 45kts and periods of poor visibility took a heavy toll across the five classes with dozens of skippers among the 91 starters forced to stop or abandon their race.
Most high profile early casualty is the 31m Ultime trimaran Sodebo Ultim’ of Thomas Coville which struck a cargo ship last night around 2330hrs UTC, losing the starboard float right back to the crossbeam. The solo round the world ace who was considered to be one of the pre-race favourites to win into Pointe-a-Pitre was unhurt and arrived in Roscoff at a little after midday today, disappointed and shaken.
Covillle recalled: “Today I feel like I have been a victim in a car accident. I feel like a truck collided with me, a motorcycle at night. It really basically is that. I was coming away from TSS, the area we avoid because of the maritime traffic, and I was going really fast. That evening I had had a small problem on the bow, so I decided to basically speed up and try and catch up with Loick (Loick Peyron, Maxi Banque Populaire VII) but was sailing along quite comfortably. An engine alarm went off, a battery charge reminder, so I went back inside because I was surprised that after eight hours I would need to be recharging. There was nothing wrong so I went back and there I saw on it on my screen … You can imagine that on our boats we do not have a lot of visibility, that it is dark, there were squalls and lots of rain and that basically we sail like aeroplane pilots or like traffic controllers, using the radar.
I could see that there were two cargo ships close to me. I was sailing in wind mode, which basically means you sail taking into account the variable winds and waves. If I am sailing at 25 knots and the container is at 18 knots, we had a closing speed of 40 knots. Basically the two miles was covered in one minute and thirty seconds. I get out on deck having started the engine and manage to get the right gear and it is just when I look up and see this big black wall cross in front of me and I hit it 1.5 metres or maybe 3 metres from the back. We just did not quite pass behind and but for three metres we would have passed OK.”
Two sistership Class 40s lost their keels just hours apart. Francois Angoulvant had to be airlifted off his recently launched Sabrosa Mk2 by a 33F helicopter just after midnight and taken to Brest for medical observation. Marc Lepesqueux was luckier in that he managed to keep his boat upright when he lost his keel, stabilising it by filling the ballast tanks and he was able to make it into Guernsey.
The unfortunate duo were just two with problems affecting a dozen different Class 40s. Among them an ankle injury has forced Nicolas Troussel (Credit Mutuel Bretagne) – runner up in the 2010 edition – out of the race. Thierry Bouchard (Wallfo.com) succumbed to an injured wrist. Sail or rig repairs are required on Exocet (Alan Roura), Fantastica (Italy’s highly fancied Giancarlo Pedote) and Teamwork (Bertrand Delesne). Double Vendée Globe finisher Arnaud Boissieres reported he was heading for his home port, Les Sables d’Olonne with a combination of problems.
Conrad Humphreys’ hopes of building from a strong start were compromised when the Plymouth, England skipper had to re-route into Camaret by Brest to replace a mainsail batten car luff box. Sailing Cat Phones he arrived in Camaret just before 1600hrs local time this Monday afternoon and his technical team reckoned on a two hours pit-stop. Two Multi 50 skippers required to be towed to port by the SNSM.
Loic Fequet’s Multi 50 Maitre Jacque lost a big section off its starboard float, a seeming repeat of a problem suffered a year ago according to the sailor from Brittany who finished second in the 2011 Transat Jacques Vabre. And also in the Multi50s Gilles Buekenhout (Nootka) broke a rudder and had to be towed to Roscoff where he arrived around 1600hrs CET this afternoon.
Loick Peyron and the giant Banque Populaire VII (which won the last edition as Groupama) continues to lead the race at the head of the Ultime fleet by a matter of 45 miles ahead of Yann Guichard (Spindrift 2). The battle of the giants was taking on its hotly anticipated centre stage action this afternoon as Guichard continued to march steadily up through the field, now into slightly more moderate breezes but still with big confused seas. He was almost 10 knots quicker than Peyron on the late afternoon poll. The leaders were due to pass Cape Finisterre this evening around 1930-2000hrs. Meantime after holding second for much of the time Sébastien Josse, Yann Elies and Sidney Gavignet are locked in a three cornered battle in the Multi70s with 3.5 miles separating them after 28 hours of racing, between 57 and 60 miles behind the leader.
Five seriously damaged but a duel at the front. The Multi50 fleet was hit badly by the harsh conditions. First to be affected was Maitre Jacques of Loic Fequet which suffered a damaged starboard float. His was the first of a series of accidents and damage. Gilles Buekenhout (Nootka) with a broken rudder; Hervé de Carlan (Delirium), damaged a daggerboard; Erik Nigon (Vers un Monde Sans SIDA) has ripped mainsail and Alain Delhumeau (Royan) was dismasted. There were six still on course this afternoon carrying on a spirited fight to continue their race to Guadeloupe. A tight duel is at hand between Yves Le Blevec (Actual) and Erwan Le Roux (FenêtréA Cardinal) who were racing just a few hundred metres apart this afternoon off the latitude of Les Sables d'Olonne.
One Abandon, two damaged, Macif supreme since the start François Gabart has maintained a consistent leadership since breaking the start line first on Sunday afternoon. The lead of the current Vendée Globe champion increased this afternoon, out to 25 miles as his nearest rival Vincent Riou reported damage to his mainsheet track mountings. Two other notable damages include Tanguy de Lamotte on Initiatives Couer who was having to reroute for a pitstop after a shock to his rudder damaged the mountings. And Bertrand de Broc is reported to have abandoned after the hydraulic ram on his pilot failed and he also suffered an injured elbow. The rest close reach on down the Bay of Biscay with a big lateral gap (60 miles) between the trio of Gabart, Guillemot and Beyou in the west and Burton / Di Benedetto in the East.
Class 40 Sébastien Rogue remains untouchable so far in Class 40 on GDF SUEZ, but Spain’s Alex Pella is keeping the pressure on the race leader, pressing hard on the Botin designed Tales 2. Pella confirmed that he had damaged his preferred genoa during a sail change and anticipates losing some miles. But he expects to be under gennaker by the middle of tomorrow in easier conditions. “The main thing is I am still in the race which is important considering how the conditions have been.” Speaking less than 20 minutes before he was due to leave Camaret Briton Conrad Humphreys said: “I was shattered. We are almost there (close to completing repairs). The showstopper was the broken batten box which means the batten was no longer attached at the front of the main and I did not have any spares. It was a pretty hideous night, the waves were difficult, but I felt I had sailed reasonably well. There was a lot of reef in, reef out and it happened during one of these episodes. I am tired still but I will get back out there and try to stay with the group. That is the important thing. I am annoyed this happened.” Miranda Merron on Campagne de France was up to ninth place this afternoon, just 14.5 miles behind the leader. The English skipper reported: “ Minor issues on board, mainly the masthead wind unit which has stopped working, so no wind info at the moment – back to dinghy sailing. I should be able to plug in the spare wand, but not in this sea state. It will have to wait a few days until conditions improve. Not so good for performance. Anyway, it's sunny today, although rather wet on deck. Can't have it all!”
Rhum Class: Mura out in front, Sir Robin en forme In the Rhum Class defending title holder Andrea Mura on the optimised Open 50 Vento di Sardegna was 50 miles west of Ushant this afternoon, furthest offshore of the top group with a lead of 19 miles. He continues to clock high average speeds. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was on robust form this morning when he spoke to Race HQ in Saint Malo on the morning Radio Vacs: “I have seen gusts to 35 knots and am about 37 miles from Ushant. The first night I did see a 40 knot gust at one stage but I was ready for it. I got the third reef in and the storm jib up. We were alright. I am fine, absolutely fine, just looking forwards to getting past Ushant and get away. I always think you start racing at Finisterre but the main objective just now is just to get around Ushant. I am eating properly now after my stomach upset, so I am all good.” Knox-Johnston’s Grey Power was up to 12th in the class, while Finland’s Are Huusela is in eighth on his Class 40 Neste Oil.
1. Thomas Coville (Ultime – Sodebo Ultim’) : collision with cargo ship
2. Bertrand de Broc (IMOCA – Votre Nom autour du Monde) : elbow injury and pilot damage
3. Alain Delhumeau (Multi50 – Royan) : dismasted
4. Loïc Fequet (Multi50 – Maître Jacques) : float damaged
5. Erik Nigon (Mulit50 – Un monde sans sida) : mainsail shredded
6. Gilles Buekenhout (Multi50 – Nootka Architectes de l’urgence) : rudder broken
7. François Angoulvant (Class40 – Team Sabrosa SR 40MK2) : lost keel
8. Marc Lepesqueux (Class40 – Sensation Class40) : lost keel
9. Nicolas Troussel (Class40 – Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne) : injury
10. Thierry Bouchard (Class40 – Wallfo.com) : injury
11.Arnaud Boissières (Class40 – Du Rhum au Globe) : technical problem
– Route du Rhum Media