It will soon be coming to an end for the leading IMOCA. Ruling supreme, Alex Thomson has kept a good lead over his closest rivals. Paul Meilhat, Vincent Riou and Yann Eliès are fighting it out to make it to the podium, while aiming to be ready to pounce should the British leader show the slightest weakness. On the tenth day of the Route du Rhum, sixteen IMOCAs out of the twenty that set sail are still at sea, although Jérémie Beyou is heading back to Lorient after his electrical power system failed aboard Charal. Today, a previous winner of the Vendée Globe, Alain Gautier, gives us his expert view of the race.
It’s fascinating to watch the battle that is raging between the first four boats. There are two IMOCAs from the 2016 Vendée Globe generation with foils that cannot be adjusted (Hugo Boss and Ucar-StMichel), one equipped with the new generation of adjustable foils (PRB) and one with straight daggerboards (SMA). Quite naturally, we are wondering about the condition of each of these boats. Who is at 100 %? Who is not? We can see that Hugo Boss in general appears to be showing her full potential. On the other hand, there are a lot of questions still about PRB. We’re wondering too which sails each skipper is using. Alex Thomson is still very fast with angles that are not that much worse than his rivals. That raises some questions. What sail configuration is he using to get such a good VMG (compromise between bearing and speed)?
“It’s amazing that Alex managed to make his getaway like that”
Alex Thomson’s option to the north of the Ushant TSS early in the race gave him a small advantage, but not that much in the end. This year, the gateway to the trade winds was a long way south. Alex nevertheless managed to get back in contact with Paul Meilhat and Vincent Riou and pass in front of them at the latitude of the Canaries. He then got away from them very quickly and has continued to increase his lead.
It’s amazing that Alex managed to make his getaway like that. His trajectory has been straighter than his rivals, who have had to carry out more gybes. But above all, it is how he is sailing his boat that has made all the difference. We know that Alex’s foils are especially designed for downwind sailing, but his performance remains remarkable.
“SMA will almost certainly be the fastest of the four around Guadeloupe”
As we saw with the Ultimes, and more recently with the capsize of the Multi 50, Arkema, you need to remain very vigilant, as there are some violent squalls. As for the race around Guadeloupe, we may be in for some surprises and it is going to be interesting to watch the IMOCAs. Hugo Boss clearly does not appreciate light conditions. Alex Thomson needs therefore to reach the top of the island with as strong a lead as possible. If he manages to keep his current lead (160 miles ahead of Paul Meilhat at noon today), he will be able to relax. Aboard an IMOCA, the gaps do not shrink as fast as with the Ultimes, quite simply because the boats are not as fast and there is a less of a speed difference. The fight for the podium is going to be riveting. SMA will almost certainly be the fastest of the four around Guadeloupe, as straight daggerboards are an advantage in light airs.
“Victory by a foreign skipper would benefit the IMOCA class”
Alex Thomson may repeat Ellen MacArthur’s achievement of finishing second in the Vendée Globe and winning the following Route du Rhum. Victory by a foreign skipper would benefit the IMOCA class, even if that might not go down as well in Port-la-Forêt! I can see that this year the Figaro racers haven’t been lucky. François Gabart was beaten by Francis Joyon in the Ultime category and for the moment, it is not a Figaro racer that is best placed in the IMOCA class. That is sufficiently rare to be noted.
“Seguin, Roura, Le Diraison: a great pack of solid sailors”
Boris Herrmann is also having a good race, and is not far behind the leaders. He stuck with his option which allowed him to overtake and then leave the group of Finot-Conq designed boats skippered by Damien Seguin, Alan Roura and Stéphane Le Diraison way behind. These solid sailors form a great pack. They knew they could not aim to win with their older IMOCAs. But in the fight for sixth place, they can push hard aboard their boats which are very similar. Life is good for them. I can’t see Arnaud Boissières catching them, so the three of them will be battling it out to the end.
Well done to Erik Nigon and the Finnish sailor, Ari Huusela, who are sailing well. Completing a Route du Rhum is an achievement, as this is a difficult race. That must be what those sailors who carried out pit stops and set off again must be telling themselves. When you take part in a race like the Route du Rhum, you really have to do your utmost to finish, even if you are way down in the rankings. Clocking up the miles sailing solo is always useful.
I’m deeply disappointed for the two female skippers who were forced to retire, Isabelle Joschke and Sam Davies, as both of them have had a good season and were unable to show what they can do in the most important race of the year. They miss out on a great experience. But they need to look forward now. They are both strong and talented, so I’m not that worried about them.”