The first three days of the Route du Rhum certainly sorted out the boats. After the tough conditions yesterday which inflicted damage on Samantha Davies (Initiatives Cœur), Yannick Bestaven (Maître Coq) and Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest – Art & Fenêtres), on Wednesday, eleven IMOCAs are still able to continue on their way towards Pointe-à-Pitre. After Marc Guillemot on Monday and Thomas Ruyant yesterday, today, Bernard Stamm gives us his expert view of the race in the IMOCA fleet.
Early on, two major options became possible, as they left the English Channel behind them. Alex Thomson set off on a northerly route straight into the heavy weather. The others chose a route further south with Vincent Riou and Paul Meilhat leading the way. They wanted to avoid the worst of the low-pressure system. When the cold front passed over, the competitors encountered some tough conditions with strong winds and chaotic seas. Even though the wind angle should have enabled them to sail at speed, the sea state led them to be more cautious and apply the brakes.
The weather on their side
The sailors have had three very hard days. Now, they must really want the weather to be on their side as quickly as possible to be able to enjoy some more pleasant sailing conditions. What they have to do now is deal with the area of high pressure which is stretching out in front of them. The leaders of the group that took the southern option (Paul Meilhat, Vincent Riou and Yann Eliès) have left the really bad weather behind them. From this evening, the wind will gradually swing around and they should be able to round the high via the east during the night or tomorrow morning. Very soon, they will be able to hoist the downwind sails and start to speed along. They need to plan a gybe at some point and they will zig-zag around the high to pick up stronger trade winds probably on Friday morning.
Alex Thomson’s brain must be working overtime
The situation is different for Alex Thomson. He still has winds that are stronger than his rivals. In the coming hours, he will have to make a very important decision about how to proceed in the race. In fact, it will all be down to the position of the high. If he sees he can get through straight ahead, if the angle leaves him enough wind, he can maintain the gap he has from Vincent and Paul, who are further south-east. In that case, he won’t suffer too much, but the closer you are to the high, the lighter the wind.
If the high prevents him from continuing straight ahead and the route gets blocked, he will have gone a long way north for nothing. He will then have to head back north again or get in line behind his main rivals. Alex’s brain must be working overtime, as it’s not an easy choice to make. At the moment, he is probably spending a lot of time at the nav desk. In any case, all that is fascinating to watch from ashore. There are bound to be a lot of details we’re missing here sitting at our desk. We’ll only find them out at the end of the race.
Not surprised by the damage
The first three days of racing sorted out the fleet, as is often the case in this sort of race. We knew it was going to be tough on the boats and the sailors. I’m not surprised that there was damage in these wind conditions and on such nasty seas. There has been a wide range of technical problems, which have been more or less serious.
I’m sorry for Louis Burton, who had a great start to the race, but was unable to keep going. As for Charal, she’s a brand new boat and some elements couldn’t have been tested before the race due to the lack of time. When that is the case, you find things out, when you start to push hard. The IMOCAs have had problems, but one thing stands out. Even after suffering such damage, the sailors are able to make their own way home with their boats. A lot of work was done by the class to ensure they were safer.
The surprises for me: Paul Meilhat, Alan Roura and Ari Huusela
Paul Meilhat is keeping up with the IMOCAs fitted with foils. Well done! He is an incredible racer and his boat was well built. Alan Roura has also had a fantastic start to the race and is well placed. He is someone who hangs on in there and finds what it takes to do well. Another surprise for me comes from a sailor I didn’t know at all beforehand, the Finnish skipper Ari Huusela. I am discovering him in this Route du Rhum. The race doesn’t look easy for him, but he seems to be able to cope. Not all of the skippers have left the problems of the heavy weather behind them. My thoughts go out to them. They need to remain focused and sail cautiously.”