IMOCA leaders ponder their choices after great start

After a spectacular start at 0930hrs local time off Le Havre this morning the IMOCA fleet on the 16th Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre made the most of the outgoing tide to boost them on the their way out of the Channel, tacking upwind past the tip of the Cherbourg peninsula this afternoon in gusty westerly breezes in excess of 20kts.

The defending IMOCA champions from the 2021 Transat Jacques Vabre race, Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière on their new Finot Conq-Koch designed For the People have been setting a fiery pace. Keeping slightly closer to the coast after trading tacks with Charal, sailed by Jérémie Beyou and Franck CammasRuyant and Lagravière had eked out a margin of just over a mile, directly ahead of Charal as they approached the tricky Alderney tidal race at the Channel Islands.  Britain’s Sam Davies and Jack Bouttell on Initiatives Coeur had made an excellent start, too, and were up in third late this afternoon. 
An active front is incoming from the west which is set to bring a short period of strong winds tonight after which the leaders will need to quickly show their hand and make their strategic intentions clear.
The binary option remains whether to stay west in uncomfortable upwind, difficult conditions and sail a much shorter distance than opting for the longer routing to the south which is much more benign but still looks like it might run into a messy area of light winds before any trade winds are reached. 
For those whose primary focus is finishing the race in the primary pursuit of qualifying miles towards the Vendée Globe this might be the preferred choice, but most weather experts consider the podium finishers are likely to come from those going west tomorrow. 
Due to a start line infringement two IMOCA duos have a five hours penalty to take before the latitude of 30deg N, (about 120 miles south of Madeira). Louis Burton and Davy Beaudart on Bureau Vallée and Britain’s Pip Hare and Nick Bubb both passed between the starting tug and the inner distance buoy. They need to pass through a virtual gate of their choice and return back through it five hours later. Ironically Burton had to take a similar penalty after the start of the last Vendée Globe but went on to third. Hare and Bubb’s start was rushed because of a broken ‘gaff’ batten which supports the roach of their mainsail which they replaced in the pre-start period.
“It’s absolutely not what we wanted, not at all. I am gutted, I really am, but we need to suck it up and get on. We have 3,500 miles to sail and lots of people will have their own problems.” Acknowledged Hare. 
Mainsail batten problems also affected Canada Ocean Racing’s flagged Be Water Positive which is being sailed by Scott Shawyer with Nick Moloney. They had to make a rapid pitstop to repair but were quickly back on the race course. 

Ultims at half way

While the IMOCAs finally started after nine days waiting for storms to clear, the Ultim fleet which has been racing since Sunday 29th October, as scheduled, are approaching the most southerly turn of their 7,500 nautical miles course to Martinique, Ascension island. They too – like the IMOCAs – have been tacking upwind with Armel Le Cléac’h and Seb Josse holding on to the 32 miles margin on Maxi Banque Populaire XI ahead of Francois Gabart and Tom Laperche’s SVR Lazartigue. They had 200 miles still of upwind sailing before they can ease sheets for the downwind slide back northwards towards Martinique which is 3,400 miles away for the leader. 
Gabart, continuing his long time rivalry with Le Cléac’h, commented, “We’re pleased to be where we are. We have the feeling that we’re progressing well, even if there is a lot of trimming to do on the boat, which makes it all the more interesting. Over the past 24-48 hours, we have managed to claw back quite a few miles, and as we are hard bitten racers, that is bound to cheer us up aboard! Tacking upwind in these boats, when the wind drops away like it has we lose out in terms of the course angle to where we want to go, but the speeds remain quite incredible. We are upwind in trade winds that are not that strong, but we are flying at twenty knots, practically the whole time!” 

Ocean Fifty damages

After leaving from Lorient yesterday morning to resume their course to Martinique the six boat Ocean Fifty fleet seems notably depleted. 
At around 0330hrs UTC, Le Rire Médecin-Lamotte (Luke Berry and Antoine  Joubert) was dismasted around 90 miles north-northeast of La Coruña. They were making around 8 knots towards a haven in NW Spain tonight. 
Then at 0425hrs UTC while sailing fifty miles off La Coruña, Sébastien Rogues and Jean-Baptiste Gellée aboard Primonial, suffered damage to their port float. They are heading northwards on the unaffected tack. 
And then just before 0800hrs UTC, 60 miles off Cape Finisterre, the crew on Koesio (Erwan Le Roux and Audrey Ogereau) discovered that a crossbeam on the trimaran was damaged. The pulpit had been ripped off leading to an ingress of water. They decided this morning to divert to carry out a pit stop and arrived in La Coruna around 1700hrs this evening. 
The top three Ocean Fifty multis passed Cape Finisterre this afternoon with Solidaires en Peloton (Thibaut Vauchel-Camus and Qentin Vlamynck) leading the way just over forty miles ahead of Réalités (Fabrice Cahierc  and Aymeric Chappellier). 

Some Class40s  will make their getaway

Italian skipper Ambrogio Beccaria with French co-skipper Antoine Carpentier on Alla Grande-Pirelli are the consistent leaders of the Class40 fleet as they approach Cape Finisterre, which they should pass tonight, albeit having to tack offshore to round the notorious NW corner of Spain. 
Beccaria spoke pre start of the chances of making an escape, a rich get richer move which would require maximum speed to maintained together with a little luck. 
The class is very much now split into two groups with a low-pressure system moving in from the West. For the pack out in front, it is important to put their foot down to get as soon as possible to Cape Finisterre and then head down to the South of Portugal before the new front arrives. Christian Dumard, the weather expert for the race explains. “When the next Low moves in the wind will back to the South and they will be heading into the wind and therefore much slower.”
Even before that, there is a strategic choice to make. Do they go to the East (close to the coast) or West (further out to sea) of the traffic separation scheme off Cape Finisterre? Skippers this morning remained uncertain. “I was just downloading the weather files to look at that,” explained Guillaume Pirouelle (Seafrigo – Sogestran). “It looks better to pass inside the separation scheme, but I haven’t finished checking that. We’ll decide a bit later on.” For Baptiste Hulin (AMIPI – Tombelaine Coquillages), it is a matter of safety first. “We’ll get closer to the coast to protect ourselves from the heavier seas. There is going to be the front in the night and we’re examining which side of the separation scheme to go, depending on the sea state and wind conditions.”
Lying in 10th place in the 40 boat Class 40 fleet now Britons Brian Thomson and Alister Richardson on Tquila reported this morning,  “It is just starting to calm down, it was very windy and squally through the night. We had up to 43 knots of wind which we did with one reef and the J1, with a lot of thunder and lightning very close to us. We have sailed well so far and done a decent route. We are in on around 10th position and we will start to see a few more as we get closer to Cap Finisterre. We just saw Primonial heading in the other direction (Ocean 50 which has damaged float) which us sad to see. We had some little damage, nothing too bad – the main halyard does not lock any more, but hopefully we can fix that when conditions are a little better. Tonight is going to get windy again and we want everything ship shape before then.
For the second pack further back, it unfortunately looks like they will be punished twice. Not only will they be upwind off La Coruna, but the high-pressure system is developing and will slow them down more.

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