20 NOVEMBER 2022
A record sized entry of 38 boats at the start line in Saint Malo on Wednesday 9th November looks set to produce the closest and most exciting finish to an IMOCA race in the 44-year history of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.
With less than 200 nautical miles left to the finish line at Pointe-à-Pitre – and 53 of them to be raced around the west side of the island through what will be a nerve shredding minefield of local calms and sudden changes in wind strength and direction – there are just 15 minutes between leader Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) and Charlie Dalin (Apivia). And Jérémie Beyou (Charal 2) is poised to pounce in third if – and when – the leading duo slow.
The winner is expected at the finish line between 0500hrs and 1000hrs UTC Monday morning, but no amount of weather routing modelling can predict which solo skipper will win. The closest previous finish was in 2006 when Roland Jourdain won by 28 minutes ahead of Jean Le Cam.
And in this situation, trying to stay out of the calms and in the best breeze through the darkness of a sultry Caribbean night, most skippers would rather be the hunter than the hunted. The three leading boats will be very evenly matched in lighter airs.
Ruyant has bigger headsails if there is upwind work at all and has won into Guadeloupe three times in different races and classes. Dalin is a wily, smart, many-times podium finisher on La Solitaire du Figaro and is unbeaten in the IMOCA this year, but is on his first ever Route du Rhum. And if he can get close enough, three times La Solitaire champion Beyou might spring the big surprise.
Ruyant and Dalin are in sight of each other, certainly on AIS, and will watch each other like a hawk. Both will be trying to be as rested as possible to be lucid for the last long night.
Dalin, who has been even quieter than his usual taciturn self – and may yet reveal damage or a missing sail – asserted, “Everything’s fine and I’m back within sight of Thomas who is about five miles south. There are a lot of squalls and the wind is changing all the time with gusts up to 38 knots, so we had to work hard during the night. It is not easy to get any sleep in these conditions. I’m pleased to have caught up with Thomas.”
The other sailors are also closely watching this thrilling duel at the front of the fleet. “I think it’s fantastic. The battle between Thomas and Charlie is really incredible,” Isabelle Joschke (MACSF) said. “I’m pleased that it is going like this all the way to the finish. It’s nice to see the leading pack grouped together with Justine (Mettraux) in amongst them. It’s great to see that.”
Swiss skipper Justine Mettraux (Teamwork.net) is currently in seventh position, around 450nm miles from the finish line on Sunday evening, as the top ranked female and international skipper in the IMOCA fleet.
The winner may well smash the race record for an IMOCA held since 2014 by François Gabart, with a time of 12 days, 4 hours, 38 minutes and 55 seconds.
In the Top 5, Paul Meilhat (Biotherm) has also had some technical problems. “Part of the seal around the sail hold hatch split and I spent hours emptying hundreds of litres of water out of the bow section. It feels like I’ve been living in a foot spa for the last couple of days. With the hull so unstable because of this, I have swerved off course a few times. But for now, it’s under control.” Meilhat is currently in pursuit of Kevin Escoffier in fourth place on Holcim-PRB.
The race continues for 34 of the 38 skippers that set off from Saint-Malo eleven days ago. Antoine Cornic (Human Immobilier) revealed that he collided with a UFO a few days ago leading to a serious crack developing in his keel head. He remains in the race, but has to be even more vigilant.
The live tracker to follow the fleet’s progress at this link: