Le Cléac’h explains his sail damage, Laperche leads to Equator

Passing through the Doldrums at speeds of the 22-24kts, ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest leader SVR Lazartigue sailed by Tom Leperche looked set to be first to cross the Equator into the southern hemisphere early this evening. The 26 year old has opened up about 20 miles on second placed Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) today, the Gitana team solo skipper is now 24 miles behind. And on the live program this afternoon fourth placed Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire XI) – now 287 miles behind Laperche – revealed he had J0 headsail problems early on Friday morning which had slowed him. Le Cléac’h is some six miles behind Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3) but was, again, slowed to around six knots on the 1700hrs UTC poll.

Armel Le Cléac’h today:  “I had a problem with my biggest headsail”

Interviewed as part of the bi-weekly ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE – Brest program broadcast this Saturday afternoon, Armel Le Cléac’h (Maxi Banque Populaire XI) revealed today what had slowed him down on Friday morning.

About his state of mind now?” It’s better ! Two or three days ago I was still in contact with the leaders then I had a problem with a sail and it took me quite a while. I had to fix stuff and  unfortunately that left me behind. Now, though, I have found conditions that allowed me to sail quickly. Last night I managed to rest well in anticipation of possible maneuvers. Even if it’s not easy to get out on he deck because of the speed, I’m going to take the opportunity to go around the boat and see if there’s anything wrong.

The problem? “I have a problem with my largest headsail, the J0. I can’t put it up, I have to fix it to use it again. But in saying that it’s not a sail we need so I’ve been back up to the boat’s normal speeds. I hope I can find the solution to be able to use it normally in due course. 

The Doldrums? “They won’t be very complicated this time. We were forced to make a big detour to bypass a light winds area by Cape Verde. As we are very far west, the passage from the Doldrums is not very wide, it should pass quickly. »

The peloton, the pack…? “Thomas (Coville) is not very far away, I actually saw him recently. It’s good to have someone not very far away, it allows us to measure against each other in terms of speed because we have the same wind conditions. Tom (Laperche) and Charles (Caudrelier) did not make any mistakes so far, so for them, things are going well. We’ll try to keep them from getting too far ahead. But this course is long, I know a lot more things will happen. We must maintain our pace, our strategy with conditions which should allow us to quickly descend into the 40s. The idea is to get to the gates of the Indian Ocean with a boat at 100% operational capacity and to be able to attack the big South where we will have to change down the gears.” 

The Big Interview, Michel Desjoyeaux: “Tom Laperche is an extremely brilliant skipper” 

© Guillaume Gatefait
© Guillaume Gatefait

Every Saturday the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE – Brest talks to some of the most experienced and successful ocean racers. This week we caught up with Michel Desjoyeaux. He is the only double winner of the Vendée Globe, triumphant in 2001 and 2009, multihull winner of the Route du Rhum in 2002 and The Transat in 2004), as well as a three times winner of La Solitaire du Figaro. Mich’ Desj’ was on the water last Sunday to watch the start of the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE – Brest. He gives us his take on this first week of racing, puts technological developments in perspective and is very enthusiastic about young Tom Laperche’s performance.

You were on the water to see the race start last Sunday what are your thoughts about the day and the race?
It was a wonderful day. In the great weather we had, people were happy to get outside. There were a lot of boats on the water and people lining the coast. It really warms your heart to see how sailing attracts and inspires so many people, even in a place like  Brest and Brittany where is quite commonplace. It was a beautiful spectacle, it seemed as if the skippers were setting off for a race lasting just a few hours. But they went so fast that we lost them in about fifteen minutes. It was a great popular festival. It’s not quite got the spirit of the Brest Maritime Festival but there were people everywhere and that’s great.

How does this challenge inspire you, seeing these different skippers  setting off solo on ULTIMs around the world?
To be honest it doesn’t impress me that much because I know that boats of this size are very  suitable for this great ocean passage. Even in very harsh and windy conditions, the boats are bigger and you are less worried than on a much smaller boat. Twenty years ago, I would have been out there. This is the top of the ocean racing pyramid.

As an engineer, are these developments that you have already considered?
I worked on the hydrofoil in 1993 and people joked about us. But we already knew how to fly! Of course that was not the case in all conditions, we did not go as fast, there was no electronic assistance, no autopilots as efficient. And indeed long before the hydrofoil we were sure that flight was the solution to going faster than the Archimedean craft. That was obvious and now everyone flies, even a kid who goes on a board or a wing flies! The technology, the control of forces, the aerodynamic efficiency, the studies of fluid hydrodynamic have all progressed at the and all work together on the ULTIM. This is a virtuous circle which contributes to what we see there.

The reliability of Ultim has often been called into question, what do you think Mich’?
Several different elements contribute to reliability. The first of these is the ability to last over time, which is a challenge in terms of the design of the systems. Now we have the culture and the know-how to make robust boats capable of lasting over time. If they are used properly they should get to the finish. But beyond that there are the unknowns, the imponderables due to an external factor, like the OFNIs (floating objects). And it is important also now to underline the effort that has been made with the new cetacean protection zones.

Many people say that the boats which do finish will do in a degraded mode. Do you share this point of view?
Whoever finishes first will be the first to finish. Let us not forget that on the first round the world race, the Golden Globe, only one sailor crossed the finish line (Robin Knox-Johnston). Obviously, there will be breakages and wear and tear. It would be something of a miracle if all the boats finished. That implies no criticism of the quality of the skippers, the teams, the boats. Because, no matter what, there will be damage. But it’s part of the game……..

Do you admire the boats, and the skippers as well?
I don’t admire them because a few years ago I would have been against them! I know them all, I have beaten a few of them. They are sailors and I have been part of that world. I would have loved to do this race. And when we designed Géant (in 2001), it was part of the development plan that we would get the boat flying. 

How do we explain how the fleet has been so tight throughout the week?
I would not have bet on it because the conditions were complex and the physical effort is significant to carry out maneuvers. But it’s great! After the start it was a Figarist rhythm. And so also it is not surprising some are winners of the Solitaire du Figaro. As time goes on you have to find your rhythm, your intensity and it is all the more difficult as the weather is complex. 

How to keep it going over time?
There is one aspect that we forget: Tom Laperche is the one who was with his boat most and  who sailed the most during the last hours before the race.  To me that is not a coincidence. On the two outings that SVR-Lazartigue made after launching, Tom was on board taking charge of his boat with his team. Sunday morning then it felt like just going sailing again. Except that this sail will last a little more than 40 days!

What’s your view of Tom?
I’ve watched him grow up, I’m not surprised at all at how he is doing. What he is experiencing, I find it brilliant. He is an extremely brilliant skipper. He has the Cartesian side of the engineer, he has a very good feeling, he is very comfortable on board, he doesn’t lose the plot, he is happy to be there and above all he is immediately into the right rhythm . Age means nothing: it may be his first round the world but you have to start one day. People may have forgottenthat I almost lost the Vendée Globe in 2001 to a 24-year-old (Ellen MacArthur)!

For more information on ARKÉA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest, please click HERE.

JPK August 2023
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