Route du Rhum: Gabart leads Azores face off in Ultims

Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe leaders, Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) and François Gabart (SVR Lazartigue), are less than 15 miles apart and on converging tracks as they negotiate the Azores islands, looking to get through the next cold front and into the fast-reaching conditions which will accelerate them towards Guadeloupe.

Gabart has held the lead for some of today and is approaching the island of Sao Miguel on the windward side, sailing faster than Caudrelier. Tonight and into tomorrow could prove a key stage of the race.

In third, Thomas Coville on Sodebo is not out of the match, some 45 miles behind “Charles and François managed to sail a little better than me. The strategy was to move to the West to pass between the two systems.

Thomas Coville on Sodebo – Martin Keruzoré pic

Given our position, we couldn’t see how to do it any other way.” He is expected to cross the front in the coming hours, but the wind is already up to 30 knots and so he is sailing with one reef and staysail.

To the south, where Charles Caudrelier and François Gabart are close together, the wind is likely to be slightly weaker. Over the coming hours, they will have to find their way through the front extending out from the Azores High, but can look forward to the trade winds tomorrow evening.

As Coville moves further west, Sodebo Ultim 3 may find less wind, but a better angle to head South, but ultimately could simply find herself lined up behind the frontrunners, who in stronger winds should extend their lead.

Coville reported this lunchtime, “There were a lot of manoeuvres during the night and it used up a lot of my energy. Yesterday evening, we wanted to get as far South as possible to cross the second front at a more favourable latitude.

“The gains you make to the South at this point affect the rest of the race. I hope my position will allow me to sail down reaching towards the area of high pressure. I don’t know how it will work out for the second front. It’s never like it in theory.”

Meantime 1000 miles behind the leaders Armel Le Cléac’h resumed racing this afternoon on his repaired Maxi Banque Populaire XI which has an original spec daggerboard in as a replacement for the broken one.

Close in the Ocean Fifty’s too
As for the Ocean Fifty class, the situation is slightly different, as the two boats to the north-west of the fleet (Solidaires et Peloton ARSEP and Arkema) are at the top of the rankings. They will be the first to reach the front this afternoon.

Like some of the others, Eric Péron back in sixth place, was annoyed to have been stuck in light airs since last night: “Even if there is a long way to go, it’s a bit stressful to think that the race could be decided here.”

Smiling here – Eric Péron is not happy being stuck in light airs – Eric Péron pic

This morning, Erwan Le Roux (Koésio) explained: “We are indeed in light airs. I can’t get away from this area, so it’s not very nice. I’m trying to remain patient and keep the boat moving. Before looking at what lies ahead, I have to find my way out of here.”

If the frontrunners manage to deal well with the weather system, they may find themselves at a latitude close to the southern group with a large gain in terms of the route to Pointe à Pitre.

However, things are not always as they seem on paper. Sébastien Rogues on Primionial, the furthest south of the Ocean Fifty multihulls, was the fastest in the fleet this morning and on top of that, had a good angle to the direct route. The verdict should be clearer later today.

Sébastien Rogues is furthest south of the multis – Kevin Escoffier pic

Dalin first in first out of light stuff
In the IMOCA fleet Charlie Dalin (Apivia) is still in front, but his rivals remain a serious threat. After slowing during the night due to a large area with no wind, the atmosphere is set to change in the coming hours. There will be another front to deal with, which looks quite violent.

In second, some 50 miles behind Dalin, Kevin Escoffier (Holcim-PRB) said, “It’s like a fresh start and we’re going to have to do the work all over again. The area of light airs isn’t going to affect those behind as much. The wind will gradually strengthen in the next 4-5 hours to reach 30-35 knots.

“Behind the front, we’ll change tack to head towards the Azores and then pick up the trade winds which are not that strong, but more importantly tend to be more easterly. We can look forward to carrying out lots of manoeuvres. I may have been a bit too cautious from the start, but I’m pleased about the speed of the boat and her behaviour.

“Charlie (Dalin) is clearly a level above everyone in terms of navigation and speed. It’s nice for me to be close to Jérémie (Beyou) and Thomas (Ruyant). It’s been a while since I have done any solo racing and this is allowing me to discover the boat, so there have been a lot of positives in the first few days.”

Meantime Giancarlo Pedote (Prysmian Group) has lost his workhorse J2 headsail, “I was sailing under J2 with one reef in the mainsail. There were twenty knots of wind and I was resting in my bunk. I felt the J2 flapping and saw the sail had split in two. Not a pretty sight. I put on my foulies and managed to bring it down. Part of it went in the water, but I got it all back aboard and tied it up.”

In 10th, Germany’s Boris Herrmann (Malizia-Seaexplorer) is enjoying learning his new boat and taking it cautiously: “I’m quite happy to be in the race. I’m keeping her safe and learning about the boat. I will have a boat in good shape for Alicante as well. I’m not too far away from the pack, and I’m still in the race, so that’s OK.

“I’ve had a few jobs to do. The engine. That kept me a bit busy. It was a frightening moment. Without an engine, despite the hydro and solar, when there’s no wind and no sun, it’s a safety back-up. I had some sail repairs this morning at the foot of my jib.

“Nothing major, but it brings back memories of the Vendée Globe and messing around with Sikaflex and trying to keep her fast, so all is well aboard. The outlook is for increasing winds. At 8 p.m. tonight, probably a tack after the cold front. Then, it’s off to the South. But the strongest winds will be tonight.”

Pip Hare has found her happy spot – Pip Hare pic

Briton Pip Hare on Medallia confirmed she is finding her rhythm, “I am starting to hit my stride now. The boat is going a lot better and I am feeling more confident. I seem to have dropped out of the worst of the weather and now I am trying to get south as much as I can so I can avoid being clobbered by the next one really.

“It has been very, very bumpy with a fairly consistent wind. And although I have many, many high tech alarms the best warning when I need to put a reef in is when I get thrown out of my bunk. I have never had a bunk before and it only hangs up to a certain angle and so it is quite helpful as it wakes me up.

“I am coming into the front There was a real blood orange coloured sky this morning and that is the sign of an approaching front, so I have just put me second reef in. I am just gently bringing down the sail plan, but it is always hard to do that when the boat is going like a train like it is now. I am asking ‘should I be putting the reef in now?’ But it is early in the race and so I need to play it sensible and get across these two fronts.”

Swiss skipper Oliver Heer arrived at Port La Foret late this afternoon where his IMOCA will be lifted into the slings to have some repair work done below the waterline where the foil of DMG MORI damaged the hull causing some delamination. The work should be completed by Monday morning but Heer is up against a malicious weather forecast. His objective remains to complete the race course and accumulate Vendée Globe qualifying miles.

Yoann Richomme’s Paprec-Arkea – Vincent Olivaud pic

Croatian world cup and Olympic ski champion Ivica Kostelic has been suffering with autopilot problems which have him heading towards La Coruna, he reported today: “It is not going so good. I don’t know where to begin but I have had a series of damages aboard since the start.

“The most important one was at Ushant I lost the VHF antenna and the reserve windvane from the top of the mast. It was hanging by the cables and it obviously hit the main autopilot which began to malfunction then.

“I climbed the mast then which was pretty scary in the conditions but I wanted to get the reserve windvane off so that it would stop smashing everything around, but the antenna I could not get in and then it fell into the sea. But the problem is the main pilot keeps dropping out and this is a big problem.

“I can’t do this without the pilot. And then on top of that I shredded the Code Zero last night. It ripped and since then I am pushing towards la Coruña to see what can be done.”

Having suffered an ingress of water, Keni Piperol is heading for la Coruña, Emmanuel Hamez (Viranga) has changed course after tearing the top on his mainsail. So now after Jonas Gerckens (Volvo) announced his retirement yesterday evening, there have now been five skippers who have retired from the race in Class40.

Rhum racers slowed
The fleet in the Rhum category is likely to be slowed for a few hours today. Behind the front, there is an area of light winds after the stormy conditions. However, this does not mean a period of rest for the skippers, as in this area of variable light winds, it is important to keep the boat moving and avoid losing any precious miles. Another front is set to reach the fleet later today

The frontrunners with Jean-Pierre Dick (Notre Méditerranée – Ville de Nice) still in the lead, are currently moving out of the front while those at the rear are just about to tackle it. The good news for them is that the front is set to weaken as the hours go by. Etienne Hochedé (PiR2) in the Rhum Multi category set sail from Roscoff yesterday after resolving his electrical problems.

Marc Guillemot (METAROM MG5): “I’m preparing for some stronger winds. We can already feel that it is starting. We’re in 23-23 knots of wind and the seas are starting to get rougher, but everything is fine.

“I’ll continue to reduce the sail, as we’ll be getting close to the front in a few hours. The priority is to get away from this trough of low pressure and stay in good shape – the boat and myself – to be able to tackle the trade winds.”

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