ULTIM CHALLENGE – High speed Biscay crossing is just the start

The first 24 hours of the ARKÉA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest, which started Sunday at 1330hrs on the Rade de Brest in the west of France, have seen the giant foiling 32m ULTIMs already display a measure of their globe devouring speeds. Crossing the Bay of Biscay last night the leaders had passed Cape Finisterre by six o’clock this morning and had eaten up most of the Iberian peninsula today.

Even though they were slowed to single digit speeds at times when they emerged out of low pressure trough around noon, overnight Tom Laperche, the young skipper of SVR Lazartigue had reported ‘slaloming past cargo ships’ whilst Race Direction at the Brest Race HQ polled consistent speeds of more than 45kts at times by the fastest trio of the six ULTIMs.

After the amazing start on Sunday which also marked the end of the festive holidays, whilst the French workforce were getting back to business this morning, the ULTIM skippers were getting into the high speed race rhythm, the leading group had eased into an initial 650 miles (1046 km) in just over 24 hours.

More used to the pace of the IMOCA racing round the world on his three successive Vendée Globes, solo monohull around the world record holder Armel Le Cléac’h (Maxi Banque Populaire XI) remarked this afternoon, “At this pace we can be at the Cape of Good Hope in 12 days and at Cape Horn in 30 days. In the IMOCA it took more than double the time. It totally changes your vision of a race round the world.” Anthony Marchand (Actual Ultim 3) agreed: “What’s crazy is this feeling of traveling very quickly, of being at the Canaries in 3 days and the Cape Verde 23 hours later. ”

The high emotions of Sunday’s start are pleasant, but fading memory.  “It was great but a real torture too,” said Éric Péron from on board sixth placed Adagio, some 90 miles behind this afternoon’s leader Charles Caudrelier on Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. “You did everything to bring tears to my eyes and of course it was all so very moving.”

“It was a very good start,” confided Sodebo’s Thomas Coville. “We feel that there is a real passion behind this race and it is really very cool.”

Now on his ninth lap of the planet the 55 year old skipper of Sodebo Ultim 3 added: “I don’t know if we can keep up this pace but we really are off to a strong, very strong start. I saw boat speeds of 38kts to 43 knots.”

But the speedos were up and down a lot.  “The wind was extremely irregular, sometimes at 40 knots, sometimes at 15 knots,” recalled Tom Laperche (SVR-Lazartigue) on his morning voice note.  “We stayed very close together, it’s nice,”
The previous evening, Armel Le Cléac’h had gybed slightly further west than the others before converging back

“We wanted to do just one sail change rather than two, we didn’t want to miss the wind shift by being too far east and we wanted to avoid the axis of the shipping lane across the Bay of Biscay” , explained Nico Lunven from the Banque Populaire routing unit.

Since the end of the morning, the wind has built to around 25 knots whilst gusts of 30, 35 knots were expected this afternoon.

Caudrelier maintains his lead working down the rhumb line at some 6.5 nautical miles ahead Le Cléac’h, Coville very much in the match in third.

“After their beautiful spring across the Bay of Biscay we are in a drag race,” explains Thierry Chabagny from Actual’s routing unit. Among the challenges of the day, crossing a thalweg (an area of low pressure trough bordered by a high pressure). In just a few hours, the wind shifted from South-East to North-West, a 180° shift to negotiate.

“It wasn’t at all easy with passing squalls and sometimes gentle winds,” adds Lunven. “That is why the fleet was slightly scattered.”

Now it should be relatively stable with a northwesterly flow throughout the day, which should maintain the differences. What the skippers and routers are examining carefully is the significant depression which is forming towards the West and which they will negotiate at the latitude of the Azores.

“It’s a depression that’s dynamic and evolving very quickly, which is widening and whose trajectory is still uncertain,” adds Nicolas.

“It starts Wednesday morning and until Thursday evening, it’s going to be tough,” assures Thierry Chabagny, who sees it as “a first level crossing.”

“The challenge is knowing where to put the cursor to position yourself well. Several options are on the table and the teams have not yet decided. “We still have 24 hours to decide.”

One certainty: everyone knows that the faster the skippers go at the moment the less they will be affected on Wednesday” concludes Chabagny.

JPK August 2023
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