Proving how closely matched and how much the top ULTIM multihulls have progressed over the last few months, after nearly 4,500 miles and ten days of racing the leading duo on the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre double handed race to Martinique rounded Ascension Island – the most southerly mark of their course – within an hour of each other this morning.
Indeed Francois Gabart and Tom Laperche on the giant SVR Lazartigue made the better rounding of the remote mid Atlantic island, slipping inside rivals Armel Le Cléac’h and Seb Josse on Banque Populaire XI, breaking through any lee of the 859 metre volcanic peak Green Mountain, to round at 0830hrs UTC.
Banque Populaire XI went round one hour later and, as the pair of ULTIMs sped off downwind towards Martinique, the chasing pair had closed up to be within 16 miles of the race leaders who had a little over 3000 nautical miles to the finish line, where they are expected on Sunday night.
“It was really magnificent to find this ‘lost’ island on our course. We went all the way around one mile off. It is a round island with an 800 meter volcanic peak. It’s very rocky, with orange colors and very little vegetation,” this morning enthused Tom Laperche, the young winner of the 2022 La Solitaire du Figaro who will succeed Gabart as skipper on the first ever solo.
In turn Armel Le Cléac’h and Sébastien Josse are around 100 miles ahead of the previously dominant the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild which won the last Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre race in 2021 and last year’s Route du Rhum Destination Le Havre. Skipper Charles Caudrelier noted, however, “There are still 3,000 miles to go, we’re not going to be racing quite in a straight line, so it’s far from over. We are happy, but we remain hyper focused. The distances will stretch, but the time differences remain very small. 100 miles ahead in ULTIM is like two or three miles in Figaro.”
“SVR Lazartigue was very fast in these moderate winds and they got their timing for their tacks just right. I don’t know whether Banque Populaire XI has any technical problems. We’re not told everything, but SVR seems to be more at ease in terms of her course angles and flies well in these light to moderate winds. Jean-Yves (Bernot, their router) has done a great job,” said Caudrelier.
After starting yesterday morning from Le Havre, the IMOCA fleet took a bashing from the first big front as they fought their way upwind out of the English Channel. While the dense, gusty winds topped 45kts at times it was the big, unruly seas which caused most problems. But once through the windshift and into the more modest NW’ly breezes this afternoon speeds were up and Charal, sailed by Jéremie Beyou and Franck Cammas were sailing a slightly more northerly course and led by just over two miles from the IMOCA winners from 2021, Thomas Ruyant and Morgan Lagravière.
Among those with technical problems, mainsail damage is an issue for Paul Meilhat and Mariana Lobato (Biotherm), who are heading for Brest, for Isabel Joschke and Pierre Brasseur (MACSF) who were heading to Lorient and for Pip Hare and Nick Bubb (Medallia). The British pair have a tear in the leech above the second reef and so have been sailing with a fully reefed main meantimes.
“ To be honest the mainsail was not in the greatest of health when we left and these conditions, putting all kinds of stresses and strains on it, and when we went over one particularly big wave a big chunk ripped out of the back of the mainsail by Reef 1, which at the time was not too bad as we had to go to Reef 2 anyway.” Reported Hare, “But now I think we are really going to feel the pain because we can’t hoist the main above Reef 2 which is very disappointing this early in the race. But c’est la vie. But here we are, we will carry on so we can get to Martinique so we can race back, but we are unfortunately going to be looking at a more southerly route, we need to try and find an area of high pressure to try and make some kind of repair, which is gong to be quite big. We don’t want to put it under any more stresses and strains. So it does not look like a westerly option although it looks attractive, I don’t think Medallia is going to be able to take.”
Dealing with the niggles, the bumps in the road, costs time. Sam Goodchild and Antoine Koch on For the Planet had to drop their mainsail yesterday afternoon, but have been on the comeback since and were up to sixth at 38 miles behind the leaders.
The British skipper Goodchild reported, “We had a bit of a lively night, slamming a lot and had a few breakages, we have lost both our wind instruments at the top of the mast, which is a bit annoying, a few other fiddly things. We had to drop our mainsail off Cherbourg, so we lost a lot of time then. So we are slowly getting back into the pack. We are passing a few boats, we are just trying to find the balance between nor breaking too much and trying to go faster. Apart from that we have gone through the front and are going south which is nice. It is still pretty rough with a big sea state and so we are trying to find the level between going too fast. But really all is good on board.”
So too minor niggles for the German flagged Malizia Seaxplorer in 12th this afternoon, Boris Herrmann called in, “We have a little problem with our electronics, our main compass switched off and so once that happens in this seas state it is hard to get it back on and so we don’t know why that it happened. So we are on a secondary compass and a little bit slowed down, the boat is not steering so well. And we lost a bit of time earlier today dealing with the problem.”
An all Italian duel at the front and two groups now in Class40
The action at the front of Class 40 fleet is dominated by the Italian flagged boats Alla Grande Pirelli of Ambrogio Beccaria and Nico Andrieu and Alberto Bona with Spanish co-skipper Pablo Santurde del Arco on IBSA. Racing in SW winds off the Portuguese coasts this afternoon Bona and Santurde had taken the lead by just over one mile.
A trio of Ocean Fifty en route to Cape Verde
Among the Ocean Fifty class, Solidaires en Peloton (Thibault Vauchel-Camus and Quentin Vlamynck), are 70 miles ahead this Wednesday, in softening winds. Aboard second placed Viabilis, Pierre Quiroga is happy to be still in the race with 3,500 miles remaining: “There are times when you have to modify the attack a little, that’s what which we tried to do yesterday, paying attention to the boat, even if it’s never easy. As we get down the track, there is less and less wind. We are heading towards a ridge.”
Summary of IMOCA damage
• Groupe APICIL: Broken boom. At 0800hrs UTC while Groupe APICIL was up with the leaders in fifth place off the tip of Brittany, Damien Seguin informed his team that the boom on their monohull had broken.
• Oliver Heer Ocean Racing: The Swiss duo formed by Ollie Heer and Nils Palmieri discovered that the port side of their standing rigging had broken away from the mast. They are heading for Brest or Camaret to carry out a pit stop to try to solve their problem.
• STAND AS ONE has retired: Eric Bellion and Martin Le Pape informed the Race Directors at 0744hrs this morning that the reinforcement between the hull and deck had broken off towards the bow. They are taking their boat to the nearest port to evaluate the structural damage and the potential threat to the boat.
• Ingress of water aboard the Imoca Lazare: Shortly before 0700hrs on Wednesday 8th November, Tanguy le Turquais and Félix De Navacelle disovered an ingress of water at the bow of their Imoca, Lazare. They are heading for Lorient.
• MACSF: Torn mainsail: Shortly before 0500hrs on Tuesday 8th November, the mainsail on MACSF was torn. The crew are heading for Lorient to carry out repairs.
• Biotherm: Torn mainsail. Paul Meilhat and Mariana Lobato are heading for Brest to carry out repairs.
• Be Water Positive Sailing Team has put their race on halt and is heading for Gosport (in the Solent). After a medical problem and the advice of a professional, Scott Shawyer will be carrying out a stopover in Gosport to see what is going on.