Ultims – The “match within the match” heading to Cape Horn for the weekend

Some 2,700 miles west of ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE – Brest leader Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild), the second and third placed rivals are making good speeds in the Pacific Ocean just passed Point Nemo.

A little more than 400 miles still separates second placed Armel Le Cléac’h (Maxi Banque Populaire XI) from third positioned Thomas Coville (Soldebo Ultim 3).

Right now Caudrelier is just over 250 miles NE of the Falkland Islands and is looking forwards to some modest downwind sailing as he starts to negotiate the high pressure to his west. His homewards climb is not offering anything too dramatic for the meantime and patience will be his key virtue for the moment. 

The match within the match remains engaging, a head-to-head between the two most experienced solo circumnavigators in the race. They are expected to reach Cape Horn this weekend.

Coville (55 years old) and Armel Le Cléac’h (46 years old) are well acquainted with the fearsome Cape. The enigmatic skipper of Sodebo has been round the world under sail eight times (four single-handed, four crewed, six multihulls), and Le Cléac’h three times, always solo on IMOCAs in the Vendée Globe. He still holds the monohull solo round the world record at 74 days and 3 hours. And Le Cléach is on target to finish on the podium, just as he has every time on the Vendée Globe, 2nd in 2008, 2nd in 2012 and winning in 2016.

And right now they are happy in the knowledge that they have in each other a sparring partner, a benchmark skipper travelling on the same course on the same weather system doing the same speeds. There is no let up for either, both nicely positioned at the leading edge of a low pressure system.

” It’s a privilege to play this match within a match ” (Coville)

Looking back remember that Coville started out just behind the Caudrelier-Laperche duo, in the same weather system, before foil damage dropped him out of the leading group. Behind him, Armel Le Cléac’h became the first skipper to make a stopover, in Recife (Brazil). Then he had to fight around the Saint Helena high to get to the south. At that point there was a gap of up to 1,500 miles between duo

Coville’s lead was eroded as he progressed through the Indian Ocean and it was Coville’s stopover in Tasmania which allowed Armel to take the lead which he has held lead despite his northerly course around New Zealand to avoid a malicious depression. 

But, since Monday, Coville has only lost 50 miles to Armel – nothing at all in the greater scheme of things – especially considering the climb up the Atlantic might be complicated.

Le Cléac’h said at Cape Leeuwin “At the moment, I’m not thinking about him, I’m concentrating on my route while taking care of my boat.” But as he and Coville got closer, he admitted it made him happy to be in a close rivalry, “After being isolated for a long time, it’s nice to be in contact with another boat again, to get back into the real feeling of competition,” he said. 

Coville shares the enthusiasm, “I’m battling with Armel Le Cléac’h and it’s a privilege to play this match within the match with him.” He told the French media this week. 

Yesterday, they both gybed southwards to benefit from a westerly and north-westerly wind flow. In this long, otherwise lonely, passage towards the tip of South America, the advantage is still with Armel Le Cléac’h. 

Coville was delighted to have caught a glimpse of the sun yesterday for the first time since entering the Pacific, summarising, “With Armel, we follow Charles who is a bit far away, but its great to be side by side.”  And Coville is looking forwards to Cape Horn again, “It’s always a great moment you leave a place where everything feels hostile to find yourself in the Atlantic, it’s the Cape of Good Deliverance,” laughs Coville. 

The two men are expected to reach Cape Horn this weekend, Maxi Banque Populaire XI probably on Saturday afternoon and Sodebo Ultim 3 on Sunday morning or noon.

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