Charles Caudrelier, long-time leader of the Arkea Ultim Challenge Brest solo around the world race, has paused in the Azores after a severe weather forecast for “impassable” conditions in Biscay on his final approach to the finish.

Charles Caudrelier, skipper of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild trimaran and Arkea Ultim Challenge leader has paused his race in the Azores after a severe weather forecast for “impassable” conditions in Biscay on his return to Brest, north-west France.

Caudrelier, who has led the fleet since the South Atlantic, having also been in front or vying for the lead since the race began on January 7, is the only one of the six solo skippers not to have made a technical stop for repairs so far on the ground-breaking around the world race for 100ft foiling Ultims.

However, his team confirmed this morning that they are making a stopover, which race rules specify must be for a minimum of 24 hours, off Horta, in the Azores.

Initially it seemed as if Caudrelier could arrive into Brest as victor tomorrow, Thursday 22 February. However, a severe low pressure system in the North Atlantic have made conditions for the final 1,200-mile passage to Brest untenable for the giant multihull.

Charles Caudrelier, skipper of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild in the solo Arkea Ultim Challenge Brest. Photo: Yann Riou/Polaryse/Gitana

“Unfortunately, a big depression is blocking the way to Brest. 40 knots of established wind, gusting to over 50, and 8 to 9-metre seas… We’ve been patiently waiting and hoping conditions would improve but that is not the case,” explains Benjamin Shwartz, one of the weather routers from the Gitana team.

“It is out of the question to take the slightest risk, all the more so considering the lead we have over our rivals.”

Solo record out of reach

Caudrelier, who holds a 2000-mile advantage over second placed Thomas Coville on Sodebo, has been clear that he does not want to jeopardise a potential race win for the sake of a few hours or days.

“I’m not going to sacrifice the team’s work out of impatience,” Caudrelier told race organisers on Monday, 19 February.

“There are races which have ended badly in the Bay of Biscay which is one of the most difficult sailing waters.”

Despite a fast start for the Arkea Ultim Challenge Brest, the solo around the world record has been out of reach for some time, meaning Caudrelier is racing only the fleet, not the clock.

Initially the record looked within grasp – in spite of the fact the fleet set off on a fixed start day, rather than following an optimum forecast. The leaders crossed the Equator on their southbound stage after around six and a half days of racing, while the fastest solo time down the North Atlantic had previously been 5d 17h 11m.

Caudrelier then crossed the Cape of Good Hope after 12 days 1 hour 2 minutes and 22 seconds, which equates to an average speed of 28.85 knots. The current solo round the world record holder, Francois Gabart, passed the Cape of Good Hope after 11d 20h. 

He then enjoyed a rocket-fast South Indian Ocean stage, passing Cape Leeuwin after 18d 5h, compared to Gabart’s 19d 14h at the same point. This set a new Indian Ocean record, with Maxi Edmond de Rothschild maintaining an incredible average speed of 30.7kts from South Africa to Australia.

However, approaching Cape Horn in early February, Caudrelier intentionally slowed his giant trimaran dramatically for 48 hours to allow a violent low pressure system to roll to the south of him past Cape Horn. After rounding the iconic headland on February 7, he then faced tricky headwinds which saw the giant multihull making just over 400 miles in 24-hours, compared to the 800-plus mile days it is easily capable of.

Maxi Edmond de Rothschild passing Cape Horn in the Arkea Ultim Challenge Brest. Photo: Yann Riou/Polaryse/Gitana

Shelter in the Azores

The Maxi Edmond de Rothschild trimaran is currently seeking shelter in the lee of Faial, Horta. 

The Gitana team had initially considered waiting offshore from the French coast before making the final approach to Brest, but rejected the idea due to the heavy shipping and sea states expected which would make handling the 100ft foiling trimaran extremely difficult.

“It’s a safety choice to take shelter,” explains Guillaume Evrard of the race organisation. “Their intention is to stay outside the marina, in a small channel between two islands.”

Caudrelier will be met by a technical team from Gitana who can assist him in making any repairs to the boat – he has not disclosed many problems with the boat, but hinted that he has had some breakages.

The team will also be restocking Gitana with some very welcome food for the final few days of sailing – the skippers initially provisioned for 40-41 days at sea, and have already been sailing for 45.

Gobal Solo Challenge leader faces 9m waves 

Caudrelier is not the only race leader to be hampered on his final approach to the finish.

Philippe Delamare, the long-time leader of the Global Solo Challenge, was also due to arrive in A Coruna, north-western Spain, on Friday 23 February. 

Although Delamare does not need to cross Biscay, race organisers report that the same system is likely to produce a very severe north-westerly wind and 9m waves just offshore of A Coruna, with a sea state in excess of 10m further north. 

Delamare, who is already well north of the Azores and around 500 miles west of A Coruna, is currently continuing racing though Global Solo Challenge organisers report that he is closely monitoring the situation.

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