Transat Jacque Vabre sailors Kip Stone and Merfyn Owen on Artforms are back on course after a diversion to Lorient, France to replace a damaged mainsail

Transat Jacque Vabre sailors Kip Stone and Merfyn Owen on Artforms are back on course after a diversion to Lorient, France to replace a damaged mainsail. At the latest polling they are approximately 375 miles behind the class leader, Gryphon Solo. Speaking from the Bay of Biscay Stone sent this report:

46.28N, 5.01W – Bay of Biscay

It’s a very wet ride, we are averaging 15 knots in 20-25 knot winds, and reefing between squalls every hour.

After backtracking 160 nautical miles to Lorient to swap mainsails, we’re back on the course and racing to Salvador. Our visit to Lorient was just over 12 hours: one hour waiting for the new sail to arrive; five hours to swap them over, and six hours waiting for the front that battered the fleet yesterday to make its way to the coast and pass us. Just before midnight GMT, we were back on our way.

The 36 hours we’ve lost on the fleet will be hard to make up, not only because we’re now 400 nautical miles behind the leaders but also because a high pressure ridge now extending from the Azores towards the Portugal coast is going to cut us off before we get there, blocking our way to the south and leaving us to pick our way across the ridge in light air while those on the other side enjoy fast downwind sailing towards the equator.

It’s just how the weather cookie crumbles, really. If we could roll the clock back 24 hours that ridge would now be working to our advantage. Unfortunately, by the end of the day tomorrow, I expect we’ll have dropped back another 100 miles on the leaders and any chance to close that gap won’t come our way again soon.

So, with little chance of winning this race, we’re back on the course in the spirit of discovery and adventure the sponsors have tagged to this great race: “C’est par la mer que l’on découvre la terre.” Although I’ve crisscrossed the Atlantic many times, it’s my first chance to sail the trade wind route south via the Canary and Cape Verde Islands and it’s my first chance to race the boat across the equator, so there’s a lot to learn.

On top of that, I happen to have with me, as co-skipper, one of the most knowledgeable persons on the planet when it comes to the Open class boats. And, just in case anyone at the front of the fleet has written us off, let this serve as notice that there are still two highly competitive spirits aboard this boat who will be pushing the boat hard until the palm-lined shore of Brazil rise up over the horizon.

Our quick turnaround in Lorient was made largely possible with the help of Alain Gautier, and the Foncia and Banque Populaire shore teams, both competitors in this race – thank you! Alain secured dock space for us at the old U-Boat base where the teams are based. Both teams put themselves at our disposal, even as the Foncia crew was being airlifted from their capsized boat.

If you’ve ever imagined what world-class professional sailing looks like from the shore support perspective, a quick tour through their airplane-size hangars will leave you in awe. Side-by-side and dwarfing these hangars are the massive concrete U-Boat pens where the Germans maintained their lethal fleets during the war. Now, the docks extending from the base are lined with Minis, Figaros, 60ft trimarans, and giant cats – all modern day symbols of France’s world-wide dominance over short-handed ocean racing.