The Route du Rhum 2022 continues to be a tough race for the record fleet with a number of problems overnight as a violent storm front hit all fleets
The Route du Rhum’s reputation as one of the toughest offshore races in the solo sailing calendar is proving to be true once again.
The system brought gusts nudging 40 knots and resulted in three dismastings within a three hour period, and the capsize of an Ocean 50. All skippers are safe and uninjured.
First Louis Burton on the IMOCA Bureau Vallée dismasted yesterday early evening. Burton was lying 9th at the time. He is safe and motoring back to shore.
At around 2000hrs last night, the leading Ocean Fifty trimaran, Solidaires en Peloton – ARSEP skippered by Thibaut Vauchel-Camus, capsized. The skipper is safe inside the central hull and awaiting rescue around 400 miles west of the Portuguese coast.
Two Classe 40s also dismasted. One of the leading pack, champion free-skier Aurélien Ducroz on Crosscall lost his rig, as did Amélie Grassi on La Boulangère Bio who was in 10th place while about 350 miles northwest of Cape Finisterre. All skippers are safe.
They join Damien Seguin, whose IMOCA was dismasted two days ago after being struck by a cargo ship, and was returning to Lorient under motor and using a kite-power system. Developed by Yves Parlier, the Liberty kite does not require a mast to support it. Seguin is expected to make landfall later today.
Race followers and fans of Pip Hare were concerned when Medallia’s tracker did not show her position this morning, although her team have confirmed that it is only a tracker issue and all is well onboard, and she continues racing.
Conditions were challenging, as Conrad Colman on the IMOCA Imagine recounted: “I am in the middle of the approach to the front and currently have 35 knots sustained, gusting 38kts more or less upwind with two reefs and the J3. It is up to 39kts, the boat is doing 16kts over the ground and every once in a while it has a big, big landing off the waves. It is pretty lumpy and it is as well it is dark as better not to see this grumpy sea.”
In the IMOCAs, Charlie Dalin continues his dominance on Apivia, having built an impressive lead during the early stages thanks to a significant boat speed advantage.
Dalin holds an 80-mile advantage over Jeremie Beyou on Charal and Thomas Ruyant on LinkedOut, with Paul Meilhat (Biotherm), Kevin Escoffier (Holcim-PRB), Maxime Sorel (V&B Monbana Mayenne) and Justine Mettreaux (Teamwork.net) forming a tight chasing pack within 30 miles. Managing how hard to push in a group this competitive will be a challenge, especially for skippers in new boats who will be closely eyeing IMOCA qualification miles.
Tight at the front for the Ultimes
The leading Ultims are now largely clear of the worst of the weather now and are racing south-west at high average speeds of over 30 knots.
Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) has regained his lead over nearest rival François Gabart (SVR-Lazartigue) by just over 25 nautical miles. Caudrelier is slightly to windward and may be able to hold the better breeze longer as they approach the Bermuda high ridge of lighter winds.
Although the higher proportion of upwind sailing in the early stages of the race means the Ultimes are not set to break the course record by any significant margin, the giant trimarans are already over halfway on the 3542-nautical miles course to Guadeloupe, and look set to only get quicker over the second half of the race.
Caudrelier commented last night: “François came back at me in the light airs, shortly before the Azores. He was going straight, while I couldn’t! I tacked four or five times, which took a lot of energy. I took a slightly more physically demanding option than his in the archipelago but, in the end, it came down to almost the same thing.
“It is still a bit of a war in terms of conditions. It is far from dream stuff. We are impatiently waiting to be able to take off the foul weather gear and enjoy stable winds. Here it is up and down between 20 and 30 knots and far from restful.”
Caudrelier has had his four-hour time penalty for being OCS at the start dismissed. Gitana team manager Cyril Dardashti explained: “We sent the GPS track of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild over the entire start phase, as well as the positioning of the Yellow Brick beacon provided by the organisation. The two agree and show that we were 50 m from the starting line at 2.15 p.m. when the gun was fired”.
Armel Le Cleac’h on Banque Populaire XI is bringing up the rear of the Ultim fleet, having restarted the race yesterday after repairing foil damage. Le Cleac’h had returned to Lorient in Brittany on Thursday and set off yesterday afternoon.
Banque Popularie XI’s daggerboard snapped on Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after the race start.
Le Cleac’h reported hearing “a crack”. He reported: “There was no warning. It broke in two seconds. It’s hard to believe.”
Having had to abandon his previous maxi trimaran in the last Route du Rhum race in 2018, Le Cleac’h’ was determined to restart this one
“It ended badly four years ago, we lost a boat. This year, we want to finish the story.”
Last year’s Class 40 winner Yoann Richomme (Parpec-Arkea) has sailed back into 3rd place after taking his statutory four hours penalty for crossing the start line early.
He described last night’s conditions: “It was fast but very, very violent after the front. The boat was jumping off the waves. It felt like everything was going to explode at any moment!”
“It was freakishly scary. Xavier Macaire seemed to be the one who attacked the most and I admit that I didn’t try to keep up with his pace, especially after seeing Aurélien Ducroz and Amélie Grassi dismasting behind my stern. I really thought we were all going to suffer the same fate.
“I know what it is to lose your mast in these types of conditions. It’s incredibly hard to undo all the lines and cables in rough seas and at night too. It is a stark reminder to keep a lid on it.”
British born Luke Berry (Lamotte Module Creation) also reported this morning, “It was a strong front and I can understand why some dismasted. I hope they are OK. I lost two aerials and so now I feel like I am sailing blind and the rest of the course is going to be a bit of headache.”
Two other Class 40s have also retired – Croatian Ivica Kostelic on ACI has several technical problems including autopilot failure, Kéni Piperol (Captain Alternance) was taking on water, and Pierre Casenave-Péré (Legallais) suffered rigging problems. All are heading for La Coruña.
Ocean 50 fleet
The multihulls are especially vulnerable to confused sea states, and the Ocean 50s racing north of the Azores are now through the front in 15-20kts westerly winds but still face cross-seas and gusty conditions.
“Now on this leg towards the Azores it is quite difficult, with cross seas and a few squalls that are unforgiving. We have to stay vigilant, ”explained Quentin Vlamynck on Arkema, now leading the Ocean Fifty fleet after Thibaut Vauchel-Camus’s capsize.
“This accident was a big wake-up call for all of us to calm things down. Me? I continue to sail cautiously. You have to be careful and that leaves no time to go to sleep, especially since you have to think about what’s next.”
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