Another day in Disasterland

Published on November 4th, 2014

(November 4, 2014; Day 3) – A helicopter rescue after a boat was struck by lightning is added to the toll of damage on the singlehanded Route du Rhum this Tuesday afternoon, but in general the 3,542 mile race from France to Guadeloupe has settled in to a more usual normality as weather and sea conditions eased slightly.

Solo skippers who had been forced into Breton havens for technical repairs returned to the race course this morning. The notable exception is the IMOCA Open 60 contender Vincent Riou.

The PRB skipper who won the 2004-5 Vendée Globe and the 2013 Transat Jacques Vabre with Jean Le Cam this time last year decided to abandon his Route du Rhum as soon as it became obvious that he could no longer achieve his goals.

A combination of damage to his mainsail track mounting and the fracture of a ballast tank wall away from the hull bottom meant his chances of adding the classic Route du Rhum to his list of ‘successes’ are dashed. He is one of 17 of the 91 starters to have now abandoned the race.

Pierre Antoine, skipper of the Multi50 Olmix, had to be airlifted off his boat early this afternoon. He raised the alarm this morning after he sustained damage to his main hull in an electrical storm. He was around 120 miles north of Cape Finisterre. As requested by race direction, Class 40 leader Sébastien Rogues diverted to the rescue zone and stood by until the uninjured skipper was safely in to the Spanish rescue helicopter.

“The lightning struck the top of the mast,” Antoine explained. “I later found the bulb from the masthead down on the ground. It came down through the mast right to the bottom. The boat is made of wood so it left a hole in the wood and right through the electrical cables which had caught fire. I thought first of all it was just a light, so I tried to put it out with the extinguisher, as I didn’t think there was any hole. When I went inside the boat, there was already 50 cm of water and she was beginning to go bow down. After that, the water just kept rising. I found bits of wood floating around. It’s the sort of thing that never happens. It’s crazy. Luckily I wasn’t inside the boat, seeing it had burnt everywhere. I could have been sitting in front of the computer. I can’t imagine what would have happened… the screens exploded and everything turned to dust.”

Routine, what routine?

On this second full day of racing skippers are trying to recover a little, to establish something of a routine but remain dog tired and groggy. There is also the emotional toll, knowing the dramas and retirees which have taken place. It is not easy to stay at maximum focus. In the Bay of Biscay and off Cape Finisterre the racing conditions remain tough, but mostly manageable. Winds have been averaging 20-25kts but with big gusts to 35kts.

Damage timeline for the first 36 hours HERE

Between the leaders and the fleet back markers, the race now extends to nearly 1000 miles. The super fast Ultimes are due to pass Madeira this evening, relishing sunshine and trade winds sailing while the back of the Class 40 fleet and the Rhum class are still be subjected to more Atlantic low pressure system weather, strong winds and challenging seas.

For the leading duo in the Ultimes there is the prospect of steadily improving conditions. This morning race leader Loick Peyron said that he could anticipate ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. But over the first 24 hours he was on the edge of exhaustion and had dropped off asleep momentarily several times when he was in control of his giant Ultime Maxi Solo Banque Populaire. As the seas evened out this afternoon the acceleration is noticeable, the leaders averaging 27kts. Peyron leads Yann Guichard on Spindrift 2 by 67 miles while the performance of Sébastien Josse on the smaller Multi70 Group Edmond de Rothschild is remarkable, once again a loud endorsement for the former MOD70 design. Josse is more or less even with Spindrift on the afternoon rankings today. They will pass Madeira this evening and then tomorrow have to make the strategic decision when to gybe and head more directly towards Guadeloupe. Thereafter it will be almost directly downwind, time to make hay.

Francois Gabart, leading the IMOCA Open 60 Class by 43 miles this afternoon, asserted this morning that ‘it is far from easy’. But as he did on his Vendée Globe circumnavigation last year, he has a habit of making it look straightforward. On Macif he has lead since the start line on Sunday afternoon and – having lost Riou, one of his Port La Foret training mates and key rivals – has three times La Solitaire winner Jeremie Beyou in second and Marc Guillemot in third. Tanguy de Lamotte spoke today of his desire to get back on the race course on Initiatives Coeur and he was reported to be nearing completion of his rudder repairs late this afternoon.

In the Multi 50 Class there are five boats left racing from 11 starters but the battle off Cape Finisterre today has been engaging while Lalou Roucayrol has profited from the more direct course, closer to the rhumb line on Arkema Region Aquitaine and so has the lead by 44 miles over Yves Le Blevec on Actual and Erwan Le Roux’s FenetreA-Cardinal which are 11 miles apart. The latter went inside the Finisterre TSS while the leader Roucayrol is 100 miles further to the west.

Class 40’s leader is now Thibault Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires du Peloton, erstwhile leader Rogues returning to full race mode after his SOS diversion to stand by the sinking Multi50. He has dropped to third but past precedents suggest he will be compensated for his detour by a jury decision. On GDF Suez he was third on the late afternoon rankings. Miranda Merron has gained two places to seventh on Campagne de France while her English compatriot Conrad Humphreys spoke of his disappointment at having to pit stop into Camaret yesterday.

“There were really big waves getting over the Continental Shelf.” Humphreys reported, “I didn’t manage to eat or sleep so it was good to rest up in Camaret while the repairs were being carried out and I’m feeling much better now. It’s just great to be back out and in the race. It’s settled down a bit now and Cat Phones is making good progress towards Finisterre. As for life on board the boat, it’s all about getting into the routine of things and I’ve regained my rhythm. I’ve not had an internet connection so one of my jobs today is to try and sort that out.”

Then in Rhum Class it remains Sardinia’s Andrea Mura repeating his act of 2010 leading by 45 miles. Sir Robin Knox Johnston lies in 11th place going steadily: “All well aboard.” He reported today, “ Put up more sail this morning. Nice to be showing as much as 15 knots occasionally, but for an older boat she does drive easily on a reach. Not sure of the wind speed as the wind direction and course has given up.”

Audio of Knox Johnston and Conrad Humphreys HERE

François Gabart (IMOCA 60 Macif): “It is far from being simple. There is a lot of wind and the boat is slamming massively. I had between 30 and 35kts. I was not so surprised by the wind but by the state of the seas. The boat was going fast and you really have to make sure you don’t fly off the waves too much. It’s pretty tough physically and the breeze will build again after Finisterre. It has been a difficult start to the race but I enjoy the competitive part of it. It fulfils that part of me. Certainly it falls in line with what I wanted and planned. I am glad to be where I am but I am sorry for Vincent (Riou) I thought he was pushing me hard and would muscle through. The drum on the small headsail furler exploded and so that took me a long time on the deck last night to fix.”

Kito de Pavant (Class 40 Otio – Medical Bastide): “The conditions are tough, muscular with a particularly difficult first night and winds to 40 knots. The sea is big. It is a little more downwind now at 90 degrees to the wind and with a mean wind speed at 30 knots. It is fast and wet. Just now it is not exactly comfortable but we hope it will be better tomorrow. ”

Race website:

Background: The 10th edition of the Route du Rhum is a 3542 nm singlehanded race from Saint-Malo (France) to Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe). Held every four years, the 2014 race started November 2, with 91 skippers competing in multihulls and monohulls split into five classes according to their overall length.

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