Lucky 7? Contrasting Fortunes in Route du Rhum

Published on November 8th, 2014

(November 08, 2014) – As it so often does La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe sees deeply contrasting fortunes on the race course between Saint-Malo and Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe Saturday evening.

Race leader Loick Peyron just over 700 miles to go to the finish line with a lead of 180 miles over second placed Yann Guichard. Ahead there seems a fighting chance of a victory in the mythical French transatlantic, one win which has so far eluded him over six previous attempts. And the icing on the cake is a possible chance of beating Lionel Lemonchois’ race record of 7 day 17 hours, which he set in 2006. Peyron’s target is to cross the line before 0619hrs UTC (0719hrs CET/0219hrs local) on the morning of Monday 10th.

Heading east, nursing his shattered dreams and his hobbled, dismasted Class 40 Cat Phones is British skipper Conrad Humphreys. He has a long, lonely 330 miles to make under engine to the safe haven of Cascais by Lisbon, about four days of solitude, trying to stay positive and look forwards to his next race. Humphreys suffered some kind of rigging failure, he believes, which caused his mast to snap in two places whilst sailing in relatively moderate sea and wind conditions late on Friday afternoon. The Plymouth skipper suffered the same fate at the very start of his solo ocean-racing career on this race in 2002. Back then it was during of one of the most notorious storms of the race’s history. So it hurts more when it appears to be a mechanical failure of some type.

“As you can imagine, I feel absolute devastation about what has happened,” said Conrad. “But all the rigging has gone. I had to cut it all away. We’ve lost it all. It’s very upsetting.” Humphreys had fought back to 12th place in the fleet after having to pit-stop on the first night. “We’d managed to claw our way back into it after our earlier pit stop. I thought I had a good chance of getting a good result. I dreamt of finishing this race, it’s such a fantastic race with a fantastic field.”

He only had enough fuel on board for around 100 miles at the time so a rendezvous was arranged with the cargo ship Federal Maas, which transferred a further 200 litres to him in pitch darkness. “It was pretty terrifying,” said Humphreys. “But the Indian captain was amazing. He and his crew kept getting the line on to my boat with jerry cans of diesel. They came alongside and they were obviously a long way up, around 10 metres above me, so to get the line down in those conditions and in the dark was just amazing. I can’t thank them enough.”

After a night with no sleep or food, his job now is to progressively transfer the fuel into the fuel tanks. Conrad’s technical operations manager Hugh Fletcher explained: “Conrad has a load of jerry cans so has had to make a funnel from the top of a 5-litre bottle of water so he can get the fuel into the tank.

“The problem is that there is a big following sea of around 4 metres and it’s breaking over the back of the boat which is making the whole platform unstable. It’s also risking getting water into the fuel tank. But he’s done a brilliant job so far and has managed to fill the tank. And he’s motoring at six knots so he’s making good progress.” For triple round-the-world sailor Humphreys the Route du Rhum still remains unfinished business.

With just over 1000 miles to go to the finish line the two pairs of leaders in the Multi50 class and the IMOCA Class are still in the same stretch of the ocean, working on the NE margin of the Azores high pressure, racing in unsettled 15-18kts trade winds, requiring a lot of trimming. IMOCA leader Francois Gabart still has about 25 miles of advantage and is two knots fast than second placed Jérémie Beyou (Maitre Coq). Italy’s Alessandro di Benedetto (Team Plastique AFM Telethon) got back under way yesterday evening after making his composite repairs to his rudder mechanism. He is still 270 miles ahead of longstanding rival Tanguy de Lamotte who beat him to the finish of last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre by mere minutes and with whom he raced around the world as his nearest rival on the last Vendée Globe. De Lamotte has a newer, faster boat now and is averaging more than two knots quicker than the Italian double circumnavigator. Erwan Le Roux leads the Multi 50s by less than one mile on the late afternoon rankings.

Half of the Class 40 fleet are under spinnakers west of Madeira. The conditions may be loosely called ‘Trade Winds’ but in reality it is often more like the Doldrums with some squalls and big changes in wind direction and pressure. For a Sudist (southern) solo skipper it is the northern route, closer to the rhumb line which paid the top dividend for Kito de Pavant (Otio Bastide-Medical) The Mediterranean skipper from the Midi region is in control with more than 35 miles ahead of Yannick Bestaven (Curator) and Spain’s Alex Pella (Tales 2 Santander). Miranda Merron, the French based English skipper, is seventh at 84 miles behind the leaders.

In the Rhum class the difference is clear. Andrea Mura (mono) is sailing well offshore, in the southeast of the Azores and Anne Caseneuve (in multi) in the middle of the first Class40 in the west of Madeira. Mura leads. And Merron’s last remaining compatriot, Sir Robin Knox Johnston is ninth.

ETA (Estimated Time UTC)
Ultime: Monday, November 10 between 0300hrs and 0700hrs
Multi50: Thursday, November 13 between 14 and 22 hours
IMOCA: Friday, November 13 to 20 hours
Class40: Tuesday, November 18 at 330
Rhum Class: Sunday 23 November

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