Vendée Globe Takes Prisoners
Published on December 21st, 2016
(December 21, 2016; Day 46) – While Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA) on Banque Populaire VIII collected 371.2 nm in the past 24 hours to increase its lead, the story astern is of heartbreak. In two cruel days the hopes of the race’s two top rookies have been dashed by mechanical failures.
On Sunday afternoon it was the 35 year old race first timer Thomas Ruyant who was forced to abandon his race after 42 days while lying in eighth place. His seamanship in bringing his badly broken IMOCA, which threatened to break up and sink at any minute, 220 miles through some horrendous weather conditions, writes him into the race’s history books.
Paul Meilhat’s mechanical failure, a 40cms (15 inch) crack in the keel ram, thankfully has not had the same dramatic impact as Ruyant’s self-rescue, but the outcome in the meantime is as cruel for the gifted, fast learning 34 year old from Lorient who already had one foot on the Vendée Globe podium. Meilhat has had to route north, leaving the optimum east-going route, and considers his race over, with the future destination as yet undecided aboard SMA, the record breaking 2012-13 race winning boat.
After the retirals of Morgan Lagravière (Safran) back on November 25th, Ruyant yesterday and the re-routing of Meilhat, this has not been a good edition for the ‘bizuths’ – as the French call race first timers.
SMA’s keel ram, which weighs 90 kg has a 15 inch crack in it, which makes it impossible to repair at sea. His team said, “After the incident happened the most important thing was ensuring the safety of the boat. Without its ram the keel would be free to swing from side to side at 45° to the boat, which could easily threaten the structure of the monohull in certain conditions.”
The skipper – who had been racing side by side with friend and rival Jéremie Beyou (Maître CoQ) – for 25 days reported this morning: “I made the keel secure using the blocking system and I stowed the sails, as I had a lot of sail up. Since then, I have been heading towards the NW to get away from the violent winds. I haven’t yet determined my route, as this will depend on the weather in the next couple of days. With a keel like that, I wouldn’t make it around Cape Horn. I wouldn’t feel safe, so I secured everything for the boat and myself.”
There is no immediate danger with the keel fixed in place, but any heavy seas could lead to a series of events and much more serious damage. Meilhat will choose his destination based on the weather. “New Zealand is the closest land 1900 miles away. The problem is that would mean quite a lot of upwind sailing in deep lows, which would be dangerous for the boat. I’m heading towards the NW for the moment and depending on the weather in two or three days, I will choose whether to head for New Zealand or up to Polynesia.”
The decision to head away from what was his initial goal is the only safe option and Meilhat is well aware of that, in spite of the disappointment. “I’m keeping myself busy,” he explained yesterday evening. “I don’t want to think about it too much for now. I have at least a week of sailing to do to come to terms with that. It’s really hard going from a state of mind where you are giving it your all to this doubting. I am trying to get things into perspective and doing what is required to ensure the safety of the boat. It’s not yet over. It’s still a worrying time for me.” The skipper of SMA added, “As for the race itself, it’s hard, but it will take a while for it to sink in. This is a race that is not like any other. I had really entered a world I didn’t know before and found a different mindset. It’s going to take time to get back to normal.”
Pieter Heerema (NED) No Way Back: “I am completely wasted. I have had three wipe outs. I have had crash tacks, the sails flapping, the boat flat in the water, an enormous mess, an avalanche of stuff through the boat three times, sails flogging. It has been a disaster. And it is the same problem I have had nearly since the start. I am at this moment on the back up autopilot which I have some questions about because I have never had a chance to use it. There are certain functions which I don’t know if they are in it. My plan is to just trundle along very very slowly. I have food enough for 140 days. And if need be I just cruise. I am doing 10 knots right now, I am doing 53 per cent of polars, it is fantastic circumstances, I should be at 18 to 20. But if needs be, I take it easy and get home that way. It is very sad. That is not the Vendée Globe.”
Ranking (Top 5 of 29 as of 22:00 FR)
1. Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), 7651 nm to finish
2. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson (GBR), 530.24 nm to leader
3. Maître CoQ, Jérémie Beyou (FRA), 1407.86 nm
4. StMichel-Virbac, Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA), 1848.54 nm
5. SMA, Paul Meilhat (FRA), 1993.49 nm
The eighth Vendée Globe, which began November 6 from Les Sables d’Olonn, France, is the only non-stop solo round the world race without assistance. Twenty-nine skippers representing four continents and ten nations set sail on IMOCA 60s in pursuit of the record time set by François Gabart in the 2012-13 race of 78 days, 2 hours and 16 minutes.
For the first time in the history of the event, seven skippers will set sail on IMOCA 60s fitted with foils: six new boats (Banque Populaire VIII, Edmond de Rothschild, Hugo Boss, No Way Back, Safran, and StMichel-Virbac) and one older generation boat (Maitre Coq). The foils allow the boat to reduce displacement for speed gains in certain conditions. It will be a test to see if the gains can topple the traditional daggerboard configuration during the long and demanding race.
November 12, Day 7 – Tanguy de Lamotte, Initiatives Coeur, masthead crane failure
November 19, Day 14 – Bertrand de Broc, MACSF, UFO collision
November 22, Day 17 – Vincent Riou, PRB, UFO collision
November 24, Day 19 – Morgan Lagravière, Safran, UFO collision
December 4, Day 29 – Kojiro Shiraishi, Spirit of Yukoh, dismasted
December 6, Day 31 – Kito de Pavant, Bastide Otio, UFO collision
December 7, Day 32 – Sébastien Josse, Edmond de Rothschild, foil damage
December 18, Day 43 – Thomas Ruyant, Le Souffle du Nord, UFO collision
Source: Vendee Globe