Route du Rhum: Sprint to the finish?

Published on November 14th, 2022

(November 14, 2022; Day 6) – After five days and nights of tough, physical, racing which has taken them to the edge of exhaustion, there are just 1100 nautical miles of direct runway left to sail to the Pointe-à-Pitre finish line for the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe leaders.

Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) has extended his cushion to over 100 miles ahead of the chasing François Gabart (SVR-Lazartigue) as the pacemakers can now finally contemplate a finishing sprint of faster, easier trade winds reaching. The leader may make the south of the island tomorrow night. Indeed, Caudrelier spoke this morning of potentially two days of racing left, a schedule which could take him well inside the course record which was set in 2018 by Francis Joyon at 7 days 14 hours and 21 minutes.

Gabart had a technical issue last night, which cost him miles to the leader at just the wrong moment. “Last night I broke the line that lifts and lowers the port foil. I slowed down for two or three hours to repair that. I hesitated but with the team we said there was still a lot of starboard tack before the finish, but I lost quite a few miles after being pleased about my position to leeward of Charles.”

“The pace is quite intense. Since the start, we’ve had upwind tacking, the first front with lots of sail changes, then upwind on the other tack, then some reaching, a second front in the Azores and some more reaching, and now we’re downwind. But that’s what you can expect in the Route du Rhum. I’m wondering now whether I’m really in the trade winds, as the wind is still up and down between 13 and 20 knots and there’s still a residual swell from the NW.”

Some 250 miles south of the Azores, Charlie Dalin on Apivia is leading the 34-boat IMOCA fleet into the lighter winds of the Azores high-pressure zone. He is looking to exploit a small corridor of breeze that he feels would get him down into the trade winds to increase his margin significantly.

Behind him, north of the Azores, a compact group has been dealing with a nasty front, which was producing 35-40kts winds. Prudence saw a few skippers tack south last night to limit their exposure to the strong winds and big seas, but relief was due this afternoon with the wind shifting to a NW direction.

“We have some fast upwind sailing on starboard tack still,” Dalin said this morning. “The goal in the next 24 hours is to find our way through a tiny gap to slip under this area of high pressure and pick up the trade winds. We’re going to have to be very careful with our route and pay attention to local wind shifts to get through this part without being slowed down too much.

“Once in the trade winds, there will still be 1,500 miles to sail. The boat is in good condition. I haven’t had to slow down to deal with any technical problems. It’s nice to be sailing on a boat I know well, as that means I can feel relaxed and focus on my strategy.”

Kiwi Conrad Colman is sixteenth on his 2007 VPLP-Verdier designed daggerboard boat, Imagine. Launched as Groupe Bel the boat had to abandon two successive Vendée Globes before being sailed to tenth in the last race by Maxime Sorel as V&B-Mayenne. He is about 40 miles behind Tanguy le Turquais (Lazare) who is on his first major IMOCA ocean race with the Finot-Conq design, which Damien Seguin sailed to seventh on the last Vendée Globe.

A resolute, focused Colman said today, “So far so good. I have only seen 35kts upwind at the moment, and mostly 28-30, so things are fairly moderate and things are working OK. I think I have another four or five hours more then should be able to tack south through the Azores.”

Debuting Chinese racer Jingkun Xu, known as ‘Jackie’, is in 31st making steady progress in what is proving a tough very first baptism into the IMOCA class on a boat he had only really sailed for his race qualifying miles. He reported, “The start of my first RDR for me is hard, no sleep, hard to eat, fishing nets, cargos, several cold fronts, and in 24 hours the winds change from 5 to 50 knots. I nearly never stop. This is the busiest race I have done. But I enjoy it so much, to be a part of this legendary race is just amazing.”

After returning to Saint Malo the night after the start because of damage due to a collision with another IMOCA, Swiss skipper Olli Heer has been back on the race course since this Monday morning. He left Port La Foret around 0630hrs UTC and has been making a steady 10kts through the early part of the day.

“The shore team worked round the clock and we managed to do a post cure overnight and launch this morning. I am mentally and emotionally quite drained but super happy to be out here again and just looking to settle in again. At the moment, I want to sail SSW before a powerful front will hit me tonight with winds to 35-38kts and I will then pass Cape Finisterre tomorrow and head south,” said Heer this morning.

Perhaps the most outstanding solo debut so far in the IMOCA fleet is Justine Mettraux. The Swiss skipper who trained many thousands of miles fully crewed with 11th Hour Racing is up in seventh place on the well-proven Teamwork.net, formerly Charal.

Facing a particularly violent front, the Class40 fleet split in two in the past few hours. On one side, there are the leaders with the incredible duel taking place between 2018 Class40 race winner Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa) and Corentin Douguet (Queginer-Innoveo), with just 100 metres separating them early this afternoon.

On the other side, there are those who have gone for a southern option who are hoping to get past the Azores. Both the boats and the sailors are really suffering. Italian skippers with new boats are well placed in the leading group. Ambrogio Beccaria on Alla Grande-Pirelli is in fourth at only 22 miles behind the leading duo on his all Italian designed and built boat which was only launched in April.

The first Italian ever to win the MiniTransat, Beccaria has sailed an accomplished race so far and it will be fascinating to see how fast this boat goes in the trade winds when they get there. The boat was designed by Gianluca Guelfi and built by double Tornado Olympian Edoardo Bianchi. And a further 20 miles back in eighth is Alberto Bona who is racing a 2022 Manuard designed Mach 40.5.

Californian property developer Alex Mehran is in 19th on Polka Dot, the boat which won the 2018 race in Richomme’s hands. Mehran has been going well in the strong conditions and is not afraid to push himself and his boat hard. He had a minor technical issue earlier today which he was staying tight lipped about.

“I was hove-to for about 45 minutes, but I got it all squared away. I was watching the season finale of The Batchelor, I did not want to miss it. (laughs) It is a good show! (jokes) No I am going along here with the storm jib and three reefs and the mainsail keeps filling with water. I have the bilge pump piped up there and every so often I go up and pump out the water which is working well. It is pretty gnarly. This storm is worse than the last one.

“We have 30-40kts. I have a few minor problems; I am tired, hungry and wet. I am looking forwards to getting through this one. I think that will be in about three and a half to four hours and then I will get the shift and head south towards the Azores, heading towards warmer waters. I am looking forwards to that.”

Quentin Vlamynck remains cool and calm at the front of the Ocean Fifty fleet on Arkema, leading by 50 miles with his main rivals lined up in his wake. Third placed Erwan Le Roux explained today, “We should be getting into the trade winds tomorrow afternoon. It’s going to take another 24 hours to get around the area of high pressure. Then, there is a large part of the Atlantic to cross. I’m 60 miles behind Arkema and she is fast sailing downwind, so not easy to close the gap. There are still practically 2000 miles to go, and a lot can still happen.”

Among the other technical problems announced today, Guirec Soudée (Freelance.com) has torn the mainsail on his IMOCA. It is too difficult to repair on heavy seas and the skipper is therefore planning to shelter in the Azores.

Matthieu Perraut, skipper of Inter Invest (Class40), collided with a UFO early this afternoon (Monday) He damaged the fairing on his keel, part of the port rudder and the base of the hull delaminated around the crash box (the area that absorbs the shock to avoid damage to the structure of the boat when there is a collision).

Matthieu was not hurt, but the boat suffered too much damage to be able to continue. The skipper is currently heading for the island of San Miguel in the Azores, around 250 miles south of his current position.

François Jambou, the Mini Transat winning skipper of the Class40 A l’Aveugle – Trim Control, dismasted this afternoon. He will attempt to reach shore under jury rig .

François Guiffant, skipper of the IMOCA Kattan broke the stay for his J2. The skipper, sailing 500 miles east of the Azores, is diverting to Lisbon to carry out repairs.

Jean-Pierre Balmes, skipper of Class40 FullSave announced his retirement due to problems with his ballast tanks and staysail hook. He is heading for Cascais in Portugal.

French skipper Fabrice Amedeo was rescued by the Cargo vessel M/V MAERSK BRIDA after a fire broke out aboard his Imoca, Nexans – Art & Fenêtres. Amedeo was forced to abandon his boat which sank soon after. He has not suffered any injuries. He will be taken ashore in Ponta Delgada, on the southern side of the island of São Miguel in the Azores.

Amedeo said, “Death did not want me today. I am safe and sound on a freighter which will drop me off in the Azores tomorrow morning. My IMOCA Nexans – Art et Fenêtres sank in flames before my very eyes. All my dreams were went down with my boat.”

At 11:32 UTC this morning, whilst heading to Cascais in Portugal on his IMOCA Nexans – Art & Fenêtres after a leak had forced him to leave the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe race course over the weekend, solo skipper Fabrice Amedeo had an explosion on board which was immediately followed by a fire.

Amedeo was forced to abandon his boat which sank and rescue operations were immediately initiated. Alerted by the race management of the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe, the Portuguese maritime rescue services contacted the vessels present in the area of the accident.

The nearby freighter M/V MAERSK BRIDA diverted and the rescue operation went well at 14:32 UTC this afternoon. Amedeo is now safe on board the freighter, he is not injured. He will be disembarked tomorrow in the port city of Ponta Delgada on the south coast of the island of São Miguel, in the Azores archipelago. Amedeo, a 42-year-old former journalist turned ocean racer reported afterwards. This is his story – in his own words.

“Sunday morning, everything is fine on board, and I am having a great race. The boat is flying hard in the squalls and the sea is heavy. Suddenly, I realize that my ballast has exploded on a wave and that I have several hundred litres of water in the boat. I stop to be safe and start to empty everything.

“At that moment, the batteries were immediately affected by the water and failed and I had a complete blackout on board. I had no more electricity: no more autopilot, no more computer, no more electronics. I decide, in consultation with my team, to proceed cautiously towards Cascais.

“Sunday afternoon: big smoke on board the boat. I use the extinguisher, I put on my TPS (survival suit), I alert the race direction who asks a competitor in the IMOCA class to divert to assist me if necessary. The smoke eventually stops. I decide to resume my passage to Cascais.

“I meet James Harayda, the skipper of Gentoo who had come to the area to help me. I thank him and resume my passage. I completely dry the boat and prepare myself for a difficult passage. I slept two hours last night to recover from my emotions then steer 6 hours tonight.

“Again, I have 2h30mins of siesta then 7 hours on the helm. Shortly after 12:30p.m today there is more new smoke on board. Followed by an explosion. I grope my way back into the cabin and manage to retrieve my TPS. My Grab bag (survival bag) had remained in the cockpit. I am going back to get my wedding ring. I hit the fire extinguisher, but nothing happens. The smoke is not white like yesterday but yellow. The cockpit warps and yellows.

“Seawater spray sounds like the sound of water hitting a saucepan. I understand that I will have to evacuate. I warn my team of a possible evacuation. When I hang up, I am then at the back of the boat ready to trigger my survival: a torrent of flame comes out of the cabin and the coach roof. I am caught in the middle of the flames. I can’t even open my eyes. I manage to push the life raft into the water and jump.

“Normally the end that holds the liferaft to the boat is supposed to let go. It doesn’t let go. The boat, which I had time to steer but which is still going forwards pushed by rough seas, pulls it and it fills with water. I manage to get on board without letting go. I think that’s where it all happened and things turned the corner to work out right.

“I say to myself, if you want to live you have a few seconds to find the knife and cut. The IMOCA pulls me back towards it. The waves bring me dangerously close to it. I finally find the knife and cut. My raft is drifting downwind of the boat which is fully on fire. It takes 30 minutes to sink. I spoke to the boat and thanked it. We were going to go round the world together in two year’s time. Then, you have to get organized. The satellite phone did not like the water in the raft and doesn’t work.

“I say to myself, nobody knows that the boat has sunk and that you are in your raft, if you activate the beacon on the IMOCA that you were able to take with you and you trigger the one on the liferaft, they will have the information. That’s what I do. I can’t find a baler on board. A Tupperware box containing batteries will save me. I empty the raft.

“I begin the wait. I stand behind the raft so that it does not overturn. The sea is very, very big I take stock of the equipment on board and prepare for what’s next. I gather the flares. I put the VHF around my neck. I spend three to four hours in this raft. I am surprisingly calm. The raft regularly fills with water from the lightly breaking waves. I understand all this but feel safe. I know, however, that nothing is over.”

118 boats are still racing, with 20 having abandoned this 12th edition of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.

Abandons:
• Skippers that have retired: Sam Goodchild (Leyton – Ocean Fifty) after being injured during the pre-start phase, Kojiro Shiraishi (DMG Mori Global One – IMOCA) following a collision off Cape Fréhel, Oren Nataf (Rayon Vert – Rhum Multi) with a ripped mainsail, Antoine Magré (E.Leclerc Ville-La-Grand – Class40) after hitting the rocks off the island of Batz, Damien Seguin (Groupe Apicil – IMOCA), Victor Jost (Caisses Reunionnaises Complementaires – Class 40), Martin Louchart (Randstad-Ausy – Class40), Geoffrey Matacyznski (Fortissimo – Class 40), Laurent Camprubi (Glaces Romane – Class40), Thibaut Vauchel-camus (Solidaires En Peloton – ARSEP – Ocean Fifty), Louis Burton (Bureau Vallee – IMOCA), Fabrice Amedeo (Nexans – Art & Fenêtres – IMOCA) after a fire broke out aboard his Imoca, Amelie Grassi (La Boulangere Bio – Class40), François Jambou, (A l’Aveugle – Trim Control – Class40) after dismasting, Aurelien Ducroz (Crosscall – Class40), Jean-Pierre Balmes (FullSave – Class40) due to problems with his ballast tanks and staysail hook, Brieuc Maisonneuve (CMA Ide-de-france 60 000 Rebonds – Rhum Multi).

DetailsSkippersTracking

In the 44 year history of the Route du Rhum, there has never been so many solo skippers planning to start November 6 (now delayed) as in 2022. On this 12th edition, 138 solo racers with compete on the classic race which leaves Saint-Malo, France and heads across the Atlantic to Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe.

Six divisions will compete, beginning with the eight entries in the Ultims and eight in the Ocean Fifty division. Thirty-seven IMOCAs will be there, 55 Class40s as well as 16 in the Rhum Multi (64-feet and less) category and 14 in Rhum Mono (39+ feet) fleets.

Among the competitors, 5% (7) are women across the IMOCA, Class40, and Rhum Mono. Fourteen nationalities will be represented, including Japanese and Chinese skippers. In total, 20% of the participants are from outside France. Half of the French skippers are either residents or natives of Brittany where the race starts from, while there are also 6% Guadeloupeans among the competitors.

Source: OC Sport Pen Duick

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